Of African Men and Elders; Shattering Stereotypes

When I discovered this video on YouTube a few weeks ago, I was struck by its message and approach: 

Yes, I'm usually focused on a completely different demographic, but what hooked me was the use of humor and "real people" to convey a serious message in a lighthearted, non-confrontational way. (Little did I know it was a message I needed to hear.)

Stereotyping and prejudices are no laughing matter, but I believe that humor and even sarcasm can break through the stubborn surface of people's misconceptions to reveal the truths they've been missing, ignoring, or denying. I've always loved satire for this reason, because some truths are better told "in slant," a la one of my favorites, Emily Dickinson. (This would also explain my obsession with JibJab, my subscription to MAD magazine, and why I never miss an episode of The Daily Show.)

Disarming someone with wit allows a vital message about a social issue to get through where it otherwise may have been firewalled, diverted or batted away like a pesky gnat.

Sometimes, the influence of the media (Hollywood movies, to reference an example from the video) is quite subtle. We know on a surface level that the media is powerful, but if we're educated, open-minded and self-aware, we like to think we're above that, that we don't buy into the media's overt or subliminal messages.

I know I'm guilty of that, and the video showed me just how guilty I am.

As I laughed about the shirtless Matthew McConaughey jokes in the video, my conscience was pricked. I had subconsciously absorbed and accepted some of the stereotypes it portrayed. Since I don't know very many African men (though all of the ones I do know are nothing like the ones in movies), I had allowed this mainstream perspective to fill in the gaps.

To prevent this slipping and sliding along the stereotype slope, make a conscious effort to interact with people outside of your usual group. Get to know someone new as a person and fellow human being, not a number or statistic or stereotype. If you ask me, that's the best way to throw off prejudices as a whole, to change our perspective of a "group," no matter if the group is elders or African men or lesbians or introverts.

Think about it this way: would you say something negative or derogatory about the wonderful grandparent or favorite elder teacher that you loved and admired? Or judge them based on their age? Pummel stereotypes and move into more realistic beliefs by putting a human face and name on the group you're prejudiced against.

Next time you're behind an elder who is driving slowly and you find yourself muttering aloud, "There should be an age limit for drivers," think of your vibrant, independent grandfather, or your lovely 84-year-old neighbor who is a better driver than you, and remember that "seniors" or "elders" are made up of individuals like these. (Hint: the same rule can apply elsewhere.)

Talk about it: how do you shatter stereotypes in your world?