Refusing to Conform to Stereotypes About my Race and City

Courtesy of C-Town Rivals

Let me start off by saying that I am someone who hates being put into boxes. I hate the idea of being defined by a notion such as a stereotype, because it suggests that who I am as a person is fixed on some concept of what society feels is the definition of being black. In reality, everyone’s personality is not defined within cliches. I have been surrounded by stereotypes throughout my life, based on factors such as my living environment, my race, and my general appearance. It was funny, because I had never paid much attention to these different aspects of myself until others brought their opinions of me to my attention.

I’ve lived in West Trenton most of my life. Some of my eldest friendships were created here. I’ve always known it to be a place where one could see kids playing at outdoor basketball courts during all hours of the day, or hear teenagers playing manhunt until the early hours in the morning. It is a place where I’ve found, for the most part, all nice people. To outsiders, though, it was automatically labeled a “ghetto”. I’ve been asked numerous times about whether or not it was safe for me to walk around my home, throughout my years of attending PDS. To be frank, it’s very hurtful to have gang and shooting references constantly directed towards the place where I’ve grown up. It’s funny, because as frightening as people assume Trenton to be, I’ve found that I’ve known twice as many welcoming people from my area than Princeton. The only difference between the two areas is that my community is constantly neglected by the government, so it doesn’t have Princeton’s polished aesthetics.

Another assumption that is commonly made about people who reside in my area is that we are uneducated. Well I’ll inform you, speaking as someone who is very educated and lives in Trenton, that that is not the case at all. The miseducation is a result of the fact that the education system doesn’t take the time to teach the kids that live in this area. There are plenty of brilliant minds who attend Trenton schools everyday, but they are stifled by stagnant lessons that are taught to those in public school. There is an ugly gap in between the way kids are educated in private versus public schools, and it’s not the kids’ faults.

I’ve had numerous stereotypes placed on me because of my race. If I were to tell you all of the stories, I think it would take at least a week’s length time to finish. However, to show the relevance of these stories to today, I’ll discuss an interaction I had earlier just this month. My mother and I were going to get my final prom dress alterations finished, and we decided to go look around in another one of the clothing stores located in the mall. Well, my mother and I were taking our time, looking around at the clothes, and every so often I could see the lady who worked at the store watching us. At first I thought nothing of it, until I looked up a few more times and noticed that she had been keeping her sights on us for the entire time that we were in the store. She even began to slowly follow us as we walked through the store, to observe what we were doing.

To tell you the truth, this wasn’t the first time I’ve been tailed in a retail store before. I’d been watched before when I went to the mall with my other friends, whom happened to be P.O.C. I have also been monitored twice as much whenever I was with my elder brother or cousin. There is an extremely volatile stereotype that is placed on African Americans, specifically African American males, that they are unable to pay for their belongings, and that anytime they are spending time in a store, they are planning on robbing the establishment rather than paying. Not only have I gone through this situation, but I’ve watched police officers question my brother without reasoning, based on this idiotic assumption.

I’ve also gotten many stereotypes over is my appearance. I’m naturally a very tall girl, and combining that with my race, everyone assumes that I play basketball and that I’m very good at sports. Well, in all honesty, I hated playing sports. I’m not an aggressive person by nature, and just because I do have hand-eye coordination, doesn’t mean I wish to put it to use. I spent a lot of time in my earlier years listening to people and appeasing them by playing basketball and other sports, because that’s what they told me to do. All the while I pushed aside the things I truly wanted to spend my energy on. I figured out that I needed to do activities that would better my spirit as I got older, and I left sports behind, following my middle school years.

People can tell me that maybe some of these stereotypes are good, but I don’t believe in the idea of a “positive stereotype”. They’re all little boxes placed to limit ourselves in being who we really are. I did and will always refuse to conform to them.

-Eris Gee