USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘stereotype’
Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Humor
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Serbian Derogatory Roma Joke

“So a Roma woman, a gypsy woman, goes to the gynecologist, and the gynecologist has his gloves on. He notices that his gloves are ripped and notices that his wedding ring has fallen into the gypsy woman’s vagina, So he goes and he looks around and then sticks his head in, and then he sticks his whole body in, and he he is walking around in her vagina. And he sees another man in there who seems to be looking for something. He says to the man, “Hey I lost my ring, have you seen my ring?” And the other man says to him, “No, have you seen my horses?”

Context: This informant, SM, is half-Serbian and was telling my friends and I about a specifically vulgar and racist joke that she has heard other Serbian folks tell her. She explains that the Roma people are all over Europe and some parts of Asia, and are nomadic people. They are known as “gypsy” people, which is a derogatory term as they do not like being called as such. Serbians do not have a positive outlook on the Roma people, as they are seen as beggars and pickpockets. SM explains that sometimes they [gypsies] even use their children to get sympathy and get more money. The stereotype that is used by this joke is that Roma women have a lot of children, hence the size of the woman’s genitals in the story. The joke stuck with SM because of how derogatory and misogynistic it was. SM does not agree with this derogatory speech towards this specific ethnic group, and whenever telling the joke she prefaces by stating her own views towards the joke.

Analysis: Jokes, especially crude ones, are incredibly telling and descriptive of the culture from which the joke emerged. Jokes are a reflection of the things that a particular culture find humorous or witty, or can be a way to allow the persistence of certain stereotypes and essentially make fun of them. For example, the ample number of “blonde” jokes that are basically just jokes about how dumb blonde people–specifically women–are. These jokes allowed the spread of this stereotype across various American communities, leaving many blonde people the burden of having to prove their intelligence–even though none of this is rooted in fact. In this case, the Roma people, and the Roma women are being put down in a racist way, and is a reflection of certain Serbian communities’ views on the ethnic group. The experiences and observations of the Roma People by the Serbian society have influenced the way that they perceive these people. These stereotypes bleed into their jokes as a way to connect with the rest of their community, despite its provocative nature.

Along with this, there is a specific demographic to whom we tell stereotypic jokes. SM would never repeat this joke in front of a Roma person, in fear of offending them or them thinking that she shared the views espoused by the joke. This shows that we alter the way that we share folklore based on the context and the audience.

Customs
Folk speech
Game
Gestures
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Chinese Restaurant Clapping Game

“So we had a clapping game that my friends and I used to do that involved this one song that I always thought was a little bit weird:

“I went to a Chinese restaurant, to buy a loaf of bread, bread, bread.

They asked me what my name was, and this is what I said, said, said:

‘My name is….choo choo Charlie, I can do karate, punch ‘em in the stomach,

Oops, I’m sorry! Please don’t tell my mommy!

Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Freeze!'”

Context: The informant, ER, is an Asian-American student. She really enjoyed playing games with her friends when she was growing up in California; some of these included clapping games like this, along with making lip-sync dance videos. ER is a very popular girl, and wanted to fit in with the other girls, which includes participating in this game. ER explains that she uncomfortable with singing along with this song. Being an Asian-American, she felt that this song was quite racist and drew from various stereotypes in order create a catchy song to sing along to.

Analysis: This song follows other types of children’s songs that are common and widespread. It has catchy, simple rhythm with equally catchy lyrics. In this case, it involves repetition of certain lyrics that are necessary for clapping games. Towards the end of song, the lyrics become a bit nonsensical, and do not really provide any real connection with the original theme of the song. Even the first line of the song make no real sense since no one would normally go to a Chinese restaurant to purchase a loaf of bread. However, rational lyrics are not the main purpose of children songs, but rather about parodying other songs, or making fun of strict components of society.

However, probably the more telling part of this song is the slight racial insensitiveness of the lyrics. In this case, the lyrics are playing on stereotypes of Chinese people, and also equating them with other Asians, including Japanese people and Indian people. For many children, it is common for them to not be able to differentiate between different groups of East Asians, or can tend to be more racially insensitive. Due to this, it means that when these children come up with these rhymes and games, they will be less inhibited by potentially insensitive lyrics when trying to find rhyming words and catchy lyrics.

For ER, calling out her friends because of a racist song had too many consequences. From the social side, ER did not want to say that she did not want to participate in the game, which would create a rift between herself and her friends due to a mere song. Children’s social structures and relationships tend to be very fragile and complex, and due to this, telling your friends that you do not want to participate in a favorite game would be seen as an insult. Due to this fear, many kids will not tell their friends about something that bothers them personally in order to maintain their friendships and keep their social standing.

Folk Beliefs
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Dumb southerners

Main piece: A common stereotype is that people from the Southeast are fat, uneducated, racist rednecks.

Context: The informant (S) is originally from Marietta, Georgia, and their lineage traces back to Germany on both sides of their family. They are a high school student about to graduate and head off to Boston for college. They were raised Christian and consider themselves spiritual, but they do not align themselves with any organized religion. Our conversation took place over FaceTime while S cleaned their room and played Tame Impala in the background. S has heard this stereotype of Southerners their entire life, both from Georgians and non-Georgians alike. Interestingly, S even jokes about this stereotype having some truth to it: “When you go to school in the suburbs of Georgia and see people with confederate flag stickers on their cars, it’s hard not to label those around you as uneducated racists!” In all seriousness, S knows many people (including themself) who actively work hard to not become or buy into this stereotype. They want to prove people wrong and change the overall social climate of Georgia.

Personal thoughts: S and I will both maintain that this stereotype has tidbits of truth to it, but even more so than our personal experiences as Georgians, this conception of Southerners has solid historical basis – a quality that not every stereotype bears. To be obvious… the Civil War, in which the South was fighting to keep slavery alive and well. Some people may vaguely argue that the war was about “states’ rights,” but consider what rights Southern states were fighting to maintain – the right to own slaves. It would be naive to think that those age-old mentalities have simply disappeared, especially when almost every Georgian either knows somebody who owns a Confederate flag or owns one themself. One hundred years after slavery came the tumultuous yet impactful Civil Rights Movement, proving that racism never ended with slavery. Even today, lynchings and hate crimes occur way too often in the Southeast. So, while it is increasingly important for Southerners to educate ourselves on social/political issues, advocate for others and fight back against hate groups that give us a bad name, it is also equally important to recognize that these somewhat hurtful stereotypes derive from truth. Instead of getting defensive about them, we must acknowledge the South’s history of racism and subjugation, and prove with our actions that we are working to remedy that painful history.

Folk Beliefs
general
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Stereotype Encounter

Informant SM is a sophomore studying Biomedical Engineering at the University of Southern California. He is 20 years old and originally from India. He is very passionate about philanthropy, specifically helping poorer parts of India and aspires to one day become a doctor.

The informant tells me(AK) about a moment in which he felt like he was racially profiled. This incident took place around 9:00 pm on a weekday night as he was coming back to his apartment complex after studying at the library.

SM: I was walking back to my apartment complex at night, and as me and my friend were entering the gate, this couple came out of the gate and refused to hold the gate open for us. They came out and said they had to close the gate because they were afraid that we actually didn’t live there. So they caused us some mild inconvenience because I had to open the gate myself. It felt like a form of racial profiling because my friend is African American, and I also have a dark complexion.

AK: What do you think caused the couple to act in this way?

SM: They were probably conditioned to respond this way because it was late at night and they felt protective over their children.

AK: How did this incident affect you emotionally, were you angry or upset?

SM: I was a little disappointed because there was no way I could have posed a threat to anyone. I was carrying a backpack, so I was clearly a student. I felt like they were being immature.

AK: Have you ever experienced anything like this before or since?

SM: No, this was the first time.

After hearing this piece, I was really shocked to have heard my informant get racially profiled. My thoughts went directly to the Trump presidency, and I felt anger for how his administration was letting incidents far worse than this one go by without even a statement. But then, I realized that this couple likely held these stereotypes about darker skinned people well before the Trump administration. It is very likely that they grew up surrounded by these stereotypes and were conditioned to feel danger. Either way, it represented a sad reality for me, and it was hard to hear the informant have to go through this.

general

Turtlenecks and surfer culture don’t mix.

MH is a third-generation Irish-American originally from Battle Creek, MI, who relocated to Santa Barbara, CA in high school.

MH had a tough adjustment period when he moved out West:

“My sophomore year our family left the Midwest and moved to Santa Barbara, and my brothers and I had to start a new high school in the middle of the year…I wasn’t bullied or anything, but there was a period where the other kids were a little confused by me, I think. I was on the basketball team, and one day at practice the balls kept rolling out the door and into the hallway, so my coach told me to go close them. These guys were standing in the doorway, this one guy, Rich Cooke, who was on the football team. I guess he knew who I was, because when I told them I needed to close the doors he yelled something at me like, ‘you think you’re so much better in your turtlenecks,’ something dumb like that to make fun of how I dressed. So I pushed him out into the hallway, beat him up, closed the door and walked back into the gym like nothing had happened. And I stopped wearing turtlenecks after that.”

My analysis:

This story shows how material things, like clothes or cars, can help facilitate folk culture for certain groups whether they like it or not. In MH’s case, his preppier wardrobe communicated a stuffiness or snobbish attitude to his new classmates in Southern California, who were wearing more boardshorts than club attire. Unfortunately for Rich Cooke, stereotyping and playing into those folk beliefs isn’t always an effective way to understand someone from another “culture.” And at a time when teenagers are very focused on their identity, he may have felt threatened by MH’s ability to integrate into the school’s culture (besides his clothes), even as an outsider.

Humor
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

The Kikuyu Tribal Stereotype

“The Kikuyu tribe are known for being very good merchants and businessmen. They are known for coming in, and if they take over another tribes land, they will make it very profitable. They consider this a good trait, but other tribes see them as being greedy and that they will take all of your opportunities to make money”.

According to the informant, Kenya has over 42 historical tribes that can be traced back for many years. Because there are so many, there are several stereotypes about each of them that are understood by the general population. For example, the Kikuyu are well known for being greedy but successful businessmen who will stop at nothing to make a profit, even if they have to hurt others along the way. Many Kenyans resent them because of this.

The informant, Alastair Odhiambo, is a 19-year-old international student who was born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya. Alistair and his family have deep roots in the country, so he is confident that he knows a great deal about Kenyan folklore. He explains that his friends taught him the stereotype as a child because even in the large city of Nairobi, the stereotype still exists. It is common knowledge that the Kikuyu own and run a large part of the city. Many who live in Nairobi dislike them because of this. Alastair does find this stereotype silly because of how silly it sounds when it is stretched, but he does acknowledge that there is some truth to it, since the Kikuyus do have a lot of power and money in Nairobi.

This Kikuyu stereotype originated during more rural times before cities like Nairobi were properly developed and built, so it is interesting to see how it has managed to follow the tribe into the modern era. The current use of it to explain why the Kikuyu are in control of so much of Nairobi’s metropolitan area only strengthens it, as it only gives Kenyans more reasons to believe in its validity. It can be dangerous to believe that stereotypes like this are rooted in actual reality, though, so Kenyans should be careful with them if they want to avoid conflicts between their tribes.

 

 

 

general
Humor

Supplies Joke

There’s a German man, American man and a Chinese man who are all employees at a cement factory. When the employer comes along, he tells the German man to set the cement, he tells the American man to set the bricks, and he tells the Chinese man to get the supplies. When he comes back in an hour, the cement is all set and bricks are all in place, but the Chinese man is nowhere to be found. When he asks where the Chinese man is, the Chinese man jumps out of the bush and yells “supplies!”

The informant says she first heard this joke from a friend in high school when they were both on a trip. She says that although they are both Asian, they both found it extremely funny, because this joke plays upon stereotypes of accents that are often true within the older generation that came to America, not having grown up here. Although it is stereotypical, she believes that it is all in good fun.

It is interesting how this joke plays with the idea of Blason Populaire. The informant and the person whom she heard the joke from are both Asian Americans with parents who have accents that are similar to the one being made fun of in the joke. By laughing over the joke and taking the idea lightly, they are both identifying with a group, which reaffirms their identities as Asian Americans. Furthermore, this joke also uses the rule of 3, which indicates that it originated in Western culture.

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