USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘stereotype’
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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