Monday, April 23, 2012

Stereotypes vs. Racism

I got called racist the other day. Well, to be more specific, something I said was called racist.

I was pretty taken aback. I thought that was a pretty extreme thing to say to me.

People are so quick to call "racism" today. I think there's an important distinction between racism and stereotypes/assumptions that has been lost.

Here's what happened. We were talking about the paternity of our small puppy, whose mother was chihuahua-dachshund, and whose father was a mystery. As she grows, she looks more and more like our female golden retriever, so we think the father must have been at least part Goldie. When the vet saw the puppy several months ago, she thought the father may have been a Heeler, because of the freckling on the puppy's paws. As we talked about it this weekend, I suddenly wondered if Chihuahuas ever show that kind of freckling. So I turned to a teenage girl who was here, whose family is from Mexico (where Chihuahuas come from originally), and who has stated several times how much she hates Chihuahuas. If someone knows a breed well enough to hate them, they must have spent at least some time around them. Based on this I asked her, "Do chihuahuas ever have that kind of freckling on their feet?"  Her eyes got big and she said, "That is so racist!"

If I wanted to know something about lobster, and someone from Maine was sitting there, I would think it logical to ask that person, rather than someone from Wyoming. If I wondered whether hush puppies always have onions in them, and a person from Louisiana was present, I would think it perfectly normal to ask them. If I had a question about camels, and the subject came up in the presence of someone whose family came from North Africa, and who knew camels well enough to have a stated hatred of them, I would not think it odd to ask that person if they knew the answer to my question.

Any of those assumptions may be based in stereotyping, but are far from racist!

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