Tag Archives: Stereotypes

Identity beyond boundaries, cont’d: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar comes out of “the locker room ghetto”

kareem abdul-jabbar

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar recently turned cultural critic by reviewing the HBO show Girls for the Huffington Post. In a follow-up article titled “Coming Out of the Locker Room Ghetto,” he addresses the naysayers who question his qualifications to do so:

There was much reaction. Some questioned why a man my age would watch a show about girls in their twenties, as if they’d just discovered me hanging around a school playground with a shopping bag full of candy in one hand a fluffy puppy in the other. Of course, these critics are right. When I read Moby Dick I first had to convince the bookseller that I was a former whaler named Queequeg. When I read the poetry of Sylvia Plath, I had to pretend I was a depressed white woman with daddy issues. Don’t worry, I used a fake ID. […]

But even among some of the positive response was an underlying head-scratching theme: isn’t it amazing that a former jock can have opinions on pop culture and articulate it with words and references to books and movies? Some mentioned my height, as if I was so tall that the air up here could not support intellectual development. […]

Maybe this will help: I have a degree from UCLA. I’m an amateur historian who has written books about World War II, the Harlem Renaissance, and African-American inventors. I read a lot of fiction as well as non-fiction. I watch TV and movies. I have acted in both. I have been a political activist and an advocate for children’s education. How should an aging, black jock like myself know anything about pop culture? Man, I am a living part of pop culture and have been for nearly 50 years. Beyond that, I think pop culture expresses our needs, fears, hopes and whole zeitgeist better than some of the more esoteric and obscure forms of art.

Be sure to read the rest. It’s smart, funny — and, I’m ashamed to admit, surprisingly so, to me. Apart from his cameo in Airplane!, I was mostly unaware of Abdul-Jabbar’s accomplishments off the basketball court — and had mentally relegated him to the “amazing jock” category without giving any thought to whether the man had any interests, abilities, or other fascinating facets as a human being outside the narrow field for which he’s recognized (and pigeonholed).

Mea culpa. As I’ve argued myself, it’s always unwise to put people into boxes of any kind. Once you get past your easy assumptions and really get to know them, people will endlessly surprise you. I suppose, at this point, we really shouldn’t be surprised at all.

(h/t Alyssa Rosenberg, whose take on Abdul-Jabbar is also worth a read. Image via The Muslim Observer.)

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“A new definition of manhood”

Colin Stokes of Citizen Schools gets it absolutely right:

(via TED)

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Why stereotypes need to die, cont’d: The hipster is the most authentic of all

Sophy Bot, author of The Hipster Effect, has kindly sent me the video of her TED talk on busting the “hipster” stereotype:

On her website she further writes about the way that the dismissive “hipster” image actually obscures a fascinating reality — the fact that being a so-called hipster is actually an indication that people are taking charge of their identities, and choosing how to define and express themselves, beyond the shackles of cultural expectations:

Whereas previously prevalent subcultures focused on group differentiation, hipsters focus on the individual. The hipster isn’t necessarily about finding other likeminded souls out there. It’s more about expressing yourself and doing your own thing, no matter how wild that may appear to others. As more and more modes of self-expression have made their way into popular culture, fueled largely by the wide-open nature of the internet and the vast amounts of content we now consume on a daily basis, we’ve come to adopt more and more iterations of style at a breakneck pace. And because we’re adopting so many different styles so rapidly, we don’t have time to create a shared set of meanings about trends. Instead, what’s going on now is that we’re creating our own meanings for each particular style or object. Classical meanings have been lost somewhere along the way; though half of the people in a room may be wearing thick-rimmed glasses, odds are good that each of them has a different reason for doing so. We, as a society, assume this to mean lack of authenticity, but in many ways it is at the very heart of authenticity — it is choosing for yourself exactly how you want to outwardly express yourself, imbuing each object with your own personally created meaning rather than using off-the-shelf cultural symbols.

The rest is here, and worth reading. I’d never considered the “hipster” phenomenon in that way before, but I think Bot absolutely makes sense. Who better than the much-derided hipster to serve as an example of humanist self-creation — of the idea that we create our own meanings, that we are who we choose to be?

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Why stereotypes need to die, cont’d: Hollywood and African men


Andrew Revkin adds:

The tendency to focus on the grim side of any issue, or group, goes far beyond the movies, of course. […] The bottom line, for me, is that there is a great opportunity for nonprofit groups, university communication and journalism programs and creative individuals to step in to the gap left by Hollywood and the media and find ways to tell the up side of the human story. This is one such attempt. What else is out there?

(via The NY Times)

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Why stereotypes need to die, cont’d: “Do I look suspicious?”

In the wake of the killing of Trayvon Martin, the men of Howard University have put together a compelling video that challenges racial profiling and reminds us of its lethal consequences:

On a related note: In a previous post on “identity beyond ethnicity,” I’d written about Touré and the notion of post-blackness, questioning whether there’s any limit to the infinite flexibility of “racial” identity — whether, in an age when skin color doesn’t limit our desires, abilities, interests, and ambitions, being “black” (or any other color) means anything at all. But clearly it still does. Touré’s recent essay for Time, “How to Stay Alive While Being Black,” makes it clear to me that choosing your own identity is only half of the equation; the other half is how people see you — and how your reaction to their perception also shapes who you are:

You will have to make allowances for other people’s racism. That’s part of the burden of being black. We can be defiant and dead or smart and alive. I’m not saying you can’t wear what you want, but your clothes are a red herring. They’ll blame it on your hoodie or your jeans when the real reason they decided you were a criminal is that you’re black. Of course, you know better. Racism is about reminding you that you are less human, less valuable, less worthy, less beautiful, less intelligent. It’s about prejudging you as violent, fearsome, a threat. Some people will take that prejudice and try to force their will on you to make sure you feel like a second-class citizen and to make certain you get back to the lower-class place they think you’re trying to escape. The best way to counter them involves not your fists but your mind. You know your value to the world and how terrific you are. If you never forget that, they can’t damage your spirit. The best revenge is surviving and living well.

What does it mean to be a black man? It means that no matter what kind of human being you are, you can still be shot dead because of the color of your skin, the hoodie you happen to wear, and the prejudices of all the bigots around you whose existence you can’t afford to deny.

The day we put all this bullshit behind us can’t come fast enough.

(h/t Feministing)
Update: A heartbreaking take from David Brothers:

Martin’s story — all of these stories — is a reminder. It’s a reminder that you have so little control over your life that who you are doesn’t actually matter. All that matters is what other people can make you into. You’re not a person, not in the end. You’re just a thing to be used and discarded, no matter how good of a guy you were, no matter how cute your daughter is, they’re going to find something on you and that’s going to be that. Sorry, but Mister Charlie needs grist for the mill. […]

And it’s racism. All of it. It is unquestionably, objectively racism. It’s not some guy going out to lynch nigras for looking at white women, but that’s not the entirety of what racism is. Racism is a system. Racism is a way of thinking. Racism is subconscious. Racism is an entire country being trained to suspect an entire race of being shifty, lazy, or suspicious by default. I have to prove that I’m not a threat? How about I make America prove it doesn’t want to murder me, since there’s way more precedent for that than some skinny kid being a savage. If I have my hood up and I’m not smiling because I’m having a bad day, I’m a threat, someone to make you clutch your purse or hug your girl closer. I’m a thug? C’mon son. I’m just having a bad day in the big city. Get real. You’ve been trained to see brown skin and go to “Threat!” first instead of “Person!” You’ve been brainwashed. […]

The experience of being black in America is one of being constantly reminded that you are black in America, with all the drama that comes from it. The preferred term online amongst… whoever for black people is People of Color, or POC. I hate it, because yo, first, everyone has color, and second, how about you don’t define me in opposition to somebody else? I feel like that should be a basic human right. The right to not be not-White. It’s basic things like that that are what I mean. I can’t escape the fact that I’m black and have built-in baggage, even if I wanted to.

The whole thing is very much worth a read.

(via Let’s Be Friends Again, via Tor.com)

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Why stereotypes need to die, cont’d: The women of Community weigh in

A follow-up to my previous post: While movies are still failing to represent women adequately onscreen, television — at least some television — appears to be a different story. The Daily Beast has posted a great interview with the three female cast members of Community — Alison Brie, Yvette Nicole Brown, and Gillian Jacobs — along with Megan Ganz, one of the show’s writers; and if you’re a fan looking forward to the show’s return on March 15, this is definitely worth a look.

On the effect of having several women on the show’s writing staff:

Jacobs: […] It’s hard for us to tell when we get a script at a table read who wrote what line or who pitched what joke. But you always just have this feeling that there are women — smart, articulate, funny women — in the room advocating for these female characters.

Ganz: You wouldn’t be able to pull anything apart. It’s not like women work on the women types of storylines. We don’t just come in every day and say, “I think Troy and Britta should kiss.” Everybody works on every storyline. It’s the same reason that it’s good to have women in the room, and the same reason it’s good to have men and ethnicities represented and older people and younger people. If you find a story that everybody likes and everybody relates to in some way, then you know you have a good story. But if you’re telling a story and all the women are going, “I’m checked out of this, I just don’t really care,” then you’re going to have some problems.


Brown: […] I think what’s changing now is that more women are in positions of power. With your Tina Feys and Kristen Wiigs, you have more women in the driver’s seat. They know what we really are. The ladies in the Community writers’ office, they know who we really are.

On how the show challenges ethnic and gender stereotypes:

Jacobs: A friend of mine wrote a script, a feminist romantic comedy. She had a feminist scholar consult on it. My friend said, “Oh, my friend Gillian read it and really loved it.” She goes, “Gillian Jacobs, you mean: Britta Perry, feminist icon?” That gives me a lot of pride that women really identify with Britta. The thing that is unique about her is that she is never the subject of slut shaming. Like, she’s one of the only female characters that doesn’t ever get punished for having an active sex life. […]

Brown: As a black actor, it’s refreshing that I’m not playing the “sassy black woman.” It’s something that [show creator] Dan Harmon was cognizant of from the beginning. It is something that I’m always cognizant of. Every woman on the planet has sass and smart-ass qualities in them, but it seems sometimes only black women are defined by it. Shirley is a fully formed woman that had a sassy moment. Her natural set point, if anything, is rage. That’s her natural set point, suppressed rage, which comes out as kindness and trying to keep everything tight. […]

Brie: You could say the same thing too about Danny [Pudi] and Abed. I mean you know Danny’s played four or five Sanjays. […] Even still he’ll get called in for auditions and they’ll be like, “Can you do the accent?” We get to do different things in every episode, and it’s not just about gender or race. It’s about having well-rounded characters and a wide range of adventures so that we’re just never playing the same thing. […]

Ganz: The same thing that drives Dan away from your typical sitcom storylines is the same thing that drives him away from making any one character a stereotype, because it’s just too easy.

Read the rest. Community has been brilliant so far, and and I can’t wait to see where it goes from here. Including, I hope, a fourth season, if there’s any justice in the universe.

(Photo via NBC Universal)

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Miscellany: Blume, Hitchens, Lamarr, Tyson; The West Wing as science fiction; groupthink and solitude; what e-books can’t do; and the end of SOPA (for now)

Time for another grab-bag of links that caught my eye:

1) An NPR interview with the incomparable Judy Blume, who talks about censorship, how to inspire kids to read (and how not to), the folly of labeling authors and books according to “audience age,” and how perseverance determines a writer’s success more than talent. (Note to self: time to get to work. Again.)

2) An interview with Richard Rhodes on the scientific career of actress Hedy Lamarr, “the most beautiful woman in the world.” Fascinating stuff, and one I’ve touched on before, in a post on stereotypes and women scientists.

3) A compilation of articles written for The Nation by the late, great Christopher Hitchens, spanning 28 years (1978-2006).

4) Over the past few months my wife and I have avidly watched all seven seasons of The West Wing. Graham Sleight explains why the show is, at its heart, science fiction in spirit and impulse: “I want to argue […] that it’s SF in a more profound sense […] It makes an argument, as SF does, about possibility, about what can be done, and it does so by presenting us with a world already showing a change from our own.” Highly worth reading if you’re a West Wing fan.

5) A provocative New York Times essay by Susan Cain on “The Rise of the New Groupthink,” about the folly of insisting on constant collaboration and “teamwork” at the expense of creative solitude. This is happening in schools as well, as Cain points out, a fact that I personally find a bit worrying. Learning to work with others is great, but are we failing to appreciate the virtues of aloneness, of introspection?

6) Why books are made of win: the Abe Books blog, via Matador, offers a list of things you can’t do with an e-book. Including leaving it on a beach towel, throwing it across the room, and using it to press flowers and fallen leaves.

7) Carl Zimmer’s excellent profile of Neil deGrasse Tyson.

8) And finally — victory! Talking Points Memo analyzes how Netizens killed SOPA and PIPA. No doubt the advocates of censorship will try again; but those who stand for freedom of speech will be ready and waiting.

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