24 January 2010

Misguided compliment or positive stereotype?

Misguided compliment or positive stereotype?

By Nicole E. Avery

GVL Columnist

In Monday's edition of the Lanthorn you can find printed responses from students who were asked the question, "How have you been stereotyped?" in the "Your Insights" section on the Opinion page.

Of course there are obvious responses that jump to the forefront of my mind when I see/read the word stereotyped -- skin color, race, hairstyles, clothing, accents -- but being too smart?

Being stereotyped as someone who is good at math apparently upset one Grand Valley State University student -- "I always get people that think I'm really good at math. Honestly, I'm not bad, but they shouldn't assume that."

Was this student really complaining about people thinking she was too smart? I'm glad the student took the time to clarify she is somewhat smart or good at math but is not a genius and does not appreciate being stereotyped as such.

I have never in my life heard someone of a certain ethnic heritage complain about being stereotyped "smart." Maybe it's just because there are loads of negative stereotypes on which people mainly focus.

I'll apologize in advance for singling this particular student out for her quote, but reading her response raised the question in my mind whether all stereotyping is really negative. Can people benefit from positive stereotypes, or because the fact is still untrue, would assuming something about another person ultimately have a negative affect?

If it's not meant in an oppressive, negative way, why even waste your time complaining about it? If someone looked at me and said, "Wow, Nicole is biracial, I bet she is fantastic at bingo," I would smile because that is a silly correlation and because I think of old people when I think of bingo -- which is technically a stereotype.

It's a free country, so it is everyone's inherent, American right to complain about whatever they like, but it's a proven, scientific fact you exert less energy and use less muscles when smiling as opposed to frowning.

My point is there are enough negative things to be upset about and I am not going to sit around and be offended by things that don't really matter -- it's hard enough dealing with real racial or other types of offensive comments.

If someone thinks I have a certain skill, I'll just accept his or her assumptions of my talents whether it's entirely true or only "mostly" true and I'll accept them as a compliment.


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