John Alan Turner

Writer, Theologian, Consultant, Speaker, Teacher

Stereotypes Are Always True

I am the White Tortilla. At least that’s what all my Mexican uncles call me.

See, I’m Mexican…sort of. My mother, she’s really Mexican. Actually, it’s my Grandmother who was really Mexican – as in, born in Mexico. Gaunajuato to be precise. My mother was born in Colton, California, and spent most of her life in San Diego.

Until she met and married a Gringo from Georgia. My dad was in the Navy and was stationed there. My mother was working at a movie theatre, and she just couldn’t resist his smooth-talking ways.

He later became a preacher and used his smooth-talking ways for more noble purposes.

Anyway, all of that is to say this: though you wouldn’t know it from looking at me, I come from Mexicans!

¡Ole!

A few years ago, my grandmother died. We all saw it coming. She was growing weaker and weaker until she eventually required hospice care. Once everyone knew the end was near, the family began to gather for the inevitable.

My sister Sandra and I were living at opposite ends of the country at the time, but we managed to get to San Diego within 48 hours of her death.

An interesting thing happened while we were there – interesting especially as it relates to the ways we have conversations.

Sandra and I were walking across the street from my grandmother’s neighborhood to a coffee shop to have some breakfast when a car pulled up to the stoplight. We could hear it coming down the street toward us, the bass was ear-splitting.

BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!

We had to stop our conversation, because we couldn’t hear each other.

And then we looked over and saw – I’m sorry if this is offensive, but it’s the truth – about eight Mexican people in a Chevy Nova. Black. Lowered. I’m pretty sure there were fuzzy dice hanging from the mirror and a tiny statue of the Virgin Mary on the dashboard.

My sister (who actually looks a lot more Mexican than I do) stood there for a moment until the car pulled away – the driver giving me “the guy nod”. Then she said it:

“Stereotypes are always true.”

She has a point; doesn’t she? I mean, I know it’s not the most politically correct thing in the world to say, and you probably wouldn’t want to admit this to a lot of people, but still….

Nobody’s shocked when the Valedictorian is Asian. Nobody’s shocked when the guy who wins the Olympic marathon is African. If you turn on an episode of COPS (which you probably shouldn’t), you’re likely to see white people who live in trailer parks.

Statistically speaking, stereotypes exist because stereotypes are true.

And this stereotyping affects everything from the way our police officers do their jobs (don’t try to tell me that racial profiling doesn’t happen) to the way writers create characters on television and in the movies.

The hard part is that stereotyping cuts both ways.

That Bible-banging, choreography-killing preacher John Lithgow played in the movie Footloose? I’ve met that guy. I’ve heard him preach. He sounds just like that, and his daughter is that wild and rebellious.

Jack from Will and Grace? I’ve met him, too. Part of what made that character enjoyable for millions of people to watch was a sense that many of us went to college with that guy who was over-the-top twirly and drank a little too much way too often.

I don’t think I’m saying anything you haven’t thought before.

Go to an Indigo Girls concert in San Francisco. You’ll see what I’m talking about. Stereotypes are always true.

Except for when they’re not….

I have a very good friend. He’s African-American and works for a State University on the Atlantic Coast. Want to guess how he leans politically? He may be more conservative than I am.

I have another very good friend. He’s white. He grew up in the Deep South. He went to a fundamentalist Christian university and works for a very conservative church just outside of Atlanta. He’s one of the loudest supporters of liberal Democratic Party policies I’ve ever met.

Sometimes people will trip you up with their idiosyncrasies. Everyone’s peculiar and particular in some way. And that’s why it’s so vitally important to actually listen to other people – rather than listening to the pre-recorded messages we all have playing in our heads about other people.

It’s much easier to label them and say, “He grew up in northern California? I’ve got him figured out. I know what he believes. I know what he’s going to say, so I don’t really have to pay attention anymore.”

People are complicated, so that approach simply isn’t very effective. And it’s certainly not the way Jesus approached people. Jesus had lots of conversations with individuals who belonged to groups. Nicodemus was a member of the Sanhedrin. Judas was a member of the Zealots. There was a Roman military officer, a Samaritan woman and a convicted felon. He could have made assumptions about their beliefs, but he knew better than to believe they would all simply spout their party’s line on every issue. He listened, with open ears and an open heart, treating them with respect and dignity. Perhaps this was the reason why hookers, lawyers and IRS agents flocked to him.

These are the same kinds of people who run from his followers today. That’s got to change. Maybe this blog will help speed that change up a little.