Addressing Stereotypes

Well this week is of course St Patrick’s Day week and so I got braced for the obvious. If you ever meet me in person it is very obvious I am Irish from the reddish blonde hair, ruddy complexion or half a bazillion freckles I cannot deny my roots. I grow sick of the drunk jokes, tired of the potato references and most of all the quips about my lack of height and leprechauns in general. I resign myself to it because it is one week a year and many people fight stereotypes daily. But this week was different. I went to daycare to drop off Little Bit and the worker who I LOVE stops me and says “Miss ANYM, can I ask you a question and not have you get mad at me for asking?” Since I love her to death and she is so good to Little Bit I agreed. She looked very uncomfortable and said quietly “Are you a real Irish person?” Except for the OBVIOUS discomfort on her face I would have thought it was a joke but she was being serious so I thought “OK sure time to educate” So I said yes and that my Grandmother came in from Castlewellan Ireland when she was in her 20s. She asked me about what St Patrick’s day really meant to me and how I really celebrate it with my family “as a real Irish person”. We talked about assumptions, traditional meals and how sometimes stereotypes hurt. I was thankful to have had her talk to me openly and told her so, she looked embarrassed but I assured her that if you don’t know you should ask and NOT assume. I left upbeat and thought life was good for a day.

Today we were in the van and M1 said to me “My friend does a great beat box and gay voice” Now to be clear I knew exactly what she meant BUT words hurt so I said “OH what does his happy voice  sound like?” She laughed and said “No Mom his gay voice” I clarified and said that gay meant happy so what did his happy voice sound like. She got frustrated and said “NO MOM his GAY voice!!” OK getting louder does not change the fact gay means happy I thought. So I said “OK well give me a demonstration” She rattled off what was clearly a stereotypical homosexual “flamboyant” male voice and laughed to herself for a few minutes. When I did not laugh she asked me wasn’t it funny?

I told her I was thinking for a minute and then I said aloud: “You know hon, I have known P and S for 6 years, my boss J for 3 years and not one of them talks that way. Given that I assume you meant a male stereotypical homosexual voice I am surprised that J does not know he is suppose to talk that way” M1 was clearly flustered and said “Come on Mom it is a joke!” So I said to her “Really and how do you think N and J (P and S’s adopted daughters) would feel if you said that in front of them? How do you think J (my boss) would feel if he heard you? How would you look S in the eye and tell her it is OK to be offensive?” M1 looked stymied and I felt momentarily bad for her but she has to learn  I thought. She was quiet for a minute then said “Well it does sound funny” and I said “Sure sometimes it might but you have to remember when we operate on stereotypes we don’t see people for who they are and then they can get hurt feelings. Also what is funny to one can be offensive to another so just be careful.”

All right so I get that I am not awesome at this whole thing but I think it is in the right direction right? I know I have to keep it up though otherwise nobody will and I do want for my kiddos to be more open minded. Baby steps…baby steps…..

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