Social Justice Advocates Handbook: A Guide to Gender Understanding I'm Heading to Cairo

How To Avoid Being a Stereotype

by Sam Killermann · 12 comments

in Op-Ed

"One Planet"

You want to be seen as an individual, right?  Of course you do.  But it’s bordering on impossible to avoid perpetuating at least some of the stereotypes attached to the various aspects of your identity.  There are just too many of them!

Well, that’s where I can help.  Consider this a “How to be [X], without being a stereotypical [X]” guide.  I’m hitting a variety of major identities, but feel free to request addendums to the guide in the comments below, on Facebook, or on Twitter.

Also, if you’re more prone to spot-reading than reading-reading, I strongly encourage you to at least read the last section before you formulate your reaction to this article.

Without further ado, in alphabetical order…

How to Avoid Being an Asian Stereotype

Let me introduce you to a phrase that you’re going to want to get really comfortable with: “I don’t know.”  What’s the square root of 64?  ”I don’t know.”   What do you want to be when you grow up?  ”I don’t know.”  Do you know how to play the piano?  ”I don’t know.”

Also, you should probably avoid making peace signs ever again, just in case someone, somewhere, has a camera trained on you.  Ditto goes with any sort of martial arts-/breakdance-like movements.

How to Avoid Being a Black Stereotype

Let’s start with the dietary stuff.  Here’s a list of things you can now no longer eat: watermelon, grape kool-aid, fried chicken, collard greens, and hot sauce.  Seem reasonable?  I thought so.  Also, whenever you can, try to eat White people food in public — that’ll turn some heads.  Oh, and in case you’re unsure, White people food is pretty much everything but collard greens.

No more listening to Rap, Hip-Hop, R&B, and by no means should you let someone see you bringing the Funk.  Leave the Funk where it is.  And don’t let anyone catch you committing a crime.  I’m serious about this — it’s a big one.  Again, I’m going to refer you to your White peers here for advice: they barely ever get caught, and when they do, they are much more likely to get off with an innocent verdict.  Aim for that.  One pointer: get an all-Black jury.  That’s a great first step.

How to Avoid Being a Gay Stereotype

Do whatever it takes to talk with a manly voice.  No more high pitched stuff.  Lower it, like, at least seventeen octaves to be safe.  In fact, if you can do a Sean Connery impression, just stick with that.  Sean Connery, every day, all day.  But don’t call people “love.”  That will only hurt your cause.

Dress poorly, smell worse, avoid social situations, don’t sleep with anyone — you know what, just adopt a vagrant lifestyle.  I never realized this, but it seems like the more homeless you get, the less gay you get, so let’s go with that.  Also, don’t over-think the “fact” that homeless youth are disproportionately gay.  The stereotypes aren’t wrong, so their data must be.  Also, I’d encourage you to do your best not to spend any time around young boys, even if they are your sons/nephews (it’s for the best).

How to Avoid Being a Lesbian Stereotype

No more sports for you, missy.  In fact, to be safe, you should probably give up sweating altogether.  You are, however, allowed to “glisten.”  Wear pink (or, even better, pretty pink dresses!), but try not to look ironic doing it, and grow your hair out super long (extensions are allowed and encouraged).  Drive a pink convertible, too, if you have the means.  When in doubt, think What Would Barbie Do?

Go out of your way to let men know you don’t hate them.  This might be a difficult task, so do whatever it takes: give men impromptu hugs, wear shirts that say “I’M A MAN-LOVING WOMAN” (actually saw one of these once, so I know they exist), and occasionally throw a guy friend a quick handie.  I know this all might sound like what I’m really asking is for you to be straight.  But, seriously, if you can swing it… it won’t lose you any support.  Also, no Indigo Girls.

How to Avoid Being a Mexican Stereotype

Note: “Mexican” applies to all Hispanic/Latino/a people, and most lighter-skinned brown people with dark features (I’m looking at you north Indians).

No more carpooling.  Stick to white collar jobs, but don’t let anyone see you resting your eyes, or, God forbid, your head on your desk.  Oh, and you should probably get used to showing everyone you meet documents depicting your legal status (for immigrants, naturalization documentation should suffice; for U.S.-born, I want to say a birth certificate, but that doesn’t work for Obama, so I doubt it’ll work for you).

How to Avoid Being a Middle Eastern Stereotype

Have you ever seen the television show Family Guy?  If so, you should do whatever you can to emulate the principle character, Peter.  If not, let me break it down for you: be rude, but not threatening, drink beer constantly, be obnoxious in public spaces (sports games, bars, libraries — whatever), eat fattening, red-meat-heavy foods to the point of obesity, and, above all, blindly celebrate ‘Merica.

Oh, and no pilot licenses, please.

How to Avoid Being a White Stereotype

Hahaha, kidding.  You don’t have to worry about this stuff.  Carry on, Whitey.

Any of this seem ridiculous?

It should.  To ask someone not to do any of the stuff above to avoid “being a stereotype” is extremely limiting, and rather silly.  So why do we (the royal “we”) ask this, both explicitly and implicitly, of people all the time?  Oh, and we certainly do.  As I travel the country talking to folks in my comedy show about stereotypes, and fielding emails in response to articles on this site, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to respond to some version of “If gay men don’t want to be stereotyped as promiscuous why don’t they stop being promiscuous?”  (just replace “gay men” and “promiscuous” with [some group] and [some stereotype])

This article is satire.  It’s my impression of anyone out there who has ever defended stereotyping, or argued that a stereotype is true “because this one time I saw this one person yada yada yada…”  Guess what: even if 99% of [some group] do [some behavior] there would still be thousands (if not millions, depending on the group) of people who do not.  We need to move past this idea that we know an individual based on their group memberships.  It’s idiotic.

To all the folks I mentioned above (and all the folks I didn’t): don’t worry about being a stereotype.  The onus isn’t on you to end stereotypes attached to your group, it’s on everyone else.

Written by Sam Killermann

Sam is a writer and performer who uses those skills as an ally to advance progress in the realms of LGBT equality and social justice. He tours the country speaking to college students about stereotypes, prejudice, and oppression, and writes for this site when he's at home in Austin, TX.

  • email
  • SuperHyugaYoshichan

    Wow, you know a LOT of stereotypes. And this is an awesome point. The last sentence is something I blogged about on Tumblr as a reply to someone who said that doing stereotypical things was hutring the LGBTQ cause. Note this reply was months ago! So thanks.

    • Samuel Killermann

      I sure do, and unfortunately I didn’t really even flex my full stereotype muscle here (I know many more). Open a word document and start writing all of the stereotypes you’ve learned about every group — it’s a shocking and unsettling experience.

      And I’m happy to hear that you appreciated this, particularly the last sentence (which is the point of the entire article). I was terrified in publishing this because I was afraid people would completely miss the point and it would blow up in my face.

  • Ayodele

    Sam….Will you marry me. I swear you could take a shit and I would think it’s funny. Oh and btw how do i make a website? I’ve got a great idea…

    • Samuel Killermann

      Hahaha – well thanks, Ayodele! But I sincerely hope it doesn’t come to that.

      And building a website is easy. Just learn XHTML, CSS, and PHP, and the rest basically does itself.

  • Matthew Huntington

    How to avoid being a white sterotype. 1. Be willing to eat things that don’t taste like stewed chicken or tapioca. When you ask for your food ‘hot’ at a restaurant and it comes out bland, send it back instead of being proud of eating ‘foreign’ food, like crawdads. Try sriracha instead of ketchup. 2. Don’t stare at people who are ‘different’ or ‘don’t fit in’. Don’t give unsolicited advice, about everything. I know, it’s so hard not to tell somebody how to raise their kids, especially if you don’t have any, but try to limit it to once or twice a day. 3. When you cringe from any sound louder than a ‘normal’ speaking voice, try to make it an internal cringe. 4. Nobody is impressed when you correct somebodies grammar. Quit it. 5. Quit joining every athletic activity that you hear about and then doing terrible at it. If you join an athletic activity and you are terrible at it, don’t complain that you are not getting enough time. The same goes for your kids. How many did I miss?

    • Samuel Killermann

      Hahahaha – Love it, particularly 4 and 5. Thanks for contributing, Matthew.

  • Pingback: 50+ concrete things you can do today to work toward social justice

  • Shireshmala

    “Any of this seem ridiculous?”

    Yup. Only this bit: “Hahaha, kidding. You don’t have to worry about this stuff. Carry on, Whitey.”

    It’s like you’ve never heard of mayonnaise. Fair enough cracka, you maybe don’t have much experience around pple who aren’t white like you, so let me educate you.

    Don’t be bad at dancing, you’ve either got rythym or just don’t dance. No playing into stereotypes for you. And while we’re at it, don’t dance in those Squares, wear a cowboy hat or own a gun, or marry your sister. Them whites sure are true stereotypes.

    Course that isn’t the only type-a white you shouldn’t be like, if you don’t want to be ste-re-o-typin’. Don’t be well-meaning in a vaguely liberal manner – not in a smily inneffective condescending way. Don’t drive a Prius and ride a fixie. Don’t talk about the environment and eat Kale. Don’t do yoga and talk vaguely about Eastern religions like you know something (without doing the research!) Don’t lecture people about racism and stereotypes as if white pple don’t experience them.

    Don’t ride a massive smoke blazing Hog. Don’t wear that leather. You know how many people of colour are bikers? Practically none, it’s a white thing dude, and you’re embarrassing yourself by being such a ridiculous stereotype.

    Etc etc etc.

    That’s some doggone edumacation and it’s free of charge.

  • Bailey

    THANK YOU! Since I came out to my friends as bisexual, I’ve become aware that I’ve often avoided doing things I like because I didn’t want to look like a stereotype. I was terrified of being thought of as an ‘attention whore,’ a ‘lesbian who’s kidding herself,’ ‘not a real girl,’ ‘greedy,’ ‘confused,’ or ‘indecisive,’ especially because I am so active in social justice communities. I feared perpetuating the stereotypes I fight so hard to dispel.

    I remember the day after I told my close (female) friend, I wore a skirt to school and spent extra time on my makeup, not because I wanted to, but because I felt like I had to. And I was careful to be very decisive in arbitrary decisions when I was around my friends in the days following. I didn’t realize what I was doing when I did those things, but looking back upon my choices, I didn’t want to perpetuate any of those stereotypes, and it occurred to me that I was under the impression that I needed to defy every stereotype all by myself, which is bullshit. So I’m really glad you wrote this, because I found it quite empowering.

  • Darlene

    I love your articles but you were trying to make fun of people trying not to act like their stereotypes when some people are actually like that. For instance, I like girls and I have long blond hair, love the color pink (maybe that’s part of the reason I love your website so much ;)) and I’m nice to guys. So you made it like I was just trying to avoid the stereotype by not being myself but this is actually how I am.

  • Alfred

    How to avoid being an atheist stereotype.

    1. Strive at all times to remain indistinguishable from a
    “nonpracticing Christian.” I mean, [insert minority] has it so much
    worse than you — they’d give up several redundant organs to be able to
    “pass” freely as a member of the majority! Why would you ever want to
    make things harder on yourself?

    2. Do not, under any circumstances, engage in discussions of religion or “spiritual” matters with non-atheists. You’re an atheist; any purported emotional or metaphysical concerns you have should fall silent before the infallible blade of your pure, cold logic. Nevertheless, this incredible, self-actualizing logic does not give you any license to participate in the previously-mentioned discussions.

    2a. You must, however, cheerfully endure any and all attempts at proselytization, responding AT MOST with a clever bon mot. You must take patronizing prayers for your future salvation at face value, no matter how obvious the speaker’s disdain for your way of thinking and/or very existence. Additionally, you are absolutely required to silently accede to routine religious social ceremonies. Remember, nobody can MAKE you pray. Now shut up, bow your head, turn off your phone, close your eyes, and don’t you dare chew food during a mealtime invocation, however long, preachy, and incoherent the invoker. Your mastication might break someone’s concentration and translocate a shoggoth instead of properly sanctifying your rapidly-cooling steak.

    3. Do not, under any circumstances, engage in discussions of morality. You lose these by default anyway, because you don’t have an invisible omni* friend informing your views. And, if you complain about the moral failings of some particular religious institution, you’re just being a bigot. To be clear, should you find yourself in a discussion of morality:

    3a. You must accept religious justifications for practices you consider unjustifiable.
    3b. If unjustifiable practices, as mentioned in 3a, are carried out by an unpopular religion (i.e. Scientologists, the WBC, or Islam in the US), then you can complain freely.
    3c. However, if unjustifiable practices qualifying under 3b are also carried out by popular religions, then your right to complain extends only to those instances specifically carried out by the unpopular religion.

    4. Display only Buddha-like reserve when threatened with divine retribution. After all, if you don’t believe in God, why would you possibly care that someone believes you deserve to rot in hell?

    5. If a child (defined as anyone under the age of 18) other than your own happens to ask you a question of an inescapably religious nature, you have approximately three options.

    5a, Patronize the youth with a trite, empty, nonconfrontational answer that will hopefully ensure that they never ask you a candid question ever again. Optimally, you want to inspire enough distrust in adults to protect anyone else from having to field any deep or meaningful questions from the youth.
    5b, Theoretically, you can answer them honestly — it’s a free country. Of course, doing so tacitly obliges you to accept the self-righteous fury of the child’s guardians, including at least, but by no means limited to, one punch to the nose and/or kidneys per query answered; two or possibly more kicks in the ribs if you should fall to the floor; and, potential legal action against you, your employer, or your parent organization, no matter how you preface, qualify, disclaim, or limit your controversial statement.
    5c. If 5a and 5b seem untenable, you should raise your hands palms-forward as non-threateningly as possible, back slowly away, exit the area, and immediately take steps to renounce your citizenship and move to another country, while seeking training in a career that will employ you as far away from children as possible. If you should so much as see a child in a distant storefront reflection while commuting to your job, you have not gone far enough. Consider Arctic shelf oil exploration.

    6. Never claim to have once been religious. It stands to reason that you’re either
    in denial, or you never had faith in the first place. What made you so
    angry at God, anyway?

  • Nonono Cat

    How to avoid being a straight white stereotype: don’t write articles like this.