Decentering Stereotypes

Decentering the social normative ideas that are placed on gender and race can be achieved through a myriad of ways. Two of the most potent ways of disrupting the misguided notions of some and re-centering our views on the nature of race and of gender is through authentic narratives and poignant performance pieces. What lies at the center of our understanding of race and gender; comfort, familiarity, certainty, and affirmation. These emotions and persuasions cushion our ideas and common understanding of race and gender. Take for instance gender; people interact with gender in ways that make them comfortable and define gender roles in ways that are familiar to them. Society has constructed the normative roles that define how men and woman are supposed to conduct themselves. Not all men are the same and not all woman are the same and there is no benchmark for how people of a specific race or gander should exist.

What better way to challenge the preconceived socially constructed notions of our fellow men and woman then flipping those notions upside down and shaking. Narratives play a crucial role in creating a shared story that unite people; authentic narratives re-center our established notions about the people we interact with every day. Narratives engage the reader and allows a relationship to form between the author and the reader. These writers are centralizing their race through the use of satire and humor. Authors like Damali Ayo are taking stereotypes and turning them upside down for everyone to see and to recognize them for the utter nonsense that they are. In her book Howt to Rent A Negro, Ayo points out all of ways in which her blackness has legitimized the white people that surround her on a daily basis. Ayo created a website called Rent a Negro where she laid out all of the tasks that have been asked of her over the years and attached a monetary value to each task. Ayo cites instances of people touching her hair uninvited and asking her questions about black culture as though she was a spokeswoman; it is instances like this that Ayo exploits to show the absurd manner in which people act towards people of color. Ayo also engages in performance art; pieces that include panhandling for reparations on the street. Performances pieces like this put a mirror up to the nature of race relations in the United States, and what people see makes them uncomfortable. It is this discomfort that is the pinnacle in disrupting our social norms and refocusing our efforts in centering highly skewed perceptions (Ayo, Damali. (2005). How to Rent a Negro. [Internet] Retrieved from https://www.c-span.org/video/?188939-1/how-rent-negro&desktop).

While promoting her book Sister Citizen Melissa Harris Perry spoke candidly about her motivations for writing her book and provided some very valuable insights into the world as it interacts with black woman. Harris Perry began her lecture by analyzing the interior lives of black woman; their internal citizenship and how that translates in our society. She forces the readers and those in attendance to think about all of the attributes that comprise a citizen in its purest form; race, gender, class, education, and service to one’s nation. Harris Perry next calls attention to what it must feel like to do the “”work of citizenship in a body that is racialized and gendered in a way that produces shames, fear, and distress”” feelings that are embodied in black woman across the United States. (Harris Perry)

Harris Perry includes in her lecture a concept in cognitive psychology referred to as the the tilted room; all angles of the room are at an angle and one must find the center. Some people can find their upright, naturally finding their center and the center of the room, in the process plainly seeing the tilt. Most people are field dependent and will adjust their bodies up to 45 degrees in a desperate search for the center. This notion of a tilted room applies to the way that woman of color are represented in our society. All the images of black woman in America are in seen and internalized through a tilted lens.

She goes on to explain the three most common tilted images of black woman in our society. She moves from the over sexualized beast of burden that is Jezebel which is deeply rooted in American slavery to the image of Mammy the loving caretaker that provides love and comfort to those families that she serves, she finishes with the strong media emergences of the angry black woman. Shame is another element of the tilted room that Harris Perry points out, “”Racial Pride is very powerful political tool…through the use of fictive kinship racial pride is cultivated in media campaigns and in classrooms across the United States. The flip side of pride is shame and the shame that is bestowed upon black woman is a stigmatizing shame. Harris Perry describes the overwhelming shame that black woman feel when they are taught that their very existence is a malignancy in our society. This shame needs to be exposed and eliminated. The passion that Melissa Harris Perry shows is essential in confronting the way that black woman are treated and the way that they feel.

Our identities are shaped by our interior shelf, our community, and our society. In shaping our sense of self there are influences, some are subtle and some more blatant, these influences can change our perception of ourselves and those around us. It takes the power of true and unadulterated narratives and vivid performance pieces to show people that race and gender are marginal, but rather something that can be centered; centered through total and complete understanding. With understanding comes compassion and empathy which will inevitable lead to more complete relationships that will radicalize that people view each other.

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