On Writing to Break Down Stereotypes

There's nothing worse than negative stereotypes and bad reputations taking over the minds of the masses, thanks in large part to one-sided representation by the media. Writers who know better play a large part in helping to deconstruct these negative views, whether the stereotype at hand relates to humans (race is a big one here, naturally) or animals. Certain dog breeds - American Pit Bull Terriers [APBT], Rottweilers, and Chow Chows, for example - are knocked down by media sources constantly. The work that writers do to portray these breeds in a positive light is an important part of the path to unraveling these false stereotypes. Likewise, writers do similar work to portray the reality behind stereotypes surrounding the human races.

The base idea behind many, if not all, of these stereotypes is that the human race or the dog breed in question is inherently aggressive. The media portrays pit bulls as the most likely breed of dog to bite people, and African Americans as the most likely race of humanity to attack others. Both are falsely represented. This is not to say that any human race can or should be compared to a dog; rather, it is to say that the two separate groups are both often demeaned and slandered in a manner that attempts to make others in a society fear the group in question. Different writers write to break down different stereotypes surrounding a variety of groups, human or animal. Both are important in their own way.

Some writers who do work to crush these stereotypes and prove them wrong do so without screaming in their readers' faces outright about how wrong these stereotypes are. I believe that these types of writing are perhaps the strongest of methods using the written word; by not even mentioning the stereotype, a writer allows the reader to see the poorly labeled victim as someone similar to themselves, without the shadow of misinformation clouding the image of the character at hand. One such example of this is the series of stories entitled “Raising a Puppy: A day in the life with Spencer Blue-Nose Brindle Pit Bull”. The stories follow Spencer as he grows up and details his training progress, never really focusing on what breed he is or defending him. For example, on the first day the family brings Spencer home, the story details how “Over and over again when Spencer starts to feel not so sure about something he turns to Bruno [their older Boxer], follows him and quickly gets over his insecurity” (dogbreedinfo). It constantly shows him doing and learning normal dog things, such as getting over his fear of walking on tiled floor after spending his early days in a crate with his siblings. Each story includes amusing or endearing photos and videos of Spencer with his human and animal companions.

In the past, I have done something similar by writing about raising my own pit bull where I detail the grand task of potty training a hyper puppy and introducing her to new dogs and humans in a creative nonfiction story. Only once in that story do I pay heed to the negative stereotypes surrounding her breed, by mentioning how a woman skirted fearfully out of our way during a trail walk one day.

I find stories that follow this method to be most effective, especially with ones involving people of different races without making the stereotype a huge deal in the story. If you are a writer and wish to make a difference, simply make your characters racially diverse and show them interacting with others and being treated as any human being should. Give these characters problems that have nothing to do with what race he or she is. These kinds of stories normalize what is true.

I'm not saying there is no place for stories that do make a character's race their main obstacle to overcome in a story, however. Books such as The Kite Runner are equally as important. Whereas the previously mentioned types of stories normalize reality, this kind of writing makes the reader truly feel the character's pain; they help readers understand just how cruel these stereotypes are, and they help other victims of stereotyping feel like they are not alone.

There are purposes to both kinds of writing, and it is up to you which method you would rather use. Perhaps you want to use both – that is just fine, too. Just make your writing important.


#culture #reflections #writingadvice

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