My good lady and my good kid were chit-chatting in our car as we did our best to conserve fuel on the way to work and school, yesterday. A truck was making a turn as we waited at a junction and my second grader looked up at the driver, as my car blocked his completing the turn. “All truck drivers have beards and moustaches,” the kidder noted. “You shouldn’t stereotype, but yes, they are a bit rough-looking,” came back her mother. My reaction was instant. I immediately rolled my eyes, which sources agree can indicate incredulity, contempt, boredom, frustration, or exasperation. In this case, it was a combination of the first, fourth and fifth elements that made my eyes react.
Now, if there is one thing that I have not been able to tolerate or overcome with age, it’s stereotyping. It may be that I was too often on the wrong end of it. For example, while living in England for many years, I was too often a victim of the ‘suss law‘. I remember once being pulled over by a policeman as I walked home after a long day at university, then an afternoon football (soccer) match, then extra practice. I was passing the front of a store, when a squad car slowed then stopped. The police officers stepped out and asked me some questions and to produce some identification. I did. I asked why they had stopped me. “We’re following up on a report and you fit the profile,” one officer said. When I asked for details of the profile, I was told the suspect was tall with fair hair. Being average height, black, with black hair, I could not see how that could ‘fit the profile’. I rolled my eyes: it was dark so I don’t know if that gesture was seen. We had a vigorous discussion, and eventually ‘logic’ and ‘good sense’ prevailed, and I was allowed to continue on my way home. I was one lucky lad, as I was neither afraid, guilty, nor incapable of arguing in moderated tones.
I remember, also, the different reactions I used to get when I was going about my activities as a do-it-yourself homebuilder/repairer, usually during evenings after coming home from by banking job or at weekends. I would be treated very differently if I went to a wood yard or plumbing supplies stores, for instance. When I was in my ‘builder’s clothes’ I got good attention and advice and lower prices. When I went in my ‘office clothes’, I was treated with a general ‘what do you know?’ attitude, flaky advice and higher prices. I suspected different treatment early, and would often go with a friend who was a builder and we’d dress up as ‘builder’ or ‘office worker’ and try our hypothesis out in various places. Pretty consistently, we were ‘profiled’ or ‘stereotyped’. I learned my lessons and dressed the part to get the deals I needed. To make it better, it helped to ‘speak’ the part too: fortunately, I had a good working-class upbringing and had crossed into the middle-classes, so I could speak both languages fluently
Another day and again reminders of lessons learned.