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DanielAnuchan
07-16-2011, 01:31 PM
I notice that books and movies present members of different races in a stereotypical manner. The current wave seems to be for a terrorist to be Middle Eastern.

What I'd like to know is this:

Should we be perpetuating these stereotypes? Will readers and movie audiences rebel if we try to present Middle Easterners as sensible people?

shadowwalker
07-16-2011, 06:03 PM
I doubt anyone will 'rebel'. Of course, you'll lose a few readers who see anything but this stereotype as anti-American, subversive, and probably traitorous - but every writer loses a few readers no matter what they write. I personally think a lot of people (myself included) would find it refreshing to move away from the stereotypes.

Libbie
07-16-2011, 08:29 PM
Wait...you're complaining about media portraying terrorists as Middle Eastern, or about media portraying Middle Easterners as terrorists? There is a world of difference between the two. If a story is focused on a terrorist -- his occupation and how his decision to become involved in terrorism effects his life and the lives of the people he loves -- then maybe making him Middle Eastern would be timely and possibly even moving. If it's well written, it might help people who have little experience of Middle Eastern politics come to understand how some people who live under those political conditions end up turning to terrorism. It wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing. It could be an amazing, world-changing book.

On the other hand, if you're writing about a typical Middle Eastern family, or a family of Mid-East descent living in Europe and somebody just happens to be a terrorist for no apparent reason because duh, obviously Middle Easterners are terrorists!, or if your book about how terrorists become terrorists boils down to nothing more than DERKA DERKA MUHAMMAD JIHAD, then you're writing a stupid stereotype and you need to be smacked. (Unless it's satire, and then that goes into a whole other realm of what's acceptable.)

And while anybody could be a terrorist, the majority of the terrorists who have been making the North American and European news for the past 20 years have been affiliated with Middle Eastern-based terrorists organizations. So if a writer is from North America or Europe, writing about a terrorist affiliated with Al-Qaeda or Hamas or the Muslim Brotherhood would be a pretty natural choice.

I don't know whether it's automatically stereotyping to write a terrorist who is from the Middle East. But it totally depends on why you're writing it, and how you approach it.

jeffo20
07-16-2011, 08:42 PM
Should we be perpetuating these stereotypes?Of course not. However, as Libbie so ably pointed out, just having characters that are Middle Eastern terrorists is not automatically stereotyping, though there will be those who howl in protest no matter how the chacacters are developed.


Will readers and movie audiences rebel if we try to present Middle Easterners as sensible people?Not the intelligent ones.

kaitie
07-16-2011, 09:10 PM
I think the other two have explained this well, but I do know that, in movies more than books, I am often really frustrated that members of a particular race are almost always bad guys. To use this example, for instance, if we looked at all movies recently that portray characters who are Middle Eastern, what percentage of those characters were bad guys or terrorists or whatever?

While it's not quite as common anymore, I remember being younger and criminals were almost always African-American. Or movies during the Cold War where bad guys were always Russian.

It actually does bother me because I feel like, when the vast majority of portrayals are negative, it is encouraging a general opinion that people of that race are more likely to have whatever the negative trait is and I feel it is incredibly unfair. I think it also goes pretty far in showing how average society sees these groups.

I guess my way of thinking is two-fold. Yes, lately many terrorists have been from the Middle East (though certainly not all), and so yes it might be more accurate to have a terrorist in a story also be, but why do people feel the need to write so many stories about bad guy terrorists in the first place? Second, why can't we see more characters of these various minority groups who aren't bad guys, but just normal people going about their lives? Why don't we see the neighbor down the road who helps rescue the MC and helps him find shelter be a Middle Eastern man? Or an African-American cop? Or the Hispanic woman is a teacher instead of the janitor?

I'm not really sure that I'm making sense. I just feel like there's no balance, and that the ratios we do see tend to encourage negative views that can be interpreted to imply that more people of a particular group fit into a category than really do. I mean, the vast, vast majority of people from the Middle East aren't terrorists, they're normal people living normal lives. I wish we could see that portrayed more often.

And none of this goes to the cliche issue at all, but seriously, if you are going to do it, why only bad guy Middle Eastern terrorists? Why not the IRA, or a homegrown American crazy person like the ones who did the Murrah Building? When something is done over and over and over again it just becomes cliche. I'd much rather find out that the bad guy was someone I hadn't seen be a bad guy in fifteen other movies (or books) before.

Anyway, I don't think audiences would typically rebel if we presented Middle Easterners as sensible. Hell, this audience member would be cheering it. Sure, there are some racist asshats out there who will have a problem with it, but that doesn't really matter. There are always people who won't like something for whatever reason.

I remember seeing a bit on the Daily Show awhile back discussing someone who had said we need a Muslim Cosby Show that could portray a Muslim family as a normal, everyday family in a relate-able way. I think if we had more "sensible" portrayals, as you put it, it would make it easier to get rid of those stereotypes.

jeffo20
07-16-2011, 11:41 PM
if we looked at all movies recently that portray characters who are Middle Eastern, what percentage of those characters were bad guys or terrorists or whatever? This, to me, is the problem. It's not that there are Middle Eastern terrorists; it's that all the M.E. characters in these books/movies in question are terrorists. That's part of what perpetuates the stereoptypes.


why do people feel the need to write so many stories about bad guy terrorists in the first place? I suspect, for a lot of writers, it's a way of being timely and current. Or, it's just stuff that's on their minds. Or, it's a way of pandering to a crowd (especially for movies). "I know, I'll make the bad guys Arab terrorists; that'll get the crowd going!"


I'm not really sure that I'm making sense. I just feel like there's no balance, and that the ratios we do see tend to encourage negative views that can be interpreted to imply that more people of a particular group fit into a category than really do. I mean, the vast, vast majority of people from the Middle East aren't terrorists, they're normal people living normal lives. I wish we could see that portrayed more often.You're making perfect sense. I agree with you completely. Nicely stated.

kaitie
07-17-2011, 12:42 AM
The real irony is that putting terrorists in something is one of the best ways to turn me off, just because I'm so tired of it lol. That's slightly less so now, but especially after the terrorist attacks. At first it was just too hard, and then it was such a common thing to hear about all the time that I just burned out on the topic.

My guess would be that a lot of it has to do with playing on people's fears for the sake of drawing a strong emotional reaction. In much the same way that certain topics have become very common in stories, rape and pedophilia for example, I think it's something that gives an automatic emotional response.

I also think it gives an "easy" villain most of the time. How many times do you see terrorists that are developed characters? I think it's kind of a lazy way to get around having to develop a strong character. I actually am always impressed when you have a character like a terrorist whose reasoning and back story is provided, but most of the time I see the stereotyped bad guy like this, there is no development whatsoever. They just serve as a generic "evil bad guy."

DanielAnuchan
07-17-2011, 10:58 AM
I cannot blame a particular writer for choosing to make a terrorist in his/her book Middle Eastern. Nor can I blame a writer for making all the victims as non-Middle Eastern. After all, I want my book to sell, and if I put a Canadian as my terrorist, I don't want all Americans to complain that it isn't realistic and all the Canadians to complain that I'm attacking their nationality.

We can argue idealistically all we want about how unfair it is, but in the end, I still think if I make my terrorist Middle Eastern, I will ruffle the fewest feathers.


I actually am always impressed when you have a character like a terrorist whose reasoning and back story is provided, but most of the time I see the stereotyped bad guy like this, there is no development whatsoever. They just serve as a generic "evil bad guy."


kaitie, I agree 100%. Down with 2D characters!!!

P.S. My book has no terrorists in it, and no Middle Easterners, either. I'm dealing with other stereotyped races.

blacbird
07-17-2011, 11:09 AM
There's another way to look at this: How well would it work to have Amish terrorists? Quaker terrorists? Icelandic terrorists?

Unless you're doing Terry Pratchettish satire, you do need to maintain some connection with reality. Regrettably, we have recent history with terrorists of Islamist persuasion, originating in places like Egypt, Yemen, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. That's reality.

caw

mccardey
07-17-2011, 11:15 AM
There's another way to look at this: How well would it work to have Amish terrorists? Quaker terrorists? Icelandic terrorists?

Unless you're doing Terry Pratchettish satire, you do need to maintain some connection with reality. Regrettably, we have recent history with terrorists of Islamist persuasion, originating in places like Egypt, Yemen, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. That's reality.

caw

Well, I think we have terrorists of all kinds of persuasion, originating in all kinds of places. But don't get me started ...

ETA - I have to agree about the Quaker thing though, knowing the Quakers I do. I mean - the idea of a Quaker terrorist is kind of engaging, yes? What would they do? Sit down and be quiet at you for a while...? ;)

DanielAnuchan
07-17-2011, 11:51 AM
ETA - I have to agree about the Quaker thing though, knowing the Quakers I do. I mean - the idea of a Quaker terrorist is kind of engaging, yes? What would they do? Sit down and be quiet at you for a while...? ;)




:roll::banana::PartySmil

Libbie
07-17-2011, 11:18 PM
Starebombs.

friendlyhobo
07-17-2011, 11:51 PM
I'm went to a Quaker boarding school and there was a Quaker cemetery across the road. Quietest zombies ever. "Brrraiiiins? Please?"
But as for the original question: The biggest writing problem with stereotypes is that they are shallow. They have no depth and if you character is a stereotype they will be the same. If you write an in depth interesting character who is middle eastern and a terrorist, it won't be a stereotype because terrorist and middle eastern won't be the entire character.

kaitie
07-17-2011, 11:51 PM
There's another way to look at this: How well would it work to have Amish terrorists? Quaker terrorists? Icelandic terrorists?

Unless you're doing Terry Pratchettish satire, you do need to maintain some connection with reality. Regrettably, we have recent history with terrorists of Islamist persuasion, originating in places like Egypt, Yemen, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. That's reality.

caw

And yet an Orthodox Jewish man just brutally murdered and dismembered a Hasidic boy in a neighborhood that was safe and peaceful. It's almost unimaginable. I'm not saying that an Amish terrorist would be likely, but I am saying that sometimes even reality throws us something we'd never expect.

And yes, most terrorists come from those places (right now...well, the terrorists we care about here), but there are also terrorists from other areas and...well, I've already said my opinion on this bit.

I just feel like the reason we had tons of books and movies about Middle Eastern terrorists is because the country as a whole was afraid and fear was being encouraged and perpetuated--in particular fear of that particular group. It was scarier to say it was a terrorist from the Middle East than some random country in Africa or Eastern Europe or something like that because people were afraid of the Middle East. That's what they heard about and that's what people were banking on.

And I have no problem portraying reality. If that's a legitimate issue we're facing, then sure, let there be a movie or two or a book or two dealing with it. The problem comes when that group takes on the role of dominant bad guy in Hollywood and in books. There reaches a point where it goes beyond reality and the portrayal is now reinforcing the original fears that started it. It goes beyond just portraying reality.

Especially when you consider how many terrorist attacks America has been hit with. If someone really wanted to portray reality, they should be writing about the other parts of the world that really do deal with this stuff on a regular basis.

Kitty27
07-18-2011, 12:17 AM
Every race and ethnic group takes a turn being the whipping boy in the USA. It's just in vogue now to do this to Middle Easterners. Not too long ago,Black people were responsible for everything! From uppity women to bold Negroes to Chinese immigrants in the early 20th century,the list is endless.

With 9/11,it became popular to stereotype an entire group of people because that is always what happens with people of color. It's easy to heap more abuse on someone that is different from the supposed norm or mainstream.

After Oklahoma,no white guys were stereotyped as potential terrorists. After Columbine,no white teen-age males were stereotyped as potential killers.This is because they were viewed as nutters and NOT the norm.This should be true for ALL people but it just doesn't happen. Most of the time,POC aren't given the benefit of the doubt. One does something wrong,the entire group is judged for it. Middle Eastern people have been stereotyped for a LONG time. The terrorist attacks just add a new dimension to what was already there.

We aren't adding to the stereotypes. People that don't like folks because of race,gender,sexuality will NOT change their minds. You can write a very respectful portrayal and some will still hate the character because of the above factors.Nothing can be done to enlighten ignorant people.

blacbird
07-18-2011, 12:39 AM
And yet an Orthodox Jewish man just brutally murdered and dismembered a Hasidic boy in a neighborhood that was safe and peaceful.

That was a horrible crime, but it wasn't exactly a terrorist incident, was it?


caw

Mr Flibble
07-18-2011, 12:43 AM
A British teenager was killed leading an Al Qaeda attack in Somalia. The cell also boasts a US dad of three among their number. That count?



This is because they were viewed as nutters and NOT the norm.This should be true for ALL people but it just doesn't happen.

QFMFT

Jamesaritchie
07-18-2011, 01:21 AM
Murder, however gruesome, or however many killed, isn't terrorism. Right now, the vast, vast majority of actual terrorism happening around the world IS being done by terrorists from the Middle East.

It isn't stereotyping to present fact as fact.

And anyone who thinks white guys weren't being portrayed as terrorists after Oklahoma must avoid all newspapers, all TV, and most of the Internet. Columbine was not terrorism, of course, it was just a multiple murder.

Despite the fact that nearly all terrorists on a worldwide basis ARE from the Middle East, white guys get portray as terrorists constantly, purely because it's politically incorrect to tell the truth.

Presenting a person from the Middle East as a terrorist is not stereotyping, it's simply the daily news.

kaitie
07-18-2011, 01:28 AM
Every race and ethnic group takes a turn being the whipping boy in the USA. It's just in vogue now to do this to Middle Easterners. Not too long ago,Black people were responsible for everything! From uppity women to bold Negroes to Chinese immigrants in the early 20th century,the list is endless.

With 9/11,it became popular to stereotype an entire group of people because that is always what happens with people of color. It's easy to heap more abuse on someone that is different from the supposed norm or mainstream.

After Oklahoma,no white guys were stereotyped as potential terrorists. After Columbine,no white teen-age males were stereotyped as potential killers.This is because they were viewed as nutters and NOT the norm.This should be true for ALL people but it just doesn't happen. Most of the time,POC aren't given the benefit of the doubt. One does something wrong,the entire group is judged for it. Middle Eastern people have been stereotyped for a LONG time. The terrorist attacks just add a new dimension to what was already there.

We aren't adding to the stereotypes. People that don't like folks because of race,gender,sexuality will NOT change their minds. You can write a very respectful portrayal and some will still hate the character because of the above factors.Nothing can be done to enlighten ignorant people.

I so agree with all of this.

Susan Littlefield
07-18-2011, 01:30 AM
Stereotyping is making all Middle Eastern people terrorists, and creating all or most of their victims as white and other nationalities. However, creating a Middle Eastern terrorist is not stereotyping, anymore than making a terrorist any other nationality.

kaitie
07-18-2011, 01:32 AM
That was a horrible crime, but it wasn't exactly a terrorist incident, was it?


caw

I know, but my point is that evil can come from the most unexpected corners.

mscelina
07-18-2011, 01:38 AM
Okay, let's look at this way--

There are terrorists in every country in the world. The US has their share of nutters--Waco, TX anyone?--and for a while that colored our perceptions. But what is the single-most memorable incident involving terrorists in the past twenty years? It's not Patty Hearst's kidnapping; not Columbine; not even the Westboro Baptist Church idiots. No--it's 9-11.

You can't underestimate or invalidate the importance of that event. Ever. My kids were 12 and 11 when that happened. THeir perceptions are based off the horror that event instigated. One of my sons-in-law is in Iraq right now. What you call a 'stereotype' is well beyond that. To the people who were kids in 2001, this isn't a stereotype. It's a reality. The only terrorists they know were from the Middle East.

We've had to work with our adult kids, teaching them that not all ME folks are terrorists. We have ME friends; we go to ME festivals with the babies. They met ME exchange students in college and have gotten past that original fear.

They've learned that terrorist and Middle Eastern are not the same thing.

But writers have to present an equation that the audience (reader) can relate to. We're in the business of providing entertainment. Just because a writer makes his terrorist threat originate from the Middle East doesn't mean he's stereotyping. What it means is that's what is necessary to complete that particular plot. *shrug* Before long, someone will write about that French chef terrorist organization Vive la Bomb! and break that mold. And that will be cool and unexpected--and what is necessary to complete THAT particular plot.

Mr Flibble
07-18-2011, 01:39 AM
. Right now, the vast, vast majority of actual terrorism happening around the world IS being done by terrorists from the Middle East.



I'm assuming you're ignoring Africa, the Far East and Russia/ex Russian states....cos while the majorty may be Middle eastern, I wouldn't say the vast majority of incidents. Not even the majority, depending on what time period we're talking here.

They may be the vast majority where US citizens are killed. But that doesn't mean the majority in the world. And to assume it does is just another form of stereotyping. ;)

ETA: For instance, of the 50 odd instances in January (depending on how you define terrorism) 1 only was in the US, and that was by a US citizen. 16 were in non Middle East countries/not by Middle Eastern perps (as admitted/no one admitted culpability). If you count Pakistan as Far East/Asian and not Middle East, 40 ish weren't anything to do with the middle east. Again, depending on how your define terrorism, at least two were perpetrated by the CIA...and whta we can gain from this is: If you're in the US, you're not that likely to get got be Da Big Bad Terrorist. In fact, if you're Middle Eastern you have more to be afraid of AND people assume you want to blow people up.

kaitie
07-18-2011, 01:57 AM
Okay, let's look at this way--

There are terrorists in every country in the world. The US has their share of nutters--Waco, TX anyone?--and for a while that colored our perceptions. But what is the single-most memorable incident involving terrorists in the past twenty years? It's not Patty Hearst's kidnapping; not Columbine; not even the Westboro Baptist Church idiots. No--it's 9-11.

You can't underestimate or invalidate the importance of that event. Ever. My kids were 12 and 11 when that happened. THeir perceptions are based off the horror that event instigated. One of my sons-in-law is in Iraq right now. What you call a 'stereotype' is well beyond that. To the people who were kids in 2001, this isn't a stereotype. It's a reality. The only terrorists they know were from the Middle East.

We've had to work with our adult kids, teaching them that not all ME folks are terrorists. We have ME friends; we go to ME festivals with the babies. They met ME exchange students in college and have gotten past that original fear.

They've learned that terrorist and Middle Eastern are not the same thing.

But writers have to present an equation that the audience (reader) can relate to. We're in the business of providing entertainment. Just because a writer makes his terrorist threat originate from the Middle East doesn't mean he's stereotyping. What it means is that's what is necessary to complete that particular plot. *shrug* Before long, someone will write about that French chef terrorist organization Vive la Bomb! and break that mold. And that will be cool and unexpected--and what is necessary to complete THAT particular plot.

But see, I would actually argue that part of the reason your children had that fear was because the media portrayed Islam and those from the Middle East as dangerous and terrifying and deadly. The guy behind the Oklahoma City bombing was Catholic. I never saw anyone suggesting Catholics were terrorists and we needed to be afraid.

The problem is that it has become socially acceptable to assume that Middle Eastern people (or Muslims) are terrorists or evil or bent on destroying America. If you watch the news or TV or movies or anything like that, everything seems to reinforce that belief. I was just thinking the other day that when I was a kid, one of the most popular kids in my class was Muslim. We were curious, used to ask about the ceremonies, the clothes, etc., but I never saw anyone treat him poorly. After 9/11, I can't imagine that. I've seen the shit too many of my friends went through, racial stereotyping, insults, etc., and it's horrifying.

My boyfriends mother recently had someone shouting insults at her and trying to run her car off the road for having a bumper sticker for religious equality. And she's a white woman from the Midwest. She had to take the damned bumper sticker off the car because she was so afraid, and the insults were a regular occurrence.

Stop and think about how, if as Kitty had mentioned before, rather than perpetuating the idea that Muslims/Middle Easterners were to be feared, which I can show numerous instances of so there is no doubt in my mind this has occurred, the dialogue had gone like this: "Several crazy men have attacked New York." Not "Muslims" or "Middle Easterners" or anything like that, but just a few crazy extremists--which is what they are. Hell, most people don't even realize that most of them were Saudi Arabian because that wasn't mentioned often--because they're our allies.

The dialogue quickly became that it was okay to discriminate against these groups, that everyone in those groups should be suspect, that we needed to use racial profiling, and the implication is that most group members believe the same things. Rather than a few crazy people, it became a religious issue, a country against country issue. Entire nationalities were declared the enemy overnight. The president was allowed to call someone a "paki."

I have absolutely no doubt that the media had a major influence in making it not just about a few crazy extremists, but about making people afraid. It didn't have to be that way. We could have had a nation that, even after such a horrible event, blamed those responsible rather than holding entire nations and religions responsible.

Wayne K
07-18-2011, 02:01 AM
There's a bit of truth in every stereotype. How you write it is important.

PriyankaB
07-18-2011, 05:53 AM
I just want to say, I was 11 years old when 9/11 happened. I'm Indian American, and as a kid who grew up in a very small rural town in the middle of Illinois, it became apparent very quickly that things were not going to be the same for my parents or for me.

We knew about Oklahoma, even though we were only 5 when it happened. And we knew about the Unabomber. Still, at a volleyball game about a month after 9/11, a girl on the other team looked right into my eyes and called me Osama Bin Laden. Me, an eleven year old girl who wasn't even middle eastern, let alone a psychotic middle aged man.

It doesn't take long for fear to get inside someone's head and color their perception of reality, no matter how absurd it may seem. And fictional portrayals that don't have any balance to counter the violence just make it worse.

DanielAnuchan
07-18-2011, 10:10 AM
Stereotypes are a convenience so we don't have to think as much. We make judgments about people all the time. Sometimes they are based on reasonable assumptions, thus validating the process. But more often, they provide a gap between our thinking and reality.

Those Middle Easterners portrayed as 2D terrorists were a simplification. The American audience wasn't interested in their rationale. Seeing their race was enough.

I don't see the problem stemming from novels portraying Middle Easterners as terrorists. The problem is that they aren't pictured in other ways.

Alice Grace
07-21-2011, 05:28 PM
I find stereotypes fascinating. :)

Usually there is a seed of truth to them. The problem is that these truths have been simplified, fixated and reduced to a norm. A norm that in the hands of stupid people, or people who wants to claim some sort of power (which is usually the stupid people), becomes dangerous.

For that reason I think it's extremely important to think about how we use stereotypes so that we don't end up just reproducing them. Because I think it's impossible to escape them. Whether we like them or not they are a part of how we make sense of the world, and we should be allowed to use them. As long as we are aware that they are just stereotypes, and not fixed truths.

kaitie
07-21-2011, 08:32 PM
I find stereotypes fascinating. :)

Usually there is a seed of truth to them. The problem is that these truths have been simplified, fixated and reduced to a norm. A norm that in the hands of stupid people, or people who wants to claim some sort of power (which is usually the stupid people), becomes dangerous.


Here's the danger here. Okay, the majority of people in prison in the US are minorities. By that regard, one could say "Well, it's fair to have a stereotype that minorities are criminals because most criminals are." It's looked on as a case where the stereotype is seen to reflect reality and not the other way around.

But think of this: minorities are more likely to have been charged. If they're up against a jury of white people who expect criminals to be minorities, that expectation influences how they think. Minorities are more likely to be convicted.

Now consider this: More minorities were convicted initially, reinforcing the stereotype. Now look at another factor, one I can attest to because I used to work with these kids: you then have a neighborhood or family where the kids are being raised in homes where brothers, fathers, cousins have been in jail. Those kids think that's how life works. They don't see things the same way the majority does. I've had a five year old tell me he wished he could go to jail so he didn't have to go to school anymore. Can you imagine a white kindergartener saying that? Many kids grow up in an atmosphere where it's normal and even expected to a degree. So that perpetuates the stereotype.

Is it really true that minorities commit more crimes? Or is it true that it was assumed for so long that those assumptions lead to more convictions, which in turn creates a subset of the population that expects this and begins to give in, which in the end creates the truth from the stereotype and not the other way around.

I'd give other examples, but this is already a long post. Point is, however, that we need to be very careful when saying stereotypes are stereotypes because they started from truth.

quicklime
07-21-2011, 09:12 PM
I notice that books and movies present members of different races in a stereotypical manner. The current wave seems to be for a terrorist to be Middle Eastern.

What I'd like to know is this:

Should we be perpetuating these stereotypes? Will readers and movie audiences rebel if we try to present Middle Easterners as sensible people?



they stayed away from The Kite Runner in droves :tongue

stereotypes, sadly, can sell. But so does breaking them. Brokeback Mountain wasn't a story from a Miami leather bar, for example.

Stereotyping is lazy writing. I'd be less worried about it selling (titillate enough, and the bottom-feeding market is endless) than getting by a gatekeeper--would Penguin or an agent want their name on what was essentially a "towelhead manifesto"?

Now all that said, there are other issues, like being true to character. If you have an ignorant black guy in rural Mississippi eating collard greens in 1940, that isn't necessarily a stereotype. If you have an entire BOOK of black people eating collard greens (except when watermelon is available or they have cotton to pick) and that's the full depth you've bothered to scratch, that IS a stereotype. Likewise, a Yemini terrorist isn't automatically a stereotype, but your concern that all Middle Easterners might need to be portrayed by the simplest of strokes, that would be. Note in Miami when they arrested the 2 Muslims recently for funneling money and I believe recruiting jihadists, that was due to tips from other Muslims, who were not terrorists. Why would you think a book about a sympathetic Muslim would be automatically rejected? Using the case above, I've certainly read plenty of books with black folks who want something beyond "ribs and a white woman" out of life, and that didn't bother me, although I'd probably toss my very first book if I read one that went in the other direction.

quicklime
07-21-2011, 09:20 PM
I'd give other examples, but this is already a long post. Point is, however, that we need to be very careful when saying stereotypes are stereotypes because they started from truth.


well, we need to be careful what we're saying in general...

IF you say "most folks in prisons are minorities, so minorities are more prone to crine" that is obviously an incomplete analysis. In fact, without even looking at societal mores, conviction rates, income, etc to validate the comaprison, the whole thing would fall apart if say the US was 30% white and 70% minority, but 45% of those in US prisons were white, because by simple math alone that actually says white folks are more likely to go to prison, because of the disproportionate number relative to their % of the population. and again, factor education, income, etc. and things are likely to change further.

What the other poster was alluding to was the notion a great many stereotypes did in fact come from somewhere--black people did indeed eat a lot of watermelon and collards in the rural south--they were poor, and these were inexpensive food items. There WAs a grain of truth in the stereotype, and so long as you can separate the stereotype from the catalyst, it can indeed be educational. The problem is when you can't separate the two, or the observation (black people with collards) goes to an assinine conclusion (they must have an almost rabid affinity for them).

You can learn a ton from stereotypes, both about the people being stereotyped and those who perpetuate the stereotypes.

Alice Grace
07-21-2011, 09:38 PM
Here's the danger here. Okay, the majority of people in prison in the US are minorities. By that regard, one could say "Well, it's fair to have a stereotype that minorities are criminals because most criminals are." It's looked on as a case where the stereotype is seen to reflect reality and not the other way around.

But think of this: minorities are more likely to have been charged. If they're up against a jury of white people who expect criminals to be minorities, that expectation influences how they think. Minorities are more likely to be convicted.

Now consider this: More minorities were convicted initially, reinforcing the stereotype. Now look at another factor, one I can attest to because I used to work with these kids: you then have a neighborhood or family where the kids are being raised in homes where brothers, fathers, cousins have been in jail. Those kids think that's how life works. They don't see things the same way the majority does. I've had a five year old tell me he wished he could go to jail so he didn't have to go to school anymore. Can you imagine a white kindergartener saying that? Many kids grow up in an atmosphere where it's normal and even expected to a degree. So that perpetuates the stereotype.

Is it really true that minorities commit more crimes? Or is it true that it was assumed for so long that those assumptions lead to more convictions, which in turn creates a subset of the population that expects this and begins to give in, which in the end creates the truth from the stereotype and not the other way around.

I'd give other examples, but this is already a long post. Point is, however, that we need to be very careful when saying stereotypes are stereotypes because they started from truth.


Yes, you are right. I realize that I should have phrased that more carefully. :) I don't mean to say that the stereotype in itself derives from truth. I mean to say that there it's a small fraction of truth that is interesting to analyze and important to understand if one wants to makes sense of stereotypes. Because I don't think we can get rid of them completely.

Let me try this again based on your example.

The seed of truth in the stereotype "minorities commit more crimes" comes from the fact that there are a lot of minorities in prison. People in prison are seen as people who commit crimes. Hence the stereotype was created. Stereotypes are usually a simplified version of a truth. I don't think there are any stereotypes that are a result of research, knowledge and understanding.

Some argue that it is just as dangerous to try and erase a stereotypes as it is to reproduce them. That trying to rid yourself of one stereotype might only help creating new ones. I recall an example of African American men after the slavery. They were generally called "Boy" and stereotyped as ignorant children. Tired of this stereotype many AA men revolted by emphasizing their sexuality and masculinity and the stereotype about AA men being well equipped and over sexual was created instead.

Don't have any more examples so I am not sure how accurate this argument is. That might have been an isolated incident. As a contrast, however, I've also heard arguments that the best way to deal with stereotypes is to reclaim them by emphasizing them and talk about them openly. I don't know about this in a wider context but I think that many comedians are doing this very well. Mappelthorpe did it too, with many of his images.

But back to my point (yes there is one :)). You're right. There is always more behind a stereotype. And that why I think it's important, and interesting, to try and find that seed of truth in stereotypes, in order to understand them. Sometimes I get the feeling that stereotypes are avoided only for the sake of being politically correct. But they are here and they aren't going away just because we ignore them. They derive from ignorance. I don't think more ignorance is the "cure".

Phaeal
07-21-2011, 09:39 PM
:Soapbox:

I'm sooooooooo bored with fictional terrorists, especially Middle Eastern ones. Unless the terrorist is unusual, with an unusual cause, I'm not reading that book or watching that movie.

Fictional terrorists/crime syndicates/conspiracies are especially annoying when they're shoveled into a story to "up" the drama or give the director an excuse for lots of car chases.

In fact, stereotypes in general are booooooooooring. Don't want to see any more of 'em.

:Soapbox: off.

quicklime
07-21-2011, 09:52 PM
:Soapbox:

I'm sooooooooo bored with fictional terrorists, especially Middle Eastern ones. Unless the terrorist is unusual, with an unusual cause, I'm not reading that book or watching that movie.

Fictional terrorists/crime syndicates/conspiracies are especially annoying when they're shoveled into a story to "up" the drama or give the director an excuse for lots of car chases.

In fact, stereotypes in general are booooooooooring. Don't want to see any more of 'em.

:Soapbox: off.


the question is if they are stereotypes. And I agree, in many movies especially terrorists just exist to be Islamic, foreign and scary-looking, and plot devices. But you can also side-step the stereotypes a bit. Make the character race or religion-appropriate but with unique qualities--is a gay mob hitman, reviled by his colleagues but also respected, because the last guy to call him a guido fag spent the next week dying of ricin poisoning, an interesting character? quite possibly. A guy in a windsuit and a shitload of chains, with a bad Jersey accent? Not so much.

One of the few good things about stereotypes is they give you something to play AGAINST instead of simply rolling with. Ever see Kiss Kiss Bang Bang? Kilmer's gay hitman was hilarious, as was Downey's continued shock at how the hitman failed to live up to his idea of a gay guy OR a hitman.

PorterStarrByrd
07-21-2011, 09:59 PM
The vast majority of the members of these forums are Americans and other English speaking writers, writing for audiences of the same background.

If we were African's writing for African audiences, I suspect our fears would be wrapped up in other villains.
After culling out the pure whacko's and violent criminals, our feared villains are largely muslim, let's not limit that to middle eastern. The econo terrotists are predominately middle aged to older white males. Other crimes fall to other groups AS STEREOTYPES.

We as writers can either worry about whether we are encouraging irrational predudice and skip the writing or write realistically.

Rergardless of our choice, there will be idiots out there who think middle easterners are all terrorists or that this or that group is all this or that. They WILL do stupid things.

There are others among the peresecuted who will practice reverse-discrimination using the same illogic.
To write realistically, a story about bomb bearing terrorism, many of the villains will muslim, even though some acts of terrorism are the work of people from other religions. To write about drug wars the cast of characters will probably include Central Americans, even though other areas of the world ship a whole lot of drugs into America and we produce our own share.

The truth that is the kernal of stereotyping, may demand these choices, depending on the plot of the book.

The best way to minimalize the negative aspects of being stereotyped is to change the immage by becoming a visible part of the solution. Blacks have done a VERY good job of this. Muslims, particularly their leaders, in signifcant numbers, have not attacked the radical muslim minority faction.

There is more likely to be a plea to silence the critics of the acts of terrorism than a call to muslims to root out the miscreants from among their population.

There is a responsibility for the writer to be truthful and realistic in treatment of villians in writing, but not one to avoid using members of a population which has been stereotyped.

This applies to religion, political, and sexual leanings as much as it does to terrorism. Good writing tells a good story fairly and truthfully.

Yes, writers choosing to write books like this Will immediately alienate some potentitial readers. Writers who write young adult fiction lose other readers. Those who write religious doctrine have their own uninterested book shoppers.