NPR logo Stereotypes Still Being Shattered in '08


Stereotypes Still Being Shattered in '08

Two thoughts converged today as I listened to the show.

Michel Martin's conversation on stereotypical images in advertising brought back my own childhood when we thought nothing of the Mammy that was Aunt Jemima, or the sexy little banana called Chiquita. They were as much a part of everyday life in America as bacon and eggs for breakfast or a barbeque on the Fourth of July. Michel expressed some surprise that one had never objected to these images in a significant way, and her guest said it was not until the civil rights movement that anyone protested these stereotypes. We do forget sometimes how much that movement changed our lives — action was taken on everything from voting rights to segregated schools, to offensive advertising images.

And, now, here we are in the month that we celebrate Martin Luther King's birthday, shattering stereotypical images again. Because, whatever the outcome of this presidential election, one thing we will all walk away with is the awareness that a woman and a person of color can make a serious run at the White House. There really is no turning back the clock on that dynamic. It's almost as if we think of this election as a once in a lifetime event.

But it isn't.

It is a beginning. It took a long time to realize that stereotypes of any kind distort our understanding of people we don't know. And this is not a problem confined to the United States alone. As Duke Professor Paula McClain said, when speaking about her study on racial attitudes among Latinos in Durham, N. C., people bring their own hierarchies to this country.

Racism, whether homebred or imported, will take many life times to overcome. But, whether it be the phasing out of stereotypes in advertising or a presidential campaign that shows how much things really have changed, each step takes us one step closer to that dream Dr. King spoke of so eloquently.

- Lynn Neary