3/2This page is full of stories of people’s experiences with stereotypes. To send in your story, email: firstname.lastname@example.org with your story, your name, your grade or profession, and your school or where you are from. There are absolutely no “requirements” for this – please feel free to express yourself creatively, authentically, and freely.
Srinidhi Ananth – 10th grade – West Windsor Plainsboro High School North
She was a distinguished journalist, political reporter, author and moderator of the public affairs program “Washington Week.” She was a co-anchor and co-managing editor, with Judy Woodruff, of PBS NewsHour, and a political analyst for the 2004 and 2008 vice-presidential debates. She might have been all this, but more importantly, she was a role model to me. This woman is none other than Gwen Iffil, a journalist who overcame the barriers of being a black reporter in her time, and who unfortunately passed away of uterine cancer, last November.
Ifill was a woman of significance in journalism not only because of her talent, courage, and commitment to the field, but because she broke new ground. For me, being a writer and photography editor for my school’s newspaper, The Knightly News, I’m constantly looking for inspiration for my writing, and ways to emulate notable figures who have done similar things in their time.
Iffil’s childhood was not very smooth-sailing, but I commend her immensely for the fact that she rose up above all the hardships that she encountered, and not only making it big in her profession of reporting and broadcast journalism, but pioneering being the first significant African American reporter and broadcast journalist to ever exist.
Even as a child, Ifill was curious and inquisitive. The daughter of Caribbean immigrants, she grew up during the tumultuous 60s, and she was raised in many different cities along the East Coast, sometimes residing in church houses, or federally subsidized housing. Ifill made it big when she joined the staff of The New York Times in 1991, becoming a White House correspondent. She covered Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign in 1992, and journalist Tim Russert consequently promoted her to cover Capitol Hill for his channel, NBC.
Ifill had no tolerance for discriminatory individuals. When studying at Simmons College, Ifill interned at the Boston-Herald American Newspaper. She came back to a note on her desk that addressed her by a racist epithet, and said, “go home” and immediately showed the note to the editors, who offered her a permanent job for the newspaper. “She didn’t get the job out of sympathy,” Ifill’s close friend Michele Norris said. “She got the job because she didn’t let that slow her down” (The New York Times).
Ifill was and always will be an immense influence on women all around the world. In today’s world, I would like to say that we have improved exceptionally with racial equality and intolerance for bigotry, but we still have lots of improvement to make, some examples being African American discrimination, and Xenophobia. The world hasn’t come to terms with the fact that America is bound to be a racially diverse country, no matter what rules and regulations Trump has in store. Iffil spearheaded, through her admirable work as a journalist, the idea that America thrives not in spite of its infinite diversity, but because of it. The concept that women can excel in any career path they desire was championed by Iffil, and every woman should be grateful for her bold and upholding personality.
It’s tragic that she has passed, but to this day, I try and take lessons from her, career wise, and personality wise. So, from one journalist to another, thank you, Gwen Iffil. Thank you for teaching me how to be a determined, but polite journalist. Thank you for teaching me to step out of the “box” I set for myself, being a woman in a male-dominated profession. Above all, thank you for teaching me to pursue your dreams and goals, no matter how difficult the personal or social circumstances are.
Ken Young Ko – 12th grade – Korea International School
I am not a U.S. national — I don’t have U.S. citizenship nor have I lived in the U.S. long enough to remember what I had experienced there. But that country is as important as my own, and the presidential election is unavoidable in my country as both countries share common values and the U.S. has had so much influence on ours.
I’m not a Trump supporter, and there are so many reasons behind my decision to be so. But one of the very reasons I must identify is the fact that the President-Elect has marginalised so many ethnic and religious groups only to bring about so much hatred across the country and beyond — let alone the the concept of islamophobia. I’m not a Muslim, but that doesn’t stop me from letting my voice heard to show how much it breaks my heart to see how people could suddenly have the idea that all Muslims are terrorists.
When my friend and I were both new students to a school, I came up to her first and asked if I could hang out with her. All I could see from her was her kindness and a bit of shyness on the first day of school. It wasn’t until much later that I realised that she was a Muslim, but that didn’t weaken our friendship at all. In fact, it strengthened it.
I’ve visited her house many, many times, and although it didn’t necessarily change my own belief, I definitely felt lucky – as I still do – to experience and discover how others celebrate and strengthen their religious beliefs. Even from distance apart (we live in different countries now), there is not a slightest hint or suspicion within me that she, or any member of her family, is a terrorist.
I’ve known for so long that calling all Muslims are terrorists simply crosses the line of our social values and of so many more building blocks of our society, but I think that if it wasn’t for my open-mindedness, I definitely would not have been able to more strongly support the groups that have been unjustly marginalised.
So here I come to the conclusion that no matter what happened to the presidential election, as long as we are open-minded and are willing to accept other people’s differences (as my friend and I have with our respective religions), we will always have each other’s back and the next four years is our chance to show that. All I hope for our future is that we don’t let religions, appearances, or other factors that make YOU a human with rights bring so much hatred that we don’t want. We live to love — not to hate.
Keun Young – 12th grade – Korea International School
I’m from Seoul, South Korea, but I lived in Germany for half of my lifetime, and as a full Asian living in a foreign country, I was stereotyped.
From 2012 to 2014, I had been attending a school that was founded just when I moved there. It was called “European School” with its own baccalaureate and school system. Soon did I realize that I was the only Asian in Upper School amongst all the other students. But this was just the start of my life-changing story.
It was hard to believe at first glance, but there I stood, alone, in the middle of nowhere, as I recall today. I had nobody to lean on. Despite having lived in Germany for four years, I couldn’t speak the language as fluently as other students (who all came from European countries) did. I felt like I was verbally disabled. Yes, I was able to speak English, but that wasn’t enough when it came to conversing with my classmates in and outside of school. There was no clear way to express how I felt in what I call a claustrophobic environment. Maybe it was just too hard to describe it in words. Maybe.
I was stereotyped as “the Asian geek” in my school, but evidently I wasn’t. At the time, I was just an average student with no big interests in academics. No, not at all. But strangely enough, they made me become one – an overachiever, a perfectionist, an OCD student.
In retrospect, I believe it was because of my own personal desire to be satisfied with how others view me, to become that stereotype of the society’s expectations and ideas.
But no, I don’t regret.
I don’t regret having experienced such agony. I don’t regret having been depressed for two years. I don’t regret having the urge to become some flying ashes in the universe, to feel no purpose of living.
I appreciate it. I appreciate that I have now found the meaning of life. I appreciate that I have been able to overcome it.
It helped me grow. It helped me become a more understanding person. Yes, they may necessarily have their own way of regarding me, but I thanked them, and I still do.
Thanks to them, I’ve become an academically achieving student. Thanks to them, I’ve become an empathetic person who helps others through their own hardest times. Thanks to them, I’m alive.
Without them, I wouldn’t have realized how unexpected life can become and how you no longer are the person you were just a year ago, a month ago, or even, a second ago.
My ethnicity still remains. My name still remains as Keun Young Ko, but I, as a person, has changed.
Now, I’m brave, and I’m no longer fearful of what my future holds.
(*Please note that I am no proponent of stereotypes by all means. I would just like to express my opinion that stereotypes may be regarded in a myriad of different ways but that those various perceptions ultimately come to the same conclusion: they change you.)
Vivian Li – 12th grade – Shanghai Foreign Language School
1. “Name all international delegates present here.”
“XXX,XXX..Oh, and Mercy Corp”, after my parent and I raised our hands.
I was waiting for my name to be called out quickly because I was pretty active during the whole conference, but my name was the last to call out.
“Sorry we forgot you.”
For me, a purely Sorry cannot settle anything. From 1850s till now, Asian, especially Chinese, are neglected and discriminated around the globe. And lots of people just complained on the Internet or officially but never GET THINGS DONE.
2. “Are you crazy? Why political science? Why not business/Economics/Computer Science/Engineering?”
“Why JD? You don’t want to marry in the future?”
My parents still cannot understand my reason to choose polisci as my perspective major, maybe they will never understand. Under decades of stereotypical education, they seem to give up the hope to CHANGE. But I think, as a millennial, I am born to, I am destined to REDEFY.
Ayushi Jain – 10th grade –West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North
I miss being a kid. We were innocent, blank slates making no distinction between the hues of skin or popularity. We just made decisions on a whim, based on bright colors, yummy foods. And as we grow older, our surroundings shape who we are, how we think, where we go, what we do.
From day 1, girls are given dolls and pink plastic kitchens to play with, while boys are given racecars and superhero-themed trucks. It has always been the question of beauty vs. brains for girls, and no doubt, this has been a recurring theme in movies and TV shows for as long as I can remember. Why can’t it be both?
I used to be super confident in myself because I never knew the concept of popularity and smarts and why they were always separate in school. She was just as cool as he was; he was just as cool as she. But, as we grew up into middle schoolers and high schoolers, invisible, divisive lines appeared.
I’m not the prettiest in my grade nor am I the smartest (despite my Asian origins). I never thought I was smart enough “for an Asian.” But, I am an example of an outgoing and relatively smart girl. I’ve noticed that, for some reason, many people consider introverts to be smarter than extroverts. Mind you, if someone asked, “Who’s the smartest person in our grade?”, I wouldn’t be the first name that comes to mind. And this frustrated me for a long time.
I used to think, “Why can’t I be a tri-season athlete and play five instruments and volunteer 20 hours a week like ______ does?”
I could never put a name to what this feeling was, and it hit me.
Even though I’m not a tri-season athlete, I’m a proud 5-foot-tall volleyball player. Usually, the first thing people notice about me is my height. But what I don’t have in height, I have in strength. Because of my height and my overall physique, many people don’t think I play a sport. It’s incredible to see the surprised and priceless expression on someone’s face when I say that I play volleyball. I like defying the stereotype that only tall, thin girls play volleyball. Short girls can play too! Yeah, I’m short. Yeah, I’m shorter than 90% of the other girls on the court. But I still play volleyball.
Even though I don’t play five instruments, I play the clarinet. And even though I don’t volunteer 20 hours a week, I give back in ways where I feel warm on the inside when little children with worried gray eyes look up at me and smile, free of worries in that moment, because I give them a tray of warm food.
And I realized that a lot of people feel compelled to fulfill society’s expectations of them, whether that is the expectation to do 10 different activities and excel at them while getting straight As or even in the bigger picture, acting and looking a certain way to conform.
And I’ll tell you something: If you don’t feel comfortable conforming, defy expectations. You don’t have to be hide parts of your personality because you feel like other people are not okay with you. You are the only person who has to be okay with you. Nobody should tell you who to be.
So, yes, I’m not the prettiest or smartest in my grade. But I’m the prettiest and smartest and most athletic that I can be. And I’m okay with that.
Aneesah Ayub – 12th grade – The Beacon School
“Are you sure you’re not Indian? What about Hindu? You’re definitely Hindu.”
“When do you plan on getting married?”
“Why do people wear that red dot on their forehead? Where’s yours?”
There is a vast range of stereotypes associated with looking Indian. I say “looking Indian” because I am Guyanese, not Indian (unless you are looking centuries back). Guyana is a small country bordered by Suriname, Brazil, and Venezuela; however, it is uninfluenced by the Spanish culture of its neighbors. Guyanese natives embody a West Indian/Carribean culture that hugely differentiates Indian and Guyanese people. However, the differences are viciously ignored, opening the door for a whole stream of stereotypes relating to the preconceived notions of being Indian, such as having an arranged marriage, becoming a doctor, and being intelligent without parallel.
In addition to being Guyanese, I am also Muslim. Although I do not wear a hijab, I practice the values that are a part of this faith. A common belief of Muslims is that knowledge is power, but my skin tone and Indian look automatically attributes my intelligence to a background, not my hard work. With my skin color and the daggered stares that come from my response to “What religion do you associate with?”, I could practically see the word “terrorist” etched on people’s minds. I, at first, was intentionally ignorant to the connotations of being a Muslim, but later realized that I wasn’t stopping the problem. It is more important now than ever to combat Muslim stereotypes of being terrorists, especially because the rising level of Islamophobia is giving a bad name to approximately 1.6 billion people. As a matter of fact, I have witnessed young girls at mosque take their hijabs off once leaving, because they were afraid of being bullied. What else can be expected when there are people at Donald Trump’s rallies wearing shirts cursing Islam and chanting vile comments like, “death to the Muslims”?
One stereotype I am defying is that I will live a certain lifestyle and have a specific personality–that of which comes with my “brownness” and Islamic faith. You know, the quiet, modest girl, with a passion for medicine or surgery or something inevitably scientific. After joining in on one of my first high school classroom discussions, a few of my classmates told me that they didn’t expect me to be “so vocal and outspoken.” They couldn’t have been more off. Ever since my role in the mock Middle East Peace conference, I fell in love with international affairs (both security and humanitarian). I do not want to become the cliché engineer or doctor (though these are immensely respectable occupations). I want to encourage people to think long-term and carefully, evaluating culture and psychology before making impetuous decisions that could potentially doom the future of the world. I want people to think about the environment, preserving culture, and saving human lives, instead of just money and power. I want leaders to fight with words and not weapons. I vow to be at the forefront of social and political change, not just in the United States, but all around the world.
I am not what I seem. No one can truly know me by simply looking at my skin color and knowing my religion.
Systematic categorization comes in all forms, most slyly through microaggressions. So please, choose your words wisely and help defy stereotypes.
Raheen Syed – 10th grade – West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South
Imagine a world where not a single soul was hurt or affected by the painful words of prejudice; where African Americans could roam the streets, untouched by the discriminatory words of others; where hispanics are not given a label as “illegal” or uneducated;” and where there is no distinction between “us” and “them.”Imagine a world where a young Muslim girl like me can be proud of her faith and religious beliefs, not ashamed of them. Imagine the peace we could have upon us all.
Picture sitting in your classroom, the day before winter break begins, talking about your vacation amongst your friends. Picture a thirteen-year-old Muslim girl telling her classmates about the trip she’s taking to Pakistan to visit family. A classroom full of excited students, no worry in the world. Now, picture a boy in the back of the room shouting out, “Watch out for the terrorists,” while everyone laughs, but the girl is sitting there expressionless. That girl was me. No child should have to deal with such derogatory comments or even hide her religious beliefs for the sake of staying safe. We now live in a time in which you will be seen differently based on which God or how many Gods you believe in–a time in which you will be judged and labeled based on how you look or what language you speak.
Being stopped and questioned at the airport because we have Muslim names, skipping school on September 11, and not being able to wear a headscarf because it made me feel unsafe. These are just a few examples of many discriminatory stereotypes people face everyday.
Today, one of the most widely discussed issues is the negative image of Islam which is depicted by the media. While appeals to the media for accuracy and fairness continue, other forms of written media such as newspaper headlines regularly use words like “terroristic,” “violence,” “radical,” and more, all pinned against the Islamic community. One of the main events which sparked this uproar of hate against Muslims was, of course, the attack on September 11, 2001. Since then, the world has been given a new pair of eyes and has begun to see every Muslim as some kind of violent threat. If the perpetrators of this attack happened to practice Judaism, would the world see Jews differently? Or Christians? The hate towards Muslims would not completely vanish, but a good amount of it would. Since the years of 2001-2002, the rate of hate crimes against Muslims continued to increase every year, showing no signs of a decrease.
Unfortunately, this type of discrimination does not seem to be disappearing. The only way to stop this kind of racism is to understand the true beauty behind Islam and to see that Muslims mean no harm to anything or anyone.
Daniella Ineza – 11th grade – Gashora Girls Academy
I am aware that my country is somewhat unknown to the rest of the world. Therefore, “Burundi is a country located just beside Rwanda” is the phrase that I always mention to foreigners after telling them where I am from. While their ignorance is understandable, it still frustrates me.
What’s worse, I receive more disparaging remarks than needed from those who, on the contrary, know Burundi. Be it my friends at my school in Rwanda or a stranger encountered on a bus, they don’t hold back their prejudices. Though they don’t mean to hurt me, I can’t help but feel insulted and devastated.
I cannot say that the bad reputation of Burundians is completely unfounded; Burundians are known for their legendary laissez-faire. The government leaders are corrupt and involved in various criminal cases that my country is presently experiencing. Regardless, Burundi is a country that has a lot to offer. I am the perfect example of how Burundians are more than their stereotype. This is why I don’t understand why people attack me for simply being Burundian. However, it makes me more determined to prove them wrong. That is my motivation to create a change in Burundi.
Joanne Wang – 10th grade – West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North
I like to believe that I defy the stereotype of being Chinese. Instead of ruler straight black hair, I have a head full of brown locks. Instead of the supposed small eyes that so many people think we look at the world through, my eyes seem almost abnormally big. And I like being able to look at people who sneer that all Asians have small eyes and ask “really?”. But as much as I like to think I’m proof that stereotypes are wrong, the Asian stereotype still finds its way into my life.
Stereotype #1: All Asians are geniuses. And yes, I have heard almost everything defending this stereotype: “That’s a good stereotype!” and “what’s so bad about being thought of as smart?” or even “but isn’t that true?”. Yes, it’s not as bad as other stereotypes in the world, but it comes, in turn, with one scary word: expectations. Back in elementary school, perhaps I was unaware of stereotypes, but I never felt as though what I did was being judged. So why did that change in middle school? There was a program in our middle school called A&E math in which nearly everyone was Asian. So much so that the “A” in A&E was commonly known as “Asian”. There was a test you could take in order to get in, but being young and scared of judgment, I didn’t take it in fear of not getting in. I wasn’t prepared to hear, “If you’re really Asian, then why didn’t you get in A&E?”. So instead I had a nice little excuse: “Oh, I didn’t try out”. And yet the questions of why I wasn’t in the advanced program kept coming my way. It didn’t matter that I took honors math—all people wanted to know was why I wasn’t in the most advanced program.
Stereotype #2: Asians don’t have to try in order to get good grades. Now, I don’t know about my other Asian friends, but I didn’t come out of the womb talking with perfect grammar or solving algebraic equations. I did the same thing as everyone else in the school: I studied and did the best I could. It’s nice to feel smart, but there’s a point when it seems like people think you don’t even try. This past freshman year, I took Language Arts I Honors, which is infamous for being difficult. The first essay I wrote received a low C—so did the second. But by the third, I raised it up to a high B, and then eventually received an A on another writing assignment. Was I proud? Honestly, I was because I practiced to get that grade higher. But when I talked with other students about grades and my improvement came up, I heard many “of course you did”s as answers. When I say I received a low grade, people automatically scoff and ask if I got a low A. This stereotype is perhaps the one I hate the most because the work I put into studying is dismissed, and I’m simply deemed “naturally intelligent”.
Stereotype #3: Asians can’t play sports. In school, I play volleyball as a setter. Our team definitely isn’t the best, but it certainly isn’t the worst either. Interestingly, most of our volleyball team is made up of Asians. It’s just a bit intimidating when we walk into a gym, and the other team consists of entirely tall, white girls. I honestly don’t know if those girls are thinking that we would be an easy team to beat because we’re Asian, but there’s a little voice in the back of my mind that whispers they do think that. I don’t like the feeling of fighting a mental battle with myself before I even step on the court to show the other team what I’ve got.
My school is made up of an Asian majority, so perhaps my experience is different than that of students who attend schools with mostly white classmates. And by no means do I want to sound like I’m complaining about these stereotypes because I know fully well that worse stereotypes, which actually cause people to fear others for no reason, exist in this world. Sometimes it’s hard to forget that Asians aren’t in movies or tv shows, nor do they win big awards often, such as an Oscar, any more than perhaps African Americans actors. But it’s 2016—this battle against stereotypes has been fought for too long. No one should feel pressured or pushed around by stereotypes. No one should feel obligated to take certain action because of stereotypes. And most of all, no one should feel as though they are being judged or restricted because of these sometimes seemingly harmless statements that fly around and bury themselves in the minds of others.
I do believe education about the harmful effects of racism and stereotypes is important for youth because no one is born hateful or judgmental. There’s no reason I should feel judged or inferior when I walk onto a volleyball court, just as there is no reason a minority should feel judged or inferior when she walks into an office to apply for a job. There’s no reason I should feel scared of judgment for not living up to a certain “Asian expectation”, just as there is no reason anyone, and I mean anyone, should be scared of feeling judgment when she walks down the street. These small events that teenagers feel when they are young are suddenly amplified once they leave the nice bubble of childhood and enter the world with a different color skin, a different body type, a different eye shape, a different head of hair as someone else, despite the fact that they all share one thing: the right to be treated as a human being.
Alexis Sher – 12th grade – Millbrook School
My college counselor once told me “you are in the worst demographic possible.” She looked at me as if I already knew. Blonde, white, upper-middle class and from the East Coast, I have been lucky to live a privileged life. I haven’t faced obstacles with safety or discrimination, and to be told that I, of all people was in the worst demographic possible, did not make sense.
I recognized others did not see me as I did when I placed at the top of my form’s “High Honor Roll.” Classes had finished for the day, and hundreds of students bustled through the commons gawking at their cell phone screens for the anticipated Honor Roll e-mail. I ducked under a doorway and scrolled through names until IV Form appeared on the screen. My name sat under a bolded High Honor Roll and on top of two other peers. I had achieved the highest grade point average in my form. As the commotion of who had and hadn’t made “the list” filled the quad, several students shouted across the grass “Alexis, I didn’t realize you were so smart!” or “I would have never guessed!” Dumbstruck, I did not know how to respond. Instead of returning a grateful “thank you,” I simply asked “why?” “Well,” was a student’s response, “you just don’t look it.” I did not realize how much my various tangible characteristics would hinder strangers’ ability to see my intangible ones. People saw me and thought dumb blonde.
My school’s environment is one where many consider themselves infamously “too cool for school.” At fifteen years old, I moved from a hyper-stimulating academic environment in the middle of an urban city to a conservative boarding school, where the world consisted of Manhattan and the Hamptons. As an individual who thrives off of challenges, I suddenly found myself in a place where physical appearances were more important than character. As my counselor expressed to me before delving into the complicated college process, it became evident that not just my peers, but the professional world, would see my blond hair and assign me to a box.
The color of my skin and style of my clothing does not tell you that my family fosters children, nor do these traits tell you that my sisters are Chilean and Haitian. My hazel eyes do not tell you that I curl up with books about counterterrorism or the crisis of the American Dream. My nose does not tell you that I lived abroad and earned a diploma in a foreign language in nine months. My posture does not tell you that I worked as a zoo curator or that I served as a Disciplinary Committee member. My physical being does not tell you that I am ethically driven to succeed in all that I do, and I refuse to be put into a box.
Damare Baker – 12th grade – Mississippi School for Math and Science
“You talk so white.”
“Are you sure you aren’t white?”
“You’re so proper for a black girl.”
“You don’t sound like you’re from the South.”
These are all things that I have heard growing up, from family, friends, and strangers. When I was younger, I took these as compliments, but then I realized these are actually insults to my race and culture. There are stereotypes that African-Americans are uneducated and talk “ghetto” and that people from the South have a “country accent” and are ignorant. None of those stereotypes describe me. Yes, I am African-American. Yes, I am from the South. However, I am educated and I use proper grammar. I don’t have a “country” accent, nor am I ignorant.
It especially makes me angry when African-Americans say these things to me because they are insulting themselves. They are calling themselves uneducated, but they get mad when someone of a different race calls them that—I find it very hypocritical. Instead of labeling ourselves with stereotypes, we should defy those stereotypes and relieve people of their ignorance. I realize it’s hard to change opinions of others, but we can create new opinions of ourselves in society.
Caitlin Shekleton – 10th Grade – Trinity High School
Being a teenager has its difficulties, and when you are a military brat, a whole new set of challenges materializes. Constant moves, deployments, and new schools are my reality. By the time I graduate from high school, I will have lived in three countries and five states while attending nine different schools. I move to new places with the knowledge that in a few years, I will be moving yet again and leaving my new friends behind. A simple question such as “Where are you from?” becomes complicated—It is nearly impossible to identify a single place to which you belong when there are at least a dozen places that you consider to be home.
The stereotypical military brat is outgoing, confident, and easily adapts to his or her surrounding environment. A common negative stereotype of military brats is that we are not able to form long-lasting friendships due to frequently moving. Although the experiences of being a military brat oftentimes lead to the development of all those traits, those stereotypes are not always true. Military brats share common bonds because of their shared experiences, but we are all diverse. Just as there is no snowflake in the world that is the same, all military brats are not the same. We each handle the stress of moves, deployments, and new schools in a different and unique way—and we should not be stereotyped based solely on our life experiences.
As a relatively quiet and reserved person, I do not fit the image of a stereotypical military brat. This stereotype of military brats is constricting to me and to the large percentage of military brats who defy the stereotype—we should not be expected to all have the same exact personality traits simply because we are military brats.
Tanisha Pande – 10th Grade – United World College South East Asia East
Tanned skin, brown fleeting. Large eyes, inquisitive. Small stature, accent fluid–a myriad of places encased in oscillating tones.
The predictable response follows: a curious glance through the rearview mirror, a bemused tilt of the lips. “Are you sure?” the inevitable question comes, disbelief ringing through—skeptical that I have evaded their long list of labels, peppered with nationalities far and foreign. “But you’re so fair!”
It is always the same. After all, who would expect a girl with only a hint of chocolate beneath her skin to be Indian? Is it that her shade separates her from two hundred languages and a subcontinent of twenty-nine states, where all apparently share the same skin color? Or that her neutral voice escapes the gawky figure they have constructed, numbers whizzing under dark skin and greased hair?
My reaction mimics the routine I have become accustomed to–pretend that their incredulity does not suffocate me, feign a misshapen smile, and offer a fruitless explanation upon deaf ears. More often than not, I try to humanize: to paint my nation as more than a monochromatic brown haze until the exhaustion of the endeavor befalls me.
These instances are not uncommon. They revisit me in the form of visitors with different guises–new skin and familiar faces. My guests bear unwanted gifts: identities.
Each meeting leaves me heavier, misplaced personas building underneath my bones. Bisexual, Indian, International jostle with impostors–some of the most memorable ones being Mexican, Malaysian and Adopted.
All external, some valid.
When one is surrounded only by labels, she begins to believe in some of the lies, regardless of her strength of mind. The practice makes one sensitive to the deleterious stereotypes that surround us and from within.
The unsung turmoil of a white passing Indian may be a privilege to some, but it has exposed me to the idea of rejection not only from the external concept of an Indian but also within the nation itself. The color of my skin marks me as foreign in my own country, thriving on a narrative spun by sheer laziness; the tenor of my voice distinguishes me as an outlier, distant from the lilt of my people whose musical accents are deemed “awkward;” and my Hindi accent, unique with its own rasp, separates me further from my own.
I am an Indian whose skin does not fit.
There are advantages to this, of course—not every anomaly is without benefits, nor every overcast cloud is without a hint of sunshine. My position has allowed me to coexist with two cultures–never embraced with open arms by either.
Yet, the friction of being in-between in a world that thrives to characterize creates a dissonance, which resounds through every fiber of my being—each cell and every pore until it surfaces in my home. Redundant expectations are not merely imposed on us by outsiders but exist within ourselves as well.
Fall in love but not with a Muslim. Choose your partner, but get married before you turn thirty. Have children–what would people think if you were childless? Follow your dreams, but excel in everything you touch. Have a career, but remember family comes first, beti.
We feed ourselves single stories as a result of these restrictive labels. The ideal Indian girl is a diplomat with an impeccable façade of nonchalance. She is weighed down with age-old preconceived notions, along with new limitations, but has perfected the art of willful ignorance to please others—to cope rather than fight, to live her life before settling down to embrace the inevitable fate of being another stereotype.
As a bisexual Indian girl who does not yearn for children or marriage, I am dismissed as a merely rebellious child. A deviation from the ideal, respectable Indian girl is still a catastrophe behind the novelty of progression we wear like a mask. My cage awaits me–golden and heterosexual, with childlike giggles muffled by self-imposed shackles of identities misinformed. It hungers for another girl, craves another weary soul lost.
Head held high, shoulders straining underneath the weight of my burden, I will step away from it time and time again, fighting tooth and nail until my dying breath—a ubiquitous warrior, peaceful in the knowledge that she is both worlds yet bound to none.
When they’re mine, all I hear is “Is that the Big Dipper?” “Is that Orion?” “Are those the Gemini twins on your face?” “Got too much sun?” “Wear more sunscreen next time!” But on Instagram, celebrities can gain followers by drawing freckles onto their faces. While I have been mocked and stereotyped for something I can’t control, people can just add freckles when they have been deemed “popular,” and their followers will want to follow this new trend as well.
My freckles have been a part of my face for my whole life. My interactions with the outdoors have been shaped by the inevitable growth in freckleage brought on by sun exposure; this growth never escapes the comments of strangers, who seem to think they are entitled to pass judgment on the marks on my face. People are surprised that I don’t have red hair as well, seemingly ignorant to the fact that not all freckled people look the same. Those who draw freckles on their faces, with makeup or otherwise, do not share these experiences.
While I was bullied in elementary school—stereotyped and mocked—for my freckles, now suddenly people can draw them on their face without facing any negative consequences or judgment, except for me. I have to cover my freckles with foundation, scared that someone will call me “Pippi LongStocking” and ask where my pigtails are as I sulk down the hall.
Luckily, I found a community of natural freckle-havers during my sophomore year in high school. Together, we have found solidarity and affirmation; in fact, they are the ones who gave me the courage to share my story with all of you.
My aim in writing about my experience is to remind everyone that no matter your race, ethnicity, appearance, religion, or sexual orientation, everyone has feelings and deserves to be treated equally. When you draw on fake freckles because it’s popular after mocking people for years for the same facial characteristic, it can hurt. I look forward to a successful career in business, and I will always remember these lessons. Let’s remember that our freckles, and all of our physical characteristics, do not limit our futures.
Caragan Thiel – 11th Grade – Campbell High School
I saw myself as “normal;” I was both a girly-girl and a tomboy—a girl who liked to wear makeup but also played sports. I always cherished having a large group of guy friends, but I was never interested in dating. I’ve never wanted to get married nor have kids; rather, I am a very career-oriented person. When I walk into a room, I am confident, presentable, and I usually appear quite serious, and when asked my opinion, I provide it. That’s just who I am.
In Washington, where I spent most of my early years, these traits were present in me but certainly never defined me. When I moved to Georgia, however, everything changed. Suddenly, I wasn’t “normal;” everywhere I turned I heard the word “intimidating” ringing in my ears. And my “intimidating” characteristics began to define me.
I am constantly compared to Hillary Clinton, but given Clinton’s favorability ratings, I’d be foolish to perceive the comparison a compliment. In the past few years, I have been stereotyped and pushed into a box neatly labeled “boss lady.” Because I am “intimidating,” it is rare that someone approaches me.
“When I first met you, I was scared to talk to you” is a phrase that almost everyone I know has mentioned to me at least once—perhaps they fear I bite. After three years at my school, however, my peers have finally learned that, in fact, I do not bite. Though my classmates have now dropped the “intimidating” label, I am still characterized as a “strong woman.” The guys in my grade, therefore, treat me differently than they treat other girls. Around most girls, these guys hide their crude thoughts; around me, on the other hand, they don’t hold anything back—something I find quite peculiar. Perhaps because I am considered a “strong woman,” they no longer consider me “fragile” like other girls.
As a result of their characterization of me, I have been desexualized; thus, they never attempt to flirt with me but have become quite open about how they think I express my sexuality. It’s odd that in the past year I have been called both “asexual” and a “dominatrix” with equal frequency. On one hand, because I am career-oriented, it is expected that I would never be romantically interested in anyone, making me asexual in their minds. On the other hand, since I am confident, I am also perceived as being sexually dominant. While that is a contradiction in itself, what I find most perplexing is their belief that my personality traits correlate to my sexual preferences. And what I find most uncomfortable is that these guys don’t bite their tongue before telling me what my sexual preferences are. When did it become “okay” to openly speculate about such intimate details? Ultimately, I feel dehumanized; I am valued more for my sexual mystery than I am for my humanity.
These perceptions about my sexuality have not remained inside the minds of the guys at my school; they, in fact, affect my life in many other ways. When I walk down the street, I’m not whistled at, and I rarely get called out for breaking dress code. Instead, I am placed into the role of the “strong woman” figure who doesn’t dare have a sexual presence; but I find this a limiting role to play because I am more than a stereotype. The nuances of my—or anyone’s for that matter—personality is what makes me human. And ultimately, when we stereotype others, we omit these nuances and reduce them to a character-like representation of their prevailing personality traits; we limit their ability to be dynamic.
I ask that women who have had similar experiences to speak out even if it is an uncomfortable topic. Women are more than objects, and we deserve to be treated with respect. Sexualizing us, desexualizing us, and dehumanizing us cannot and will not be tolerated. We are stronger when our voices are loud and when they are heard.
And just because I seem like a stereotypical “boss lady” doesn’t mean that I am one. Sorry, but I am not Hillary Clinton; we are separate and unique people. I am Caragan Thiel, and it is important that you make the effort to get to know me. So please, think before you label someone.
Indra Galindo – 11th Grade – Francis Parker School
It’s the first week of school, and, like many other people, I am still trying to meet new people, to make new acquaintances. The room is filled with the sound of introductions, and I, not wanting to miss out, proceed to make myself known to people. I start making small talk. After I speak a few words, an expression of general surprise lights up on faces.
“Oh, you’re so eloquent!” they say, “You seem to be so educated!”
At first, it seems like a compliment, but I let it sit for a while. The overall result is an insult to my people. They don’t say it, but I get the sense that what they meant to say was you’re so eloquent for a Latina. Did you not expect me to be like that? Is it because I look Latina that you had already formed an opinion about me? What aspect of the word Latinx implies uneducated to you?
Other times, when someone hears that my first language is Spanish, they compliment me for speaking English so well. But then I think, is that not what you expected from someone who has lived in the United States for half of their life? Then, a minute or so passes, and they begin to pick up the roots of my accent. They gain a burst of courage, a flash of confidence, and go on to say;
“You need to try and get rid of that accent, you know… it’s ruining your fluency.”
It’s the little stuff like this that really brings me to my senses about how the Latinx community and Hispanics are stereotyped in today’s world. Countless people in the United States want Latinx people to “become American” and conform to society’s standards. They want us to lose our culture and replace it with what is considered mainstream, but yet in the media, they stereotype us and highlight our traits, often taking away the truth and replacing it with lies about our character. Personally, at school, people apply what they see in the media about Latinx people and expect it to be true about me too. Since the majority of Latinx people are seen to speak English with bad grammar in the media, I guess that they expect the same from me, like I demonstrated before. I defy this stereotype by speaking English as well as the rest of my peers, but at the same time, I want to preserve my accent. I am proud of my accent as it is my identity. I will never conform to society’s norms.
Another stereotype that I have had experience with is the stereotype that all Latinx people are janitors. I am the proud daughter of a janitor, but I still like to say that I defy this stereotype. I am the daughter of a janitor that goes to a private school because of a scholarship, and I could not be more thankful to my mother for doing what she does because she gives me a chance to study here in the United States. She works hard so that my sister and I can fulfill our dreams.
There are only a few Latinx students at my school, and we like to stick together for strength. Once, I was walking with one of my friends, and one of the teachers asked if we were sisters. No, we are not sisters. We may have the same skin tone, and we may wear our hair the same way, and we may be Latinas, but that doesn’t make us sisters. And then there is the classic stereotype: all Spanish speakers in the United States are Mexicans. The majority may be Mexican, but I am from Guatemala, and I would like that to be acknowledged.
I’ve dealt with multiple stereotypes during my life, and I mean to defy them each day. A quote I heard at SDLC, the Student Leadership Diversity Conference, is: “Definitions belong to the definers, not the defined.” Just because someone labels me in some way does not make that label valid. I choose my own labels, and I choose how I define myself. Someone labeling me has no right to do so, and I want to stress that as much as I can throughout my high school career. Now as a member of the Redefy team, I have the chance to share my experiences with them.
Anonymous – 11th Grade
Time and time again I’ve heard bisexuality be invalidated as a sexual orientation, and those who identify as such told me they were “just experimenting” or, more often, “confused.” And yes, being bisexual is confusing! In a relatively heteronormative society, discovering that you don’t exactly conform to societal expectations can cause anyone to question who they are and the way they feel. Discovering one’s sexuality is a confusing time and can be particularly challenging for those who believe they may be bisexual because many people don’t even believe that bisexuality exists.
“Either you’re gay or straight, just choose.”
“It’s just a phase.”
These are both common phrases used to describe those who identify as bisexual. Bisexual erasure is a very real problem happening commonly in society today. On television, in books, and throughout history, bisexuality has been falsified and bisexual people have been labeled wrongly or simply ignored for convenience. Growing up without any bisexual role models or examples on any platform, I don’t think I even viewed bisexuality as a sexual orientation.
I now identify as bisexual. This past year has been challenging for me as I worked through my conflicting feelings and tried to figure out who I really am and understand how I’ve felt my whole life. One time, a close friend of mine who didn’t know I was bisexual negated the existence of the orientation to my face, saying: “They just need to choose a side.” With my newfound awareness of the problem of bisexual erasure, I notice it everywhere. I see people on television called gay or straight based upon the relationships they are currently in. I see common celebrities mislabeled: Kurt Cobain, James Dean, Frida Kahlo, Eleanor Roosevelt, Alexander the Great, Lord Byron, Emily Dickinson, Herman Melville, Judy Garland, Georgia O’Keeffe, Angelina Jolie, Janis Joplin, David Bowie, Madonna, Elton John, Virginia Woolf, Mick Jagger, and Freddie Mercury are all examples of bisexual people commonly labeled as hetero or homosexual.
I hope, in the future, to see more representation and acceptance of bisexuality in society and mainstream media. I have confidence that redefy can help with this, bringing education and awareness of stereotypes and discrimination to all people. Teaching people from a young age about different races, cultures, sexualities, and more is so important to make the world a happier and more accepting place.
Seohyun Kim – 11th Grade – Valencia High School
Growing up, I was not aware of how those in my home country are stereotyped. Since all of us were the same ethnicity-wise, I was not exposed to racial segregation or discrimination. Moving to the United States, however, has completely altered my view of the word “stereotype.”
“Hey, why aren’t you wearing any clothes!” Anytime I wear a yellow shirt, yellow dress, yellow anything, this comment follows me around all day. “You look so Asian.” “Stop being so Asian.” “You are such a FOB!” The acronym stands for fresh off the boat, which is supposed to be an offensive term. Directed towards Asians who were not born in the U.S., it is used to call someone odd and out of place. These comments that were just listed—I have heard them over a hundred times by now. It seems that it doesn’t matter what brand of clothing I wear, what activities I do, or what I eat; anything I do, own, or say is just so Asian. As each of these comments is thrown at me, I feel degraded even though I shouldn’t. I am indeed Asian and there shouldn’t be anything wrong with it.
The definition of Asian is of or relating to Asia or its people, customs, or languages. But the real definition holds much more meaning than the one found in the dictionary. This word has come to connote deserving shame, being abnormal, and having flaws. I am positive that almost all Asian Americans go through a phase at one point in their lifetime, mostly during their teenage years, where they despise their own race. Since our identity is portrayed as being below par, people cannot help but feel reluctant to embrace their true self. I am repentant when I say that I have struggled to overcome this phase for quite a long time.
Funny as it is, at other times I am told that I’m not Asian enough. I am too tan for an Asian. My eyes are too big for an Asian. My butt is too big for an Asian. I am not good at math; thus, I am stupid for an Asian. The most infuriating part is that no matter what, I will always be eccentric in the eyes of society.
Sure enough, the problem does not only apply to racial remarks. The problem of not being able to embrace one’s own identity applies to gender remarks, different beliefs, favor in a certain style, and much more. Although the world knows holding stereotype isn’t virtuous, it is awfully difficult to deviate from the norm. As such, I want to contribute to redefy by changing society’s perspective and allowing individuals to be accepted as WHO they are, not WHAT they are.
Maria Blanchard – 9th Grade – Turpin High School
When residing in southwestern Ohio, there is not much diversity to be found. I’m only 50% Latina, and that, along with the fact I’m a Democrat, makes me seem like almost a rare species. The minute people hear my mom is Latina, they bombard me with questions about my “Mexican Heritage.” I’m Argentine. To my peers, it’s as if all Spanish speaking countries are lumped into one. I’m very light skinned, so many people assume I’m white, meaning racism isn’t something I experience often.
Sexism, however, is something that I can talk about more first-hand. It’s something I experience when I walk down the street, or even down the hallway. Sexism can be physical, verbal, or quiet. It can come from anyone, no matter how old. Kids as young as preschoolers have preconceived notions that sports are for boys and dolls are for girls. These thoughts are cleared only when education is granted, but learning how to undo systemized sexism and racism isn’t something you can learn in school.
I am lucky enough to have a very liberal and educated mother who has guided me in the right direction as I have grown up. She encouraged me to read the news and have discussions with her and my peers politely. She taught me that no matter how frustrating the debate may be, you can’t quit until all of your points and evidence have been laid out. Staying in touch with all current events from all different points of view, along with personal experiences and struggles, is what really shapes a person and his or her opinion,.
As I started middle school, my experiences made my opinion stronger. I knew sexism existed and that it was terrible, but you don’t expect to be a victim of it at 12 years old. I can’t imagine how people manage not only being oppressed by sexism, but also by racism, transphobia, islamophobia, ableism, etc. Just being a woman makes me a target to harassment, but I’m lucky that’s the only thing. It’s sad that it’s so common today to be attacked for parts of you that are unchangeable.
When I debated with boys, they wouldn’t take me seriously simply because I’m a “small girl.” In gym class, you would be judged if you even tried and weren’t an athletic male. I never felt comfortable walking down the hallway or even past boys in a hallway because of crude comments that would spill out of their mouths. Even the teachers enforced a ridiculously strict dress code that muted self expression and confidence; even girls were subtly sexist towards each other.
All women are attacked for the way they look, what they do, and what they feel. As females, we have to stick together to defeat stereotypes. We have to unite with ALL women—women of color, transgender women, overweight women, disabled women, etc. In order to accomplish true equality, we have to team up with people of all genders.
Bona Zabasajja – 11th Grade – Lawrence High School
Being an African American teenager in the United States, I’ve been subjected to lots of stereotyping growing up. My parents were both born in Uganda, Africa, and came here to get an education and form a family. I’m blessed to have grown up in a cultured environment and know people of several different races and beliefs; however, many people aren’t as lucky or just fail to educate themselves enough not to stereotype others.
I remember being turned to when the topic of slavery was first discussed just because I’m black and everyone knew that my parents were African. Those ignorant people failed to realize that Africa is a continent with 54 different countries; the one that I am from has several different tribes, each of which has different cultures of its own.
One time a boy came up to me and started making clicking and clucking noises and asked me if I understood what he was saying, despite the fact that I can’t even speak my native language, and that that isn’t even how it is spoken. It just goes to show how little people allow themselves to know.
I’ve even had people stereotype other races to me, making jokes about how a certain girl must be incredibly smart just because she’s Asian or that all black people behave inappropriately or speak with incorrect grammar. Stereotypes have always been a serious issue in the world, and will continue to be unless people learn to judge each other based on personal characteristics alone.
Sophie Smyke – 11th Grade – Buckingham Browne and Nichols School
As a middle-class, white, non-religious woman living in New England, I sometimes have trouble discussing stereotypes. I feel that it is not fair of me to speak of my own experiences with stereotypes as if they’ve greatly impacted my life, nor do I feel that I have the authority to interpret those of others. This isn’t to say I haven’t faced sexism, or body-shaming. These stereotypes are very real and can have an unbelievable impact on both society and the individual.
In the past year I’ve had to deal extensively with stereotypes and their impact. Changes in my world led me to assume what course my life would be taking. I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder almost a year ago. I spent months in therapy trying to deal with my anxieties and my obsessive habits, but more important than the therapy was my own battle to move past the stereotype I was falling into. I didn’t tell many people about my OCD after I found that the people who did know were treating me differently. My OCD isn’t the one most people know about; it’s not about germs. I don’t wash my hands 50 times a day or wipe down all services with antibacterial spray; that version of OCD is the stereotype. It’s the one most people associate with the disorder, but not the only one people live with. It’s the one people joke about when teasing someone about being a perfectionist or washing their hands more than three times a day. I’ve made those jokes. I’ve been the subject of those jokes. For me, the jokes don’t hurt. But it does hurt that people don’t know the real and confusing forms OCD can take. It’s not a black and white condition; it is filled with layers of complex symptoms and underlying causes. I learned, as I gradually worked to figure out how to handle my habits, that society often jumps to judge someone based on the simplest explanation. When the subject gets sensitive, it can be hard to navigate a conversation. As a result, the stereotype becomes the default response.
This stereotype, whether about gender, race, religion, or health, can be more dangerous than most think. There is no one person to blame, no single source of information. We all share this responsibility. We all share the responsibility to stray from the assumptions and to go deeper. Questions are the key to evolution. Instead of leaving those sensitive subjects to rest, we need to be the ones to learn about the real and complex things the people around us are going through. It’s hard to think that something so small could make a difference but it can, and it will. The people who have helped me most in the past year are the ones that reached out in an effort to learn about what exactly I was working to overcome. The people who ask questions, rather than assume responses—they are the ones who can change the world.
Anonymous – 7th Grade
When I was younger, I used to believe that racism could not be found in most places, and especially not in my hometown of Princeton, New Jersey. Now, I realize how wrong I was. Not only is racism expressed in violent forms all over the US, but it is also expressed everywhere in smaller, less overt ways. At my school I have heard comments ranging from “Well, no duh they did well on that test! They’re Asian!” to “Yo mama’s so ugly that, with her face, she could blow up an entire country. Oh wait, she’s Muslim, so she already did that!” Though neither comment was directed at me, I still felt somewhat disturbed after hearing them. The first is obviously more innocent than the second, but neither of them is really an okay thing to say. The former might seem like a compliment at first, but if you really think about it, does someone’s telling you that you did well only because of your race make you feel good? That comment completely takes away the sense that you completed something with YOUR hard work and skill, and instead makes you feel as if your intelligence is a result of your racial background alone. The latter of the two examples I gave was obviously not an appropriate thing to say, as it is basically stating that all Muslims MUST be terrorists just because a few are. It is statements like these that confine people to doing one type of thing because it places them in a box grounded in stereotypes, where they feel obligated to conform to the stereotype and aren’t free to truly be themselves.
I’ll admit, when I heard that comment, I knew it was not meant in a mean or hurtful way, and the person who said it quickly apologized, saying, “Sorry, sorry! I didn’t mean it like that! It was just a joke!” But these “jokes” can hurt people. They are as cruel as saying, “You don’t have a choice in your life because of how you were born. You’re going to be this or do that just because that’s what people associate your race, religion, or sex with,” and this is not okay because we all deserve the freedom to be who we want to be.
Baiying Hu (School Representatives Team) – 11th Grade – Beijing No. 2 Middle School
Honestly, when I was invited to take part in redefy and asked to write a story about stereotypes, racism, discrimination, etc., I was really nervous and confused, since I knew nothing about those topics except from the figures that appeared in my SAT essay examples like Martin Luther King, Gandhi, and Billie Jean King (SHAME ON ME). But after much consideration and deliberation to search for the relationship between me and those areas of social justice, I found a lot. Yes, I am always involved in stereotypes and they do affect me deeply.
There is always a stereotype in China that American students do not study as hard as Chinese students do. After the experience of having Cornell Summer Session argumentation and debate class, that stereotype was just eradicated for me. When it came to lecture, you could hear all of the American students discussing devotedly and with a high academic level. When it came to homework, a great number of American students would do their best to finish the composition. When it came to an exam, US students would always acquire the highest score. These phenomena, which I had never seen before, really shocked me and made me a little bit nervous at the beginning of the lesson. I will take Nick, who is also a member of redefy, as an example: During the lecture, he would follow and communicate with the professor actively. Every question he raised had a high quality and relevance to the topic. When it came to homework and exams, he would always have the highest scores. Nevertheless, he was also interested in social activities and attended several parties. I am so impressed by him and he is a model for me to follow.
However, after the eradication of the stereotype in my mind, I still wonder why the stereotype, that Chinese students are hardworking and American students are not, has existed for so long in the minds of others. From my point of view, neither side of the stereotype is necessarily true. It is admitted that Chinese students have heavy workloads during their early ages. Since competition is much fiercer in China than in other countries, children are encouraged to learn and absorb more when they are pretty young, a method by which some children can exceed others. This is why it may seem that Chinese students are hardworking. Nevertheless, when students finally pass through the GAOKAO, which is an exam like the SAT and the only standard by which students are measured for college admissions, a great number of them just refuse to move on now that they do not have to endure the pressure anymore and have become adults. In this way, a lot of students do not work hard anymore when they are in college and become confused about what to do when they finish their study. This is a typical example of a normal Chinese student. On the other hand, American students are not idle. Based on my knowledge, US parents encourage their kids to explore nature and to play. After all, children are predisposed to playing by nature. What’s more, when children become older, they increasingly learn responsibility, duty toward the society, honesty, and all of the qualities required as a citizen. This is also a preparation for college. When it comes to college and university, US students are adults and they need to be responsible for themselves and they need to figure out what they long for and what is worth fighting for. In this way, a great number of students choose to work hard only when they enter college. This is the biggest difference between Chinese and American students and the source of the stereotype. In reality, it is not true that Chinese students are hardworking and US students are not. It is all about what stage in their respective educations they are, kind of explaining why more and more Chinese students are choosing to study in America.
In addition, I would like to mention another point. There is a stereotype that yellow people are not as strong or flexible as black people and white people. Even a lot of Chinese people do not have faith in themselves and always say that Asian people do not have the innate strength that whites and blacks have. In my opinion, this point of view is totally ridiculous and disregards the efforts made by Chinese athletes and people who love sports. There is no evidence to support that black people or white people can do 20 more push-ups than Chinese people. And what we do have evidence for is that Chinese athletes always have incredible accomplishments at the Olympic Games. Most important, we are always making breakthroughs. Li Na, who is my favorite athlete, won two Grand Slam titles during her magnificent tennis career, a feat not achieved by many other athletes. Whether she is Chinese or not, however, has had no bearing on her success in tennis; her success has been a result of her effort. If we are stuck in the stereotype, we give ourselves an excuse, that since Chinese are not good at sports, we won’t pursue them. It is absurd and not acceptable. What we should do is to break this barrier and find what we love and what is worth fighting for to us.
I am really honored and proud to be a part of redefy and make contributions to eradicating stereotypes, racism, and discrimination. Going forward, I will learn more about all of these topics, including those that were not mentioned before.
Harper Joseph – Freshman – Muhlenberg
“You’re the whitest black girl I’ve ever met.” “You are such an Oreo.” “You dress so white!” I have gotten comments like these from many of my friends and acquaintances, ranging from some of my best friends to almost strangers. Most of the time, I don’t think these comments are meant to be malicious—at least I hope not. When black people say these things to me, I feel like they are saying I’m not black enough, as if the way I speak is some indication of how black I am, and not how much education I’ve had or my upbringing. When white people say it, I think it’s an observation based on stereotypes, or in their minds it could even be considered a compliment. In other words, they are saying that I sound like them. So what’s my problem?
If you haven’t already figured this out, I am a black girl. I went to a predominantly white school for 13 years. My mother graduated from that school as well. I speak like her and she speaks like my grandmother. I’m sure my mother received similar comments during her formative years. But whenever someone makes a comment such as “ You talk so white,” I begin to ponder: What does it mean to sound white, and what does it mean to sound black?
From what I’ve inferred, sounding white is speaking “proper English,” not having an “accent” or a “dialect,” and using little or no “slang.” Sounding black is, well, the opposite. And there lies the problem. Race doesn’t have a sound. Speaking with proper grammar doesn’t make me any less black; it makes me educated. Speaking with improper grammar doesn’t make a person “more black.” There are people from all different backgrounds, races, and ethnicities that speak with proper grammar and vice versa. I have attended Princeton Day School for my entire school career, so I’m not going speak with improper grammar or use lots of slang, which is the stereotypical “Black” speech. That’s not what I’ve grown up around. The only way to distinguish what race a person belongs to is to know their background.
We have been brainwashed to believe that white equals educated and black equals uneducated (also dangerous, loud, and “ghetto,” but that is a story for another article). So when I open my mouth, people are surprised that I sound the way I sound, even though everyone in my household sounds exactly the same as I do and we are all black.
So I leave you with this: If you are black, brown, purple, white, a human being, or anyone who has implied a person cannot speak properly if they are black, stop and think about why. Think about what this says about your own prejudices. Think about the connotations it has. Think about the preconceived notions you have about other races and the generalizations you have made about them. And stop. If you can do that, we can begin to change at least one offensive stereotype that implies being black means being uneducated.
Naymal Mirza (School Representatives Team) – 12th Grade – Headstart School Islamabad
‘Stop being such a girl’: a comment, surprisingly, I have heard possibly a thousand times even though I am a girl. I cry and it’s because I am a girl. I don’t play sports and it’s because I am a girl. I am not into video games; oh, I am ‘such a girl.’ I refuse to watch excessively violent movies, and it can all be linked back to my sex because no one seems to care that maybe my personality is such that I don’t like violence. Maybe violence irks me simply because of the household I have been brought up in and not because of my gender. Needless to say, it is quite troubling that such stereotypes exist and that I cannot go even two days without someone linking a personality trait to my gender.
And then the male gender is possibly just as victimized because, well, they need to ‘stop being such a girl.’ My brother cries and he’s told to be a man, not to act like a girl. A male friend of mine says he’d prefer a romantic movie to a violent one and the other ‘men’ in the group make jokes and say, “how about you cry yourself to sleep watching The Notebook.”
These stereotypes exhaust me. It may be true that there are some biological differences between a male and a female, but what one prefers to do or not do, or how one person is, is not solely based on their sex. There are external factors that influence you too: how you grew up, what you were exposed to, and countless other things. I am a strong believer in nurture over nature, and hence, in my opinion most of these personality traits are simply your “nurture” and don’t relate back to your sex.
If these stereotypes do not come to an end (fortunately they are), I believe that they will hold back the development of both sexes because it cannot be what sex you’re born with anymore; it’s all about individualism. Each individual is different and always will be; stop telling people to ‘stop being such a girl’ or to ‘be a man’; there are no specific traits attached to them. Each being is his or her own person.
Samantha Wong (School Representatives Team) – 11th Grade -Buckingham Browne and Nichols School
In the past few years, I have been subjected to many comments about being Asian, being Jewish, and being a girl. These comments, though typically offhanded and seemingly not ill intentioned (such as: “Asian in the library, so typical”; “Not bad for a girl”; or “Oh, the Jew won’t give me a pencil”), can not only leave a person questioning their identity, self-confidence, and individuality, but also create unreachable expectations of what a person should embody. When you tell a person that they are a criminal, a terrorist, a nerd, or categorize them into any other narrow box, there are three typical responses: A person can just brush it off, an extremely challenging feat, especially when these comments are being thrown around constantly; a person can try their very best to become the exact opposite of the labels imposed upon them; or a person can begin to encompass everything—the characteristics, the qualities—that is being said of them. These latter two reactions are dangerous and problematic for our society. If we, with our biases and stereotypes, are limiting and restricting individuality, self-confidence, and respect, even without intending to, than we are weakening every single community, workplace, and school.
As a person I have accepted that I have my own personal biases, as does everyone else, and that I am not unaffected by the stereotypes around me, but I have also realized the importance of exposing myself to new experiences, trying to educate myself before pre-judging, and giving each individual person a chance. Our attitudes towards stereotypes are malleable, but in order to shift our attitudes, we have to have a desire to make change.
I believe that the idea of stereotypes stretches beyond the typical references to gender, race, and religion; the definition of stereotypes should extend beyond this. There are stereotypes about socioeconomic class, mental illness, physical disabilities, an individual’s actions, and more. When a person dyes their hair, many respond that this person “must” be looking for attention. If a person is living paycheck to paycheck or receives no paycheck at all, they “must” be unhappy. If a person has a mental illness, they “must” be incapable of supporting themselves, morality, and making intelligent decisions. If a person has a physical disability, they “must” not be able to function without aid, and their disability is something that “must” be fixed. These stereotypes, not often at the forefront of a person’s mind, are not only hurtful but also untrue; and other stereotypes, stereotypes in general, are no different.
Inaya Ahmed (School Representatives Team) – 8th Grade – Stuart Country Day School
I have been asked many times, “Where are you from?” This is a polite and perfectly okay question to ask. I always reply, “Princeton, New Jersey.” I often receive the reply, “No, where are you really from?” I know what these people intend to ask me: They intend to ask where I am ethnically from. I try to ignore it, but ultimately, I am “really from” Princeton, New Jersey. I am an American-Bangladeshi-Muslim. Although I would never correct anyone for asking the wrong question, it most definitely bothers me. I was born and raised in the United States, so, yes, I am “really from” the United States.
My name is Inaya Ahmed. I am a Muslim-Bangladeshi-American girl. I believe that I have experienced quite a bit of both racism and sexism. For instance, I once made a careless error when planning something, and a man nearby said to me, “This is exactly why women can’t be managers.” I was quite taken aback by this comment and decided to speak up; I replied with “I apologize, I did make a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes: Both men and women make mistakes. One’s gender does not affect one’s ability to think logistically. Please take that into consideration.” On another occasion, when I was hanging out with some friends, one of my friends was attempting to give me a genuine compliment, and he said, “You’re really pretty, for a brown girl.” My response was “ummmm… thanks? I guess?” He could tell that I was very upset by his comment; he said to me, “Inaya, I really meant that as a compliment. I didn’t mean to offend you.” All in all, I WAS offended by this comment, not because I care to be pretty but because, why should the color of my skin affect how attractive I am?
I am almost positive that at one point or another everyone is affected by stereotyping. My brother Ziad has a way with words that I do not have. He is always able to carefully articulate and express his points to people. Nonetheless, he has been a role model in my life and has showed me that you have to be able to fight for what you believe in. I am thankful that he has created redefy and that together as a team we can “redefy” stereotypes.
Hallie Hoffman (School Representatives Team) – 9th Grade – Princeton Day School
What makes you tick? This common phrase, referring to what motivates a person, is a hard question for most. However, for me, this question is easy. I tic because of a hereditary neurological disorder called Tourette Syndrome. Tourette’s causes uncontrollable movements and sounds called tics, and I have had it since I was six. Some of my usual tics include blinking, sniffing, and clearing my throat, but they are constantly changing.
I was bullied in first grade because of this, but since then, people have been pretty understanding. However, while most people are respectful when talking directly to me, Tourette’s is still socially stigmatized. Too often, I have heard people joke that someone who curses a lot – by choice – has Tourette’s. This specific tic, known as coprolalia, affects less than 10% of people with TS, but it is what the media chooses to focus on when portraying Tourette’s. Joking about it reinforces this stereotype, and it makes Tourette’s seem funny and controllable. I recently heard someone joke about another kid having Tourette’s, just because they were annoyingly repeating themselves. The student talked about Tourette’s as if it was a choice, a conscious decision between being “normal” or acting like a broken record.
As a Youth Advocate for Tourette’s, I recently gave a talk to a fifth grade class at a public school about it. While I was expecting to see ignorance and judgment, I was met with curiosity. As young as these students were, they wanted to know what Tourette’s was, what it feels like, how it is passed down, and how it affects my life. Most importantly, they wanted to know how they could help if they come across someone with Tourette’s. Everyone should take a lesson from those children. Rather than immediately judging, a simple question can spread understanding and awareness. I love when someone respectfully and kindly asks me, “Why are you blinking so much?” This kind of curiosity is what helps people learn more about Tourette’s, and by doing so, it no longer seems so weird or different.
If I had the opportunity to get rid of Tourette’s, I would not take it. Yes, it has been frustrating and challenging at times, but it has made me who I am today. I would not be as interested in social justice work were it not for Tourette’s, nor would I be the empathetic and confident young woman that I am today. As Temple Grandin once said, “I am different, not less.” I’m proud of who I am, including Tourette’s, and I hope that all people will one day feel this empowered to be who they are.
Elizabeth Valades – 11th Grade – IDEA Frontier College Preparatory
Tihs ishow I mornally read everydayt ryign todecibher simpelw ords in sentecnes,. Ia mdsylexic.
Fourth grade. The words echoed in my mind as I thought about the milestone I had achieved as a 4th grader. Holding my sweating hands I attempted to slow my rapidly beating heart, mulling over the psychologist’s diagnosis. Dyslexia. I’d always been slower than the other kids. It took me an hour to finish assignments that should have really only taken 20 minutes. I’d never really stopped and questioned my speed. Sure, I had to work twice as hard as my classmates but I was just slow. Right?
In the blink of an eye, everything changed. My mother accompanied me to school the very next day to inform my teachers about my “disability.” The word made me flinch every time, while the accompanying look of pity made me sick. I hated that look. I hadn’t changed; only the label over my head had.
While I appreciated the accommodations that my school provided, I couldn’t help but wonder how my classmates would react to me. With my mother being a prominent teacher at school, there was always tension with my classmates over the “advantages” they thought she provided me with. I feared this newest revelation would push them over the edge. And as my teacher escorted me out of the room to continue my test, I felt the judging eyes of my classmates follow me out, and I knew I was done.
Weeks passed and I continued to struggle with work and my classmates. Slowly, my resolve began to diminish. I had never felt more alone. Most of my classmates fought for the adoration of others. But as I sat alone with a book in hand in the lunch room, I longed not to feel loved, but to simply feel accepted.
In that moment, I never hated my “disability” more. I pushed my papers to the ground, holding back the hot tears which I knew were coming. The emotions that I had been holding back for weeks all came rushing to the surface. For once, I allowed myself to wallow in my self-pity. After a couple of days, though, I grew tired of pity. It just didn’t suit me.
So, as any millennial would, I turned to Google. Through it, I found a source of comfort in the words of other dyslexics and their stories. We were in good company with the likes of famous people such as Albert Einstein and F. Scott Fitzgerald, whom never let their disability define them. Suddenly, I didn’t feel so alone.
While it is still difficult for me at times to admit it, I am coming to terms with my disability. My personal goal has been and continues to be not allowing my dyslexia to define me, but to simply be another facet of myself. I am not my dyslexia. I am simply Elizabeth.
Madeline Deutsch (School Representatives Team) – 10th Grade – Princeton High School
On April 28th, 2012, I celebrated my Bat Mitzvah. My friends celebrated my Bat Mitzvah. To many of them, that is all that it was…a celebration and a chance to put on heels and dance to the latest One Direction song. I have come to realize though, that many of these people did not even know what they were in fact celebrating, or they just think of it as a Jewish girl’s thirteenth birthday party.
The fact is, my Bat Mitzvah was a lot more. For as long as I’ve gone to regular school, I have gone to Hebrew school. My Bat Mitzvah was a ceremony in which I showed my community, friends, and family all that I have learned in those 8 years of Hebrew School. I put an immense amount of effort into memorizing my torah portion, and learning the meaning behind it and how it applied to my life. I also took part in a “Hesed Project,” which is an important element of a Bar or Bat Mitzvah that has the student get involved in the community and provide service to organizations of his/her choice.
To this day people still sometimes bring up memories from the party. However, I could probably count on one hand how many times someone has mentioned anything in regards to the service I led earlier that day. While I’m sure none of my friends are choosing to ignore the more spiritual aspect of that day, this lack of knowledge seems to create misconception between people based on their beliefs, or disbeliefs.
Nobody is stereotyping me by only remembering my party, but at the same time I feel change is needed in our current culture, as Bar and Bat Mitzvahs are becoming more and more associated with sweet sixteens. They are an extremely important part of the Jewish faith, marking the entrance into the world of either a Jewish man or women.
Stereotypes often involve a misunderstanding of the meaning of tradition, in this case causing people to miss the fact that something they think is just superficial fun has a profound purpose.
Eris Gee – 11th Grade – Princeton Day School
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.
Nicole Hartley – 10th Grade – Princeton Day School
A couple days ago, I was walking down the street and a guy in a car screamed, “GO HALF-ASIANS!” It was funny, but in that moment I realized how often I am categorized for my mixed race and even more for just being Asian. Being half Anglo-Saxon and half-Chinese, I am frequently asked the question, “What are you?” as if I am not human. However, that is not the worst of it. In my middle school, students were either placed into honors math or regular. I was placed into regular. At first I didn’t mind that I wasn’t the smartest, until I was hit with a flurry of belittling questions. People would often ask me, “Why aren’t you in the smart math class?—Oh I know why, because you are only half Asian, and therefore half smart.” I felt degraded, and even more than that, I started to hate being mixed. As middle school progressed, I evolved in people’s eyes from being half-Asian to full Asian. In the hallways, people would yell “OPEN YOUR EYES!” jokingly. I didn’t understand how that could possibly be funny and did not understand what was so wrong about my Anglo-Saxon side that it could be forgotten altogether. Not until high school did I feel like I was normal, that no one cared what I was. I am still categorized as being half-Asian with nicknames like “Zero point five,” “Wasian,” “Halfy,” etc. but it does not affect me. It doesn’t because now I know others like me. I feel like I can relate to them and that I am not alone. Now that I do not care, the people who have stereotyped me in the past and will do so in the future do not have power over me, and that is the best gift of all.
Alex Neumann – 10th Grade – Princeton Day School
Suddenly Stereotyped into a Rainbow Colored Box
I didn’t have to deal with stereotypes when I was younger. I was a typical upper middle class white male. It was only after I came out to my classmates that I began to receive a label, and realize the power of stereotyping. Almost over night, I didn’t sing because I wanted to learn how to, I sang because I was gay. My style was no longer strange, it was “fabulous.” My habits and tendencies weren’t mine, ideas sprouted from some larger gay thought process. I became “lucky to be gay”, because I can stand out during the college process. I was all of a sudden “so similar to Kurt from Glee” or “just like *insert favorite gay character.*” Somehow, “it all made sense now” that I came out, my entire personality could fit into a rainbow colored box.
I hadn’t changed, I was the same person on Wednesday as I was on Tuesday, only the perception of me had warped. This was the first time I had personally been affected by stereotypes; I had seen them around me, a few white jokes, but never anything like this. Since then, I have gotten used to the off kilter remarks. I’ve gotten used to people being surprised when I state that I like anything that doesn’t fit the stereotype of a gay male. Recently, I realized this unconscious acceptance, and the more I thought about it, the more I asked myself why should I be the one accepting this? Why should anyone who is a victim of stereotypes have to “accept” a preconceived perception? I shouldn’t have to explain to someone that I can be gay and still enjoy watching the Phillies.
In our changing ethnic, racial, sexual, gender identity landscape, we must ask ourselves how long will these stereotypes last? When does being a minority become the majority? As a generation, we will be the first in this “new norm” of a blended culture. Do we define the norm, or do we find a new way? Can we manage to exist without stereotypes? Or in thirty years will there be some other boy writing for a blog about the plight of the new minority?
Kevin Sun – 10th Grade – Princeton Day School
I’ve worked out every single day since 7th grade. I’ve been able to do 100 pushups in a row. I’m no stranger to the burning of lactic acid in my legs. I’ve run 2,000 miles in less than nine months. I’ve pounded out 80-mile weeks in the sweltering July heat. I’ve staggered home from 15-mile runs drenched in sweat and barely able to walk. There’s no doubt that I love exercise. But there’s always one thing that I can’t outrun, that I can’t outwork. It’s an insurmountable hill that I’m running up until my legs turn to rubber and I’m gasping for breath. It hurts, and there’s no end in sight. That hill is my complexion.
Racial prejudice has manifested itself to me since third grade. I was selected as part of a special group of children to learn at an accelerated pace, called the “academically independent,” or AI. I was as ecstatic as a young child could be. What I didn’t know was that just a few kids were white, with the majority being of either Chinese or Indian descent. The racial disparity was so obvious that we even changed the acronym AI to mean “Asian invasion.”
Growing up in Bridgewater-Raritan Middle School, I’ve had my fair share of racial harassment. Again, I was taking part in all “E” classes, an enriched course for advanced students. There was one class that wasn’t an “E” class, and that was Italian. I was the only Asian in the class. At the beginning I was continually persecuted. The other kids would poke me, copy my homework, and make me dread going to class everyday. Was this what it felt like to be a minority? Why did these people pick on me, a quite shy and peaceful fellow? I wasn’t small or fat. I didn’t look ugly. I was just a normal, fairly fit kid.
I realized the reason they were harassing me was hidden within their words. Remarks such as “hello yellow” or “how’s math?” reminded me of a indelible stereotype linked with Asians, including the Chinese.
All Asians are good at math. They suck at sports, besides maybe soft sports like Ping-Pong. They all eat rice. They all do homework every second they’re free. They furiously take notes in class. They play a musical instrument, and practice it for hours everyday. They’re all scrawny or chubby, but never in shape, probably never exercising ever.
It was this last stereotype that I’ve been trying to break. Have I done it? Probably not. Will I ever? Doubtful. Systemic racism is nearly impossible to eradicate. I can change my body all I want. I can be a scrawny runner or a buff bodybuilder with monstrous arms and an eight-pack. But I’m always identified as Asian.
When I take my shirt off, people often called me “jacked” or “ripped.” But with my shirt on people think I’m just another “un-athletic Asian.” Yet I’ve worked my butt off for hundreds upon hundreds of days. I’ve woken up at 5:30 AM to run. I’ve endured sub-zero temperatures and 100-degree heat to get a workout in. Yet, I’ve realized that no matter what kind of shape I’m in, people will judge me by what they see. The contrast in responses between my having a shirt on or off is incredible. It shows the power of human sight, and the deep implications of prejudice that have been imbedded within us to the point where they have became human nature.
Racism and stereotyping radiate beyond my own experience. Just take a look at the world of athletics today. Black? Oh, he must be a great sprinter. White? Stick to an expensive sport. Asian? Go read books. Race and ethnicity play have such a large spotlight in athletics today. For instance, sprinting is dominated by Jamaicans—long-distance running by the Kenyans. And they have statistics to back them up. No Asian-born man has broken a 10 second 100 meter. China’s 1.5 billion people have a ridiculously slow 10k record of 28:08 (in comparison to the 26:17 world record).
But there will always be people like me that want to do something unique. Something different. Something that doesn’t fit in. Pioneer in a sport that your country lacks interest in. Work endlessly to break the stereotypes that seem to hold me in chains. Japan is the best country with regard to athletics in the entire world. They have Olympic caliber sprinters and a myriad of distance runners with enough depth to put even Kenya and Ethiopia to shame. They love athletics over there. Yet, when we think of Asian, we think video games, nerds, homework, and studying for the SAT. Why is that? That is quite a question to ponder. Something I’ll think about, probably on an early morning run. For tomorrow I wake up at sunrise to continue a daily religious ritual. Miles stand no chance against me. Stereotypes and prejudice do.
Tillie Lighte – 11th Grade – Princeton Day School
Even though I hadn’t lived in America until 7th grade, I have always considered myself an American. Every year, at whatever international school around the globe I was enrolled in, whether the school was in Hong Kong, Tokyo, London, or Beijing, I would proudly wear red, white, and blue and wave my stars and stripes on international day (a day which celebrated diversity with every student dressed to express their heritage), and when asked where I was from I would reply in my posh ‘Hill House pupil’ British accent, “America” (despite the fact that I had no idea that New York City was not the capital of New York State, how many states made up the U.S.A, that Herbert Hoover was not the inventor of the vacuum cleaner, and how to speak ‘American’).
I had always thought that my family was very average, normal, and stereotypically American. I had very little experience in America, and it seemed as though we fit into the melting pot that I thought America was. I thought that we were often wholeheartedly embraced there despite the fact that the Lighte-Grant family is made up of two Chinese daughters adopted into a white, two father family consisting of one atheist English composer, and one Jewish American banker/China scholar. We seemed to be perfectly normal, and as a third grader I was blissfully unaware that mixed-race and two-father families could spark controversy, and truly convinced that everyone had two fathers and no mother. I never felt different or odd in any way.
As I grew older and slowly out of my childish whimsy I began to come to the realization that I was different and that America was not the unapologetic and diverse, accepting place all the text-books said it to be. When I moved to America in seventh grade, challenging the norm was not as exciting or welcomed as I had thought, and the image I had of Tillie, the stereotypical American girl, dissolved. Despite how trivial I thought the culture shock that teachers had explained moving to Beijing entailed, I felt a harsh wave of culture shock moving to America, and was repeatedly struck down by stereotypes. To most people I met it was strange that I initially didn’t preform amazingly well in the American school system (as I was accustomed to the test-free IB system), have always been bad at math, had my bat-mitzvah in Beijing, and that I, as the Asian student who just moved from China spoke “good English”. And I often encountered the saddening idea that expat children were not ‘normal’ and lacked the social skills and mannerisms that American children possessed. I quickly became accustomed to many shocked faces exclaiming, “I didn’t know you grew up abroad! You’re so normal”. And as I had counter-intuitively never faced stereotypes aboard, it was strange to suddenly be challenged by so many.
Although I was often annoyed by the expectations people had for me, and my high and unrealistic expectations for America, I never hated anyone for saying ignorant and/or offensive things, but simply felt as though they lacked awareness and knowledge of others unlike themselves. I came to the realization that no matter how worldly or uncultured I am or others are, there needs to be more meaningful discussion on similarities and differences between people and cultures. Additionally, there needs to be more sharing of stories and life experiences to give individuals perspective and awareness of not only the great, big world out there and the diversity of it, but also of the future diversification and changing face of America.
Ananya Shrivastava – 9th Grade – Saint Joseph’s Convent
I’m not you, you’re not me.
As a kid that was born and raised in India, I am victim to many stereotypes every day. Sometimes these stereotypes force me to start questioning logic. However, one day I heard something that caused me to question my very existence. The other day, I was at the mall with friends, and they started discussing their favorite subjects, which included art, fashion designing, and others. Much to their disappointment, I answered with “general knowledge”, and all of them started laughing. I asked why they were laughing, and one of them replied, “Because you like such a nerdy subject!” I felt awkward, so later when I went home, I turned on my laptop and started Googling questions like “I like general knowledge, am I normal?” I concluded that general knowledge, according to Google, is an important component of general intelligence, and is strongly associated with being open to new experiences. The moment I read this answer on the internet, I developed a sense of pride in myself, for being proven intelligent by Google. The very next day, I met those ‘friends’ and made them read that definition. I had that “in your face!” expression, and as for them, they started respecting my choices from then on!
What I’m trying to say is that we all may not be unique, but we all have different versions of being normal. Your normal might mean sleeping for 8 hours, but my normal means sleeping for 13 hours. It’s high time that people start to understand the idea of being different.
Nada Ahmed (School Representatives Team) – 11th Grade – Great Valley High School
Stereotypes often surround and infringe upon life as a Muslim-American. My muslim community constantly has to hear countless people telling us how to live our religion based upon false stereotypes. My mother, who wears hijab, has particularly had to deal with such prejudice from people whispering about how muslim women are forced to wear hijabs by their husbands (false!). I have had to deal with such prejudice from suffering through teachers ignorantly teaching history and accusing Islam of being a violent religion (also false!). These stereotypes and seemingly minor things have a huge impact on Muslims living in America today.
America is meant to be a “melting pot” where cultures are able to coexist peacefully and without judgement. Through the passing of these stereotypes from one generation to the next, the culture of acceptance that America prides itself on becomes threatened. Harmful stereotypes prevent America from becoming the accepting and multicultural nation it should strive to be.
Sachi Kojima (School Representative Team) – 10th Grade – Hamilton-Wenham Regional High School
Stereotypes command and cloud our thoughts about the perception of ourselves and others, every single day. Often harmful and incorrect, these generalized views of different groups are constructed by society, and lead us to ignorance and selfishness. Two stereotypes that have had profound effects on me throughout my life are centered around my ethnicity and my introversion.
I am a Japanese-American. This does not mean that I play the violin and piano. This does not mean that I don’t know how to drive and cannot pronounce the letter “R”. This does not mean that I have no trouble in math. Though I have never really identified with Japanese culture or people, I have dealt with Asian stereotypes all my life. These stereotypes, however, are widely used by Asians as well as by people of other races. As more and more Asians treat these stereotypes as jokes that do not hold as much weight, the power is being taken away from others to use them negatively. These stereotypes can still be hurtful and encourage ignorance, but by using them lightly, the threat of others using them in a derogatory fashion has been removed. Using these stereotypes lightly shows that these stereotypes are often unsuitable representations of the majority of the Asian population.
I am also an introvert. This does not mean that I am lonely, shy, neurotic, sad, or have social anxiety and a dislike for others. This does not mean that I lead a less healthy lifestyle than an extrovert. This does not mean that only a small percentage of people share this trait with me. However, this does mean that I constantly get pressured to act more outgoing. In school, for example, I am regularly put into groups for projects, and my grades rely heavily on speaking in groups. I have never been told to reflect on the material I am learning by myself. I prefer being solitary instead of social activities a lot of the time, so I don’t usually find myself being the most talkative in situations with people I don’t know very well. However, my behavior is commented on, while my outgoing friend’s behavior doesn’t get a second thought. There is a stigma that extroverts are the norm, and society is designed to make people act extroverted to succeed.
However, if society gave equal opportunities to introverts and extroverts, wouldn’t society, in turn, be more prosperous? The same goes for gender, race, and religion; if the biases were wiped out, the playing field was evened, and injustice squashed, then society would be more successful. Stereotyping is inevitable, but understanding the groups that one stereotypes and evolving those harmful stereotypes is necessary, and possible. Just how society influences you, you have the power to influence society. Do not change or hide parts of yourself in order to succeed in the confines of society. Do not blindly accept stereotypes and always give in to social pressure. Society is defined by the people in it, and you have the power to shape your path. “Be the change you want to see”.
I live in a small town that is 98 percent white. I am Asian, although my parents are white because they adopted me. I find that I hear people say a lot of casual things at school that they don’t even realize are stereotypical. Oftentimes people have said things—sometimes even to my face—like:
“You’re Asian: Can you do my math homework?”
“Ew, I look so Asian, look at my squinty eyes in this picture.”
“I see these Chinese people, and they always sound like they’re saying ching chang chong.”
Even good friends have gotten annoyed at me because I do not fit into the classic Asian stereotype. What really drives me crazy is that even my teachers have sometimes tried to label me. Last year we had to bring in a food for a share-your-culture type day. I wanted to bring in German cookies, because they are part of the culture that I grew up with. But my teacher told me that I had to bring in Asian food—because I am Asian, not German. This teacher even said that at most, I could only bring in Thai French food if I wanted to do something European. That being said, I brought in the cookies anyway. Recently, I also had another teacher who stated outright that adopted kids cannot tell when people love them because they were abandoned by their birth parents, so they are unable to love other people. This comment was not particularly tactful, considering that there were two of us in the class who were adopted. It makes me sad that even good, educated people can be hurtful and not even be aware of it. I am thankful for the creation of redefy. I hope that maybe with a little more awareness out there, we will all be able to look at one another and see another human instead of a race or a background or a stereotype.
Althea Sellers (School Representatives Team) – 10th Grade – The Waynflete School
I was talking to a friend of mine once—a guy—and I casually brought up the fact that I hold my keys in between my fingers when I walk alone in case someone accosts me. This is something I’ve always done—I don’t even remember who told me to do it. It is just something I know. When I told him, however, he was shocked. He thought it was something that only I did, an odd quirk of my personality. When I explained to him that most girls I knew did the same thing, he was almost disbelieving.
We live in a world of privilege. I don’t blame this boy at all for not knowing these things—after all, he is white and straight and lives in a safe place. But I also am unwilling to let myself accept that not everyone can walk down the street without feeling safe.
People who are oppressed and stereotyped on a daily basis are not in the minority. So many of us are people of color or female or have an orientation other than being heterosexual. It is so much easier to feel on the outside than to be aware of being on the inside.
Why can’t we live in a world where everyone is accepted for who they are? There are so many things we cannot control about ourselves—what makes people think it’s fair to discriminate on that basis? At our core, our DNA is almost identical. We talk about everyone’s being unique, and they are, but we are also all very similar.
I am stereotyped every single day. People think of me as someone who is scared of math and science, as someone who is unable to exert myself physically because I wear skirts to school, as someone who is small and innocent and unable to find my way from point A to B. Or, worse, someone who is meant to be available to men in whatever way they so desire. By the simple act of walking down the street with minimal skin showing, I unwittingly seem to have given men (a minority of them for sure, I don’t want to stereotype men in a statement about stereotyping and understand that the majority of men are kind, good people) the right to openly ogle me or yell offensive things at me. This is unacceptable. There is no excuse for this basic violation of common civility. I will not stop making noise about this until it stops happening, and I will not stop fighting for my friends who are oppressed because of their color or sexual orientation or identity, because I do believe that we can make a change together. We will not fix anything by remaining silent.
Desta Cantave – 12th Grade – Homeschooled
I have been incredibly lucky in my life. I come from a loving family, and have grown up in a diverse town, where I haven’t experienced the same discrimination I might have if I’d lived anywhere else. That said, as a woman of color, my experience has been tinted with moments where my race and gender have caused discomfort for me. When I was in preschool and Kindergarten, though I attended a very progressive school, there were always separations between the boys and the girls which is mostly normal. The girls would play house, or restaurant, and the boys would play astronauts. But I distinctly remember a time when I went over to play astronauts, and the boys told me that I wasn’t allowed to, and when I asked why, they told me it was because I was a girl. That is the first time I remember ever being made to feel that my gender was a disadvantage. Since then, that feeling has only grown. I am constantly reminded that in the professional world, I will make less than my male counterparts, I will be a minority. I will be criticized if I work once I have children, but also be criticized for being a stay at home parent. My actions will be scrutinized. My looks will be valued equally or more than my intelligence. I want to overcome these stereotypes. I plan to show that world that I can be all the things I want to be regardless of the color of my skin, or what body parts I have. Identifying as biracial can also be a challenge. In addition to the gender issue, my mother’s family comes from India, and my father’s comes from Haiti. I have grown up separated from my father, so naturally I’ve grown up identifying more strongly with the Indian side of my family, and I’ve always felt accepted and loved among their community. I have not been exposed to my father’s family or community, but I hope that I’d feel just as welcome there. I know people who identify as biracial who have experienced discrimination from both groups. Although I’ve not faced this particular dilemma, I have been asked about my race and people are often confused. I’ve grown up in a predominantly white community and I’ve always fit in with diverse groups of friends. It upsets me very much to see so much racism and discrimination in the world though, and I’ve been spending lots of time studying it, and thinking about it. It is my hope that there will be a major shift in the way we think about these issues. In my mind, what it all boils down to is labels. If we could look at one another as individuals or people, and not allow race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, disabilities, etc. cloud our judgement, we would be better off. I also believe that if we discussed these issues more in schools, and made sure the youth were more educated on these sensitive issues, then we could instill a sense of equality and acceptance in the youngest members of our society making for a brighter future.
Emma Garcia – 10th Grade – Princeton Day School
Blue eyes, pale skin, brown hair, freckles. Not your stereotypical looking Mexican. Even with the last name Garcia, clearly hispanic, I have trouble convincing people I’m of Mexican descent. It’s always a good one to put in two truths and a lie, because people who don’t know me rarely assume that I’m hispanic. Many times I’ve had to show people pictures of my grandpa, or great-grandpa, in order to convince them that I truly am hispanic, though I may not look the part.
I can remember my first day of second grade and it came time for the teacher to take attendance, and Emma Garcia was somewhere midway down the list. When she got to my name, I raised my hand, but she continued to look around. I raised my hand a little higher, thinking maybe she hadn’t seen me. She continued to look around until her eyes settled on me, and then she just looked more confused than before. She stared at me for a second, then marked down my name in her attendance book. At the time I hadn’t really thought anything of it, but reflecting back on it now, the reason that she didn’t see me at first was probably because she was looking for the typical hispanic female, and I most definitely did not fit into that category.
Fast forward a few years, to 6th grade Spanish class. I was in a class with one girl who appeared to have the look of your “classic hispanic” and the rest of the kids were white. We all walked in together, and sat down to wait for attendance to be called. Our teacher, who was originally from France teaching Spanish, don’t ask me why, began to call out students’ names. Surprisingly, I was the first one on the list. “Emma Garcia” she called out, looking directly at the hispanic girl, who I later became friends with and learned is from Guatemala. The girl shook her head and I raised my hand to claim my name. The teacher looked at me a bit doubtfully, but then continued calling out the rest of the names, Nash Grier, Michael Griggs, Kevin King…. Then she came to Grace Triplett, a seemingly non-hispanic name for a girl who looked to be our stereotypical hispanic, just because she was adopted into a non-hispanic family.
The point is, although I am Mexican, people don’t associate me with being hispanic. Just because I may not look hispanic, or because I don’t come from a family that is your stereotypical Mexican family, doesn’t mean I’m not hispanic. Often times, people will say derogatory things nonchalantly in front of me, not realizing that it could be potentially offensive, since they don’t associate me with being hispanic. When I was younger, my dad had hired some workmen who happened to be white. When they arrived at our house to do the construction, they all came piling out of the car. The man in charge commented to my mom, “I know we look like a bunch of Mexicans, all piling out of one car. You know how those Mexicans are.” My mother said, “Yes, I know how those Mexicans are. That’s why I married one.”
Because of my family’s socioeconomic status and my physical appearance, I haven’t had to deal with real prejudices based on hispanic stereotypes. Based on the experiences that I have gone through, I can only imagine what it would be like to deal with real prejudices based on hispanic/Mexican stereotypes.
Hala Ozgur – 9th Grade – Irvine High School
“Well, how is it living with parents raising you as a terrorist?” These are the words that escaped the mouth of a high school boy in an attempt to insult an ordinary American Muslim- me. His intentions may be unclear, possibly viewed as a joke even, however the fact that those words seamlessly rolled off his tongue as though he had been practicing them for days should be a huge concern to many. To have the audacity to blatantly proclaim those very words to me as I faultlessly went about my own day is only one of the many experiences that thousands of Muslims go through everyday. Many people advise simply walking away in order to portray the sense that you do not care. However, I view this as a fault in our society- to a certain extent. How does one solely rely on walking away and ignoring these comments as an effective way to change these stereotypes? I, for one, believe that people who label others require a first hand educated response; not for revenge, and not out of anger, simply in an attempt to educate the young minds of today, to change the stereotypes of tomorrow.
Jasmine Wadalawala – 11th Grade – Arcadia High School
“Actually Muslims say ‘Allahu Akbar’ before they blow up buildings because Allah is their God and he tells them to do it.”
This is the exact quote I was unfortunate enough to witness being said while in class my freshman year. Even worse, the girl who said this happened to be a good friend of mine at the time… and didn’t know I was Muslim. I don’t think I’ve ever been completely speechless until I had this experience. After I got over the shock I proceeded to explain (as calmly as I possibly could) that this wasn’t true at all. I told her it’s a sin to murder in Islam, and it is in fact the religion of peace, still not mentioning that I was Muslim. Then she tried to shoot my argument down by stating that her uncle was in fact Muslim, and therefore she knew for a fact that this was true. That’s when I realized that attempting to educate her was not going to get rid of the stereotypical thoughts racing through her head. I needed to physically show her that Muslims are regular people. So I proceeded to ask her, “Would you agree that we’re good friends and I’ve always been nothing but a good friend to you?” She agreed. “Well I’m Muslim and I have been my whole life and I’ve sat next to you the whole year and not once have I tried to blow anything up or harm you in any way. Not all Muslims are extremists. It’s just a dumb stereotype.” Now I wish that this could be a typical fairy tale ending where she realizes she was wrong and embraces the true meaning of Islam. But unfortunately, the world doesn’t always work that way. She ended up ignoring me and turned back to our lesson. This grudge against me has not ended to this day.
In retrospect you could say that this is a negative experience as a whole. But I try to look at the more positive impacts that this has had on me. If you really want to be optimistic, you could say that at least she walked away knowing that not all Muslims are terrorists. And I kept that as a possibility for a while, but it did not suffice. I wanted to do more; it instilled a hunger in me. Over the past 2 years I have used this experience to fuel my passion to defy stereotypes. That has led me to interfaith. As a Muslim, interfaith is extremely important, considering people stereotypically believe that Muslims don’t get along with any other religions. I applied and got into several interfaith organizations such as MAJIC (Muslims and Jews Inspiring Change) and IYLI (Interfaith Youth Leadership Initiative). My main point in sharing this experience with you, is that stereotypes can apply to EVERYONE, whether you experience/realize it or not. And instead of taking it as another bump in the road, use it to your advantage. Let it inspire you to be the bigger person, to be brave, and to join organizations. Let it inspire you to defy stereotypes.
Gillian Share-Raab – 10th Grade – Council Rock North High School
Digging deeper into the stereotype of a typical woman
The other day, I found myself joking around with my dad, whom I consider to have a good relationship with, about some negligible topic that happened to cross the line of appropriateness between father and daughter. I could sense as the jokes got more and more unbecoming that my father would hold himself back from laughing more and more, and I pointed this out to him. I proceeded to ask why he seemed to be holding back from joking around with me; unlike he had done with my older brother. To this he replied that a “different relationship” exists between a father and a son than between a father and a daughter.
After he said this, I was a bit taken aback. My initial thought was that we are both his children, so why would our genders determine our relationships with our father? But instead of saying that aloud, I simply asked, “How so?” Next was I met with explanations revolving around the idea that women are more “delicate” (for lack of a better word) than men in nature, and it is more “shocking”, though admittedly funnier, when a woman displays coarseness of character than when a man does.
Our conversation then drifted into discussing the various women with whom my dad works. He distinctly observed that there is one woman in his business who seems to “overcompensate” for her gender by expressing her authority in a way that puts too much pressure on her coworkers. We both agreed that her negative behavior was most likely a result of feeling inferior as a woman, and needing to rise herself up in whatever way possible to try to prove herself in the workplace. On the other hand, he also mentioned a woman who took a more passive approach in the business and ended up being promoted to a high ranking although she was overlooked for the job several times before being appointed despite being the obvious best choice for the position. The fact that she was a woman hindered her opportunity at gaining that leadership position, and it was not until a few men were fired that she was finally given the job, where she quickly flourished.
In my opinion, gender should not affect one’s quality of life, from trivial examples such as the extent to which a joke is received or even in circumstances as extreme as getting promoted in a company. It is high time that society enforces equality among all people, and treats each other without preconceived judgments. On a personal level, I would like to be able to go about life without being hindered or viewed differently because of my gender, and I know there are others who feel the same about the same or another aspect of their lives. So although it can sometimes be hard and against human instinct, let us be reminded to meet every new acquaintance as a blank slate without bias and with warmth.
Anais Amer (School Representatives Team) – 9th Grade – Princeton Day School
Let’s start with my name, Anais Mohammed Amer. Growing up with this name in a society such as ours has brought its difficulties. It has also made me stronger. When I was about nine and in third grade, I realized for the first time how people really interpreted my name. In class we did a project on our names, and this is when I came to the conclusion that I was different. My first name was not much of a problem; it was just the pronunciation that got people. As I pronounced my middle name to my class, an awkward silence covered the room. I remember the uncomfortable feeling in my gut. Soon the silence drifted into whispers among the students. My teacher could tell I was confused and obviously hurt. She politely asked me to continue. The same thing happened as I read my last name. Later that day at recess time, I was playing four square with my 3 friends. Together they asked me: “So are you like related to Osama?”
I can’t blame them for asking – ignorance gets the best of people. Politely I answered, “No, I am not…” and walked away back into the school. I couldn’t help but feel frustrated and infuriated.
Incidents like this never fail to follow me as I grow older. My name is a part of my identity. My skin is a part of my identity. My religion is a part of my identity. My culture is a part of my identity. As I mature and begin to create my own opinions, I find that my identity plays a huge role in this. I am constantly walking the hallways of my current high school in fear. I fear that others have preconceived ideas about me because of my race, my religion, my culture, and my opinions. I’ve lived my whole youth so far with the constant thought that my voice will never be heard, so why speak up? Only this year have I felt empowered enough to stand up for what I believe in and to stand up against these preconceived notions and ideas that others may have about me.
My seventh and eighth grade years could possibly have been the hardest times in my life so far. I was constantly pegged for looking “Mexican” or “Dora-like”. I am not Hispanic. I am a Muslim Palestinian Arab-American, born and raised in America. It took me a long amount of time to gather up the courage and speak up to let someone know that what was going on was not okay with me. I was being called “consuela,” as in cleaning lady. People yelled for me to go and fetch them tacos from my taco truck. My peers were even asking me if I “drove camels to school.” I was fed up, and these comments had pushed me to my limits. Once the teachers got involved these types of comments began to simmer down, but they did not completely come to a stop. A mistake I probably made was letting that go, and not telling my teachers that some of these comments were still being said to me. As the year came to an end, my summer turned into a time of self-discovery. I found a passion for social-justice and was empowered by people such as Dr. Cornell West and Edward Said. It was insanely refreshing to go a whole 3 months without those comments anymore.
As summer came to an end and everyone filled the hallways of school, I noticed the comments were gone. Throughout the summer I had made many posts on social media concerning the topics of equality and social-justice. I know for a fact that the people who had said those comments had seen my posts, and probably noticed how passionate I felt about these topics. I suppose the people who said those things grew up and realized what they were saying was not right. This is what I am aiming to teach people. I am trying to turn ignorance into knowledge and understanding. I am re-defying the circumstances and aiming to make change. I think that growing up with this identity of mine has made me stronger and happier. I am not as uncomfortable with myself as I was before. I hope that others who feel the way I felt in third grade can turn their anger and frustration into something good, like I am trying to do.
What is the first thing you think of when you see a blond-haired, blue-eyed southern girl? I bet several things pop into your mind: the famous drawl, a love of football, and so on. However, these are all stereotypes, and the South is full of them. While some of them may be true, these stereotypes do not apply to everyone in the South.
When I was little, my friends and I used to make fun of people with a heavy Southern accent by mimicking it. When we were in the 2nd grade, we finally realized that we were actually making fun of ourselves. Now, it doesn’t happen as much as it did before, but when it does, it is usually to make fun of someone, rather than ignorance. We have several people in my class who live on the outskirts of our city and they do have a heavy southern accent. Some of their friends will make fun of them for it. I’m not really sure how they feel about it, but I know if I was in that position, I wouldn’t like it very much.
Southern stereotypes plague everyone who lives in the South. While some can be true—I am a huge Alabama football fan and I do have an accent—not all of them are justified. I have never lived in a trailer park, I like country music but not a lot, and I wear shoes most of the time. Often, we learn to ignore stereotypes, but they can still be hurtful. It is unacceptable to judge people or treat them differently based on society’s preconceived notions of them, even though it may be difficult.
Nikhil Parvathala – 11th Grade –South Brunswick High School
“Stereotypes; you can’t live with them, and you can’t live without them.” We hear stereotypes daily. EVERYONE is labeled with either a positive or negative stereotype. What is the purpose of society to group people in these ways?
Stereotypes not only affect people’s social lives and emotions, but also impact how people interact with their environments. Ultimately, ignorant pre-judgement can potentially make people feel as if they have no motivation in life. The consequences are detrimental. In an atmosphere with so many stereotypes, psychological pressure is created. Thereafter, depression, and even isolation, may persist in an individual. The list does not end there. Although most people don’t realize it, they often stereotype their very own friends. What good will this do? Friends may not show it, but they may still be hurt by being labeled in certain ways.
We must “redefy” the common misconceptions in society. Don’t be a bystander. Take a stance and, as cliche as it sounds, really BE YOURSELF. Meanwhile, think about how grouping and labeling people can negatively impact the people you interact with everyday. We are a progressive world, and we should keep it that way. Don’t discriminate. Don’t stereotype. Most importantly, stay strong.
Kinza Haq (School Representatives Team) – 11th Grade – Noor Ul Iman School
Racism undoubtedly permeates the social and political hierarchy both within the United States and globally. As a self-identified South Asian Muslim female, I serve as the embodiment of the foreign and unknown to many, thus becoming the ideal target for both racial profiling and religious persecution. The prevalence of racism in the United States is both disappointing and unavoidable; it has been displayed throughout the history of the United States, from the exclusion of Chinese Immigrants in the 1940’s, to the recent actions of President Obama on immigration. My story with racism begins at birth and is one that will forever affect my morals, ideals, and actions.
“Why don’t you just take it off?”
This question was posed to me at a conference I attended while wearing a hijab, or Muslim headscarf. My attendance of a Muslim private school mandates the scarf as a part of the uniform. While attending a Model United Nations conference, I was asked to elaborate on the difficulties of wearing a headscarf. I responded with the “standard”: it makes one an easier target for racist remarks, everything you do as an individual now represents a religion of 1.6 billion. Injecting some humor into the situation, I also included the undeniable benefits of taking on the scarf: no bad hair days, one never gets lost in the crowd, and it indicates a certain level of self-respect that is usually appreciated.
As I was finishing off my well versed spiel, that aforementioned question was posed to me. The undertones of contempt and disgust were obvious; she ardently believed that my skirmishes with religious profiling were of my doing. She believed that it was my partaking in a religious obligation that caused this, and thus the blame lay with me. The post hoc ego propter hoc logic she chose to employ was immediately rebuked by those around her; but this indicated a larger issue in my mind, that it was a fervent belief of many Americans that the problems created through individuality and differences in people lie with those who are different rather than those who systematically isolate the different and bully them into normalization.
Part of the reason I joined redefy is that girl. If this organization can change the views of one individual for the better, I would consider it an astounding success. We see this idea of “the victim’s fault” every day, including in the recent verdict in the Michael Brown case. Fortunately, new generations bring forth new ideals. The outcry over the decision gives me hope that the fetters of racism may soon be broken to create a new society in which we are respected for our differences, not criticized for them.
Asianna Hall (School Representatives Team) – 10th Grade – Princeton Day School
I’ve experienced a lot of racism and stereotyping in my life, and I continue to experience it. It’s mostly comes from the fact that I look a certain race, or because I’m darker than my mom. I’ve been told to stop talking because the person I was speaking to “didn’t understand Spanish”, even though I was speaking english. I’ve been told to go back to Puerto Rico and work in the kitchen like I’m supposed to. Someone even asked me if I knew how to jump off roofs, because that is a Puerto Rican stereotype. People have made assumptions about me at school; I’m not sure why it happens, but it does. For example, I’ve been told that I should be voted the “biggest slut” in the yearbook, even though the person that said it knew that I’m a prude. People have mocked the Spanish language because of my race. I’ve been slapped in the face, though I’m not sure what for. I just use all of these things to push myself harder. I used to take offense to the racism and stereotypes, but then I realized that the people who have made these comments are only saying them to try and knock me down lower than them. They were trying to hurt me on purpose, for who knows what reason.
I think stereotypes were created for people who use them to help “identify” races or “types” of people. People use course hair, dark skin, big lips, fried chicken, watermelon and now kool-aid to help identify African-American people. Straight A’s, slanted eyes, short, identical people with straight black hair, help people identify asians. The stereotype list goes on. These stereotypes were made for people to picture the “typical” person of that race or color. They’re guidelines that some people, if not all, chose to follow. If they don’t follow these guidelines, then they’re subconsciously stereotyping other people, because that’s what they know. They were conditioned to have these behaviors and practices. This is a big issue for me, because I know what its like to be stereotyped, and I don’t want other people to know how it feels, or to know what it’s like to experience racism. It’s not cool, and I know too many people that it has hurt, which pushes me to want to change this.
Ecom Lu (School Representatives Team) – 9th Grade – Princeton Day School
“You’re Asian. Of course you’re good at math!”
“You’re so lucky to have natural talent in playing the piano!”
“The only sport that Asians are good at is ping pong!”
If you are Asian and attend school, then you have most likely heard of the above quotes sometime during your life.
How were these stereotypes formed? These statements are reflective of society being careless about their mindsets. It is notable that these comments all relate to one topic: setting high standards. In school, it is often taken for granted that Asians are detail driven to the point of being perfectionists. As an Asian myself, I fit the mold. I do in fact play the piano and ping pong, and I am glad to have done so as I passionately enjoy these activities. I too have high expectations of myself academically. But there are times that I wonder, how did I become this stereotypical Asian getting-extremely-upset-when-a-grade- isn’t-high-enough kid not unlike the characters in the Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom.
In my first year of high school, I have finally come to a conclusion – this outlook is born out of pressure. From both strict Asian parents demanding success in academics and from within the Asian student-body all competing for high grades.
However, another contributing factor is from non-Asian peers who reinforce the stereotype with their expectations that all Asians perform equally well, and have the exact same preferences. I have known several Asians that are in fact not at all like the “typical Asian”. Their main focus isn’t on getting the best grades or competing with other Asians. They march to the beat of their own drum, and I am proud of them from doing so.
I think it is important to celebrate those Asians who have forging their own path despite the stereotypes that surround them. What about the saying, “Never judge a book by its cover?” Has it come to the point that the moment one sets eyes on an Asian person, they immediately form an opinion about him/her? I strongly think that if we as a society embrace diversity instead of jumping to judgments, then people can learn to get along with a better understanding of one another.
Anonymous – 9th Grade
First I want to thank Ziad for letting me write this. He’s an awesome guy.
I have Type 1 Diabetes, and with Diabetes, you get stereotypes. When I meet people and tell them I have Diabetes they often respond with “But you’re not fat!” It’s true. I am not fat. Actually the doctors are always telling me to eat more, but because I have diabetes, people expect me to be fat. I got used to it. It made no difference to me.
But, coming out as being bisexual is a completely different story…. Being bisexual comes with people hating you, and as always, stereotypes. It’s much like Diabetes. You’d never know I was that way, until you got to know me.
My parents are devout Christians and we go to mass every Sunday. When I told people, it scared me. I was scared that my parents would eventually find out. They haven’t… yet. I am scared that when they find out, I will be in deep trouble. But, I have to trust that because they are my parents they will still love me and care for me always.
There’s one other issue. I am a Boy Scout. You might have heard about this big rule change about how they’ll let in homosexuals. First, the rule doesn’t go into effect until January. That means if anyone in my troop catches word of this, I will be kicked out. Second, everyone in my boy scouts troop is a devout Christian. I would be shunned, and forced into a separate tent while camping. Think about it. Is it wrong for a gay guy to sleep next to someone straight? Of course not! That’s what they think though. I am friends with an older boy in our troop who gained Eagle when he was 17. He’s bisexual. He did not tell anyone about it, and everyone thought he was “normal.”
Coming out is scary. It terrified me. But it’s worth it. Trust me. It makes you closer to your friends. I was scared people were going to judge me. I was really lucky to have a good group of friends that cared about me and didn’t judge me. It’s 2013. Most of us know better than to judge. If you don’t, learn, because if you don’t, then you’re stuck in the past. DFTBA.
Ella Dyett (School Representatives Team) – 10th Grade – Packer Collegiate Institute
There is a stereotype that black girls are “ghetto” and “poor” in the way that they talk. Well, I go against this standard. I go to an expensive private school in New York City, which happens to be predominantly white. Most of my friends are white, I have grown up in a white community most of my life, and even my mom is white. Having grown up with these surroundings, I don’t speak in what some may see as a “ghetto” tone, which leads many to question my “blackness”. My friends even jokingly call me an “Oreo” (black on the outside, white on the inside). This really hurts my feelings; I don’t understand how this kind of behavior is just, not just from my friends, but from anyone. Even if I don’t fit the stereotype of a “typical black girl”, that does not make me any less of the strong black girl that I know I am. Not fitting your “label” doesn’t only affect black girls, it affects people of every race and religion. I believe that we should be able to identify ourselves by any part of us, without the fear of being put down for it.
Jenifer Miller (School Representatives Team) – 9th Grade – Oak Hall School
Over my life I have had the chance to attend many different schools and meet a variety of incredibly interesting people. This opportunity has opened my eyes to the many religions and ethnicities of people in this world. I have learned that everyone has their own amazing story to tell about where they have come from, how their religious journey has changed their life, and how they have overcome stereotypes. Personally, I have witnessed and experienced stereotypes myself. Both of my parents are Jewish, and while I do not often follow the practices of Judaism, I fully respect the religion and am interested in it. For all of my life I have attended schools and lived in towns where the large majority of the kids practice some sort of Christianity. Being the odd one out has came with many stereotypical jokes and comments about jews. I have always found these remarks to be very ignorant. No one person is exactly alike to another, and being part of the same religion does not make you the same as any other person who is also a part of it. You can not paint a whole people with one brush. I have learned in time to cope with the jokes, because I know they are just due to ignorance and lack of education. That is why I believe in this cause so much.
In the seventh grade I entered a private school called the Hun School of Princeton which has the reputation of having many students which are very wealthy, and therefore thought to be snotty. I transferred to this school from a public school, and I believed the reputation of the school. From getting to know all of the kids in a smaller environment, I learned that while a lot of them were very fortunate, they were no different than my friends anywhere else. Obviously, there were some exceptions, but I came to the realization that everyone is essentially the same.
Through all of my experiences I have recognized that there is almost nothing more important than getting to know everyone despite the stereotypical thoughts about their religion, skin color, ethnicity, wealth, and sexuality. I have made countless friends because I have put these preconceived thoughts about people behind and embraced life with an open mind.
Anonymous – 9th Grade
It’s in the news constantly, we hear teachers and principals speak about it, but yet we ignore it and know so little about it. Cyber Bullying. As time goes on the word “change” is used constantly. Change in government, change in education, but change in technology seems to be a challenging topic. Yes, technology has improved and we are doing things much faster and more efficiently, but it does have a lot of downsides. With teenagers always on their cell phones, laptops, televisions, tablets, you name it! It seems nowadays that technology never leaves our side, and to be honest, that’s completely true. It’s with us all the time anywhere you go and you can’t escape it. As an adult this is helpful and makes things more efficient, but as a child or teenager it just adds problems to your life.
Here is where bullying steps up to a whole new level that our generation is the first to face it. The words written on that girl or boy’s Facebook is with them all the time. That picture of them is now permanently in cyber space. So when bullies post something in cyber space it follows that person all the time, hanging over them and reminding them every second of how much people hate them. This reality of technology is something that more people need to be educated about.
Towards the end of seventh grade I was drinking alcohol for the first time. I didn’t know my limits and I made my mistakes that I regret. Pictures were posted on Facebook, status’s were made, and cruel words came at me like a downfall. Then more rumors were made and they called me “alcoholic, slut, mistake” and the worst was, they told me to kill myself. With these words bouncing around my head I was slowly deteriorating. Word by word they broke me down because of my one mistake that I made, even after I had realized it was wrong and had learnt my lesson. Eventually, I broke and shattered into a million pieces and I couldn’t handle it anymore. I just wanted the hate to end.
Luckily, I got the help I needed and I was diagnosed with severe depression and see a therapist regularly, I did not let this mistake ruin me – I overcame.
People’s reactions to my story were that I shouldn’t have done it in the first place. Well, yes but everyone makes mistakes and that is how we learn. When we fall down we get up again, and we get up stronger. My story shows how vital it is that we educate people about cyber bullying and make an active effort to stop it.
Ziad Ahmed (Founder) – 9th Grade – Princeton Day School
Stereotypes are something that I have sadly dealt with all my life. I think I face them so often because I refuse to conform to the societal definitions or stereotypes of what a certain type of person should be. I am a Muslim and I am a pacifist and opposed to war. I am a Bangladeshi, but I am an American in my nationality and who I am. I am a straight guy, but one who does not buy into the idea that a boy has to be solely masculine. Society can be harsh. I get teased for my religion, race, and flamboyancy daily. It’s funny though because I have found the general perception of what a group of people should be generally is the exact opposite of what the majority are. I have found that ignorance is one thing that bothers me most. I cannot tell you how many times people have came up to me and said just blatantly ignorant comments. I have learned to cope and respond with patience and intelligence. I attempt to explain that the majority of Muslims are peaceful normal people just like anyone else. I attempt to explain that Bangladesh is in fact it’s own country and it is a civilized nation. I attempt to explain that I have just been brought up in a household of three girls and I am just as much of a man regardless of the fact that I don’t conform to the stereotypical image of the male gender, which is ironic because gender itself is a social construct. It baffles me though, because I shouldn’t have to offer these explanations and the world shouldn’t be so polluted with ignorance and false preconceived notions. I don’t understand why in a world that is so diverse that we cannot just all see the humanity in one another and just accept. Acceptance and a positive perspective can achieve so much. I dream in a world for my children where they don’t have to offer explanations for who they are, and they can just freely be who they are. That is why I started this organization, because I believe in the cause of defying stereotypes, I believe in a world without stereotypes.
Cierra Moore (Leadership Team Member) – 9th Grade – Princeton Day School
“So where’re you from?” This is the very question that can turn my conversations awkward. Here is usually the point where I say, “I’m from Trenton,” and I wait for the classic head nod and sympathetic “Oh…” So yeah, my name is Cierra Moore and I’m from Trenton, NJ. If you haven’t heard of Trenton, or it’s reputation, it’s the capital of New Jersey, but somehow seems to still be the butt of many jokes. That might be because of the high crime rate, or the low percentage of high school graduates. But don’t get the wrong impression of Trenton. Though it may have a bad reputation, and it may frustrate me to pieces sometimes, it’s still beautiful to me and it’s been my home for my entire life. So why is it awkward to bring up in conversation? Well, most of the time I’m in Princeton, because I go to Princeton Day School, my extracurricular activities are in Princeton, and most of my friends live there. And Princeton is the exact opposite of Trenton. So in a way, it’s like I’m living in two completely different worlds, and whenever the two merge it’s not such a perfect fit. But what I hate is how each one demands to entirely claim me, like I’m either of Trenton or of Princeton. Why can’t it be both, and why can’t some people understand that it’s both? None of us are truly “of” one thing, you know? So why is it that if I’m talking to someone and I first tell them that I’m from Trenton, then tell them I go to Princeton Day, they’re so surprised? They get that kind of intense surprise, that also has a hint of “How?” in it. But if I do vice versa and say that I go to Princeton Day first and then say where I’m from, I get a different response, a more “understanding” response, like I got in to the school through some program. The most worst response I’ve gotten was from my dentist. I first said that I went to Princeton Day, and when I said that I was from Trenton, she gave me a confused look and said, “Did you get in through the diversity program?”. The fact that a grown woman, with kids of her own, uttered something so stereotypical scares me so much, because if that came from an adult then what are we kids and teens being taught? Have stereotypes so permeated our lives that a girl from Trenton, or another place that may be “looked down upon”, can’t get into a prestigious private school like Princeton Day of her own accord? That’s why I wanted to be involved in this project, to cut down stereotypes so that teens like me, who are apart of different worlds, don’t have to be labeled by one or the other.
Michael Zhao (Leadership Team Member) – 9th Grade – The Lawrenceville School
Americans typically characterize Asians as being nerdy, antisocial, and overachievers. While these characterizations may be true of some Asians, for others they are not. This is the case for any race. No two individuals in any race are identical, and usually they are quite different from one another. Stereotyping an entire people establishes false impressions and judgments that can create biased opinions. Throughout my life I have been on the receiving end of countless Asian stereotypes. While many, like those listed above, are negative, even “positive” stereotypes can have adverse consequences. People think that all Asians are bad drivers, and play the piano or the violin. My parents rarely get tickets, and I do not play either the piano or the violin, and I know many other Asians who do not either. They think that Asian parents all want their kids to become doctors, and are only satisfied when their children receive A+’s, with a “B” earning the nickname “Asian fail”. My parents, on the other hand, just want me to do something that I enjoy and care about. They worry about my grades much less than I do, and in fact, they often tell me that grades are not that important. There are also many stereotypes about Asian language and culture. People feel that they can speak Chinese by saying “Ching chong ling long” and think that all we eat is rice. The other side of the stereotypes is when Asians are expected to be great at something, but they do not live up to that standard. I know that some Asians, contrary to popular belief, are not skilled in math. So if their weakness is discovered, they are often subject to, “Wait, you’re not good at math? But you’re Asian!” This can severely hurt someone’s self-confidence and make them feel extremely poorly about themselves. All of these stereotypes are the result of ignorance. By educating people and changing their perspectives, we can make this world a more accepting and open-minded place.
Lara Strassberg (Leadership Team Member) – 9th Grade – Princeton Day School
Being half Turkish, half American, and having relatives all over the world, many different religions are in my family. My mother’s side is Turkish, and half of my father’s side are Russian, and the other half are Americans. All of these cultures are extremely different, providing variations in what we all believe. My family in Turkey are all Muslims, my family in Russia are all Orthodox Christians, and my family in America are all Jews. Between all of these different religions come different customs and cultures, giving our family lots of diversity. My mom identifies herself as a Muslim but does not practice, and my dad does the same thing as a Jew. I never really identified myself as having a religion. When people ask what religion I am and I reply, “I simply don’t have one” everyone seems to think that I am prejudice to organized religion, or that I view it badly. Both of these things are wrong, misconceived ideas. One of my goals in redefy is to break the conception that if you aren’t directly involved in organized religion, you don’t respect it. In fact, all of the different religions in my family has taught me to treat and respect every religion. The diversity had brought my family closer instead of tearing it apart. I have grown to love the fact that we have so many cultural differences in our family, because it gives me more of an insight and peek at the world. I want everyone in the world to be able to view different religions and cultures with the open way that I now do, and to be able to learn things from them. If everyone was willing to have an open mind to things they aren’t native to, the world would be a better place. I have first handedly learned that stepping out of my comfort zone is something that has made me a better, happier person, and my diversity makes me who I am.
Ziyad Khan (Leadership Team Member) – 9th Grade – Princeton High School
My name is Ziyad Khan and I am an Indo-Pakistani-British mix. Growing up in America, my experience with stereotypes has had a significant impact on my life, as it has with many other Americans of different heritages. I was raised Muslim, following the religion of Islam, and this, on top of being Pakistsani and Indian, only bought on more racial jokes. But atop all of this ignorance has come a more serene sense of self-motivation to protect who I am and what I stand for from people who would only want to beat up on it.
Although my parents hail from South Asian countries and are of darker skin colors, I myself look like what one would consider a “white boy.” Because of this my experience with stereotypes has been slightly dampened, and this has helped me open my eyes to my cousins and friends, who face taunting and joking everyday about their heritage, background, or faith. But in recent years especially, I have become less afraid to let people know who I am. Only the other day in school I publicly announced my faith to my friends and explained how 9/11 has impacted my life hugely, though many of my friends already knew I was Muslim. Nobody genuinely believes I am a “terrorist” because of my religion, but I still do get some scattered jokes from friends, but even those need to stop, the ignorance needs to stop.
Ultimately my goal is for more people to be aware of their own ignorances and realize how their stereotypical jokes can be hurtful, and for them to step into the shoes of those that they tease. Stereotypes reflect the ignorances and prejudices that clutter the world without reason, and this cannot be tolerated.