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No place for stereotypes

For anyone who is a fan of the dying art that is late-night comedy, you might be aware of “Saturday Night Live” member Kenan Thompson’s slightly controversial interview in which he explains why he thinks the show has yet to cast a black female. In a few words, Thompson said that the ones who audition simply “aren’t ready.” Despite this, this past weekend, Kerry Washington—accomplished black actress and star of the show that rules my Thursday nights, “Scandal”—hosted.

For me, the funniest moment of the night was the digital short of Washington and Jay Pharaoh in a parody of the viral video, “What Does the Fox Say?” The premise of the video is simple and well-known: Washington plays the overly jealous, aggressive girlfriend who accuses her boyfriend of cheating. More than the funniest moment of the night, though, I found this to be the most annoying, too. Because while writers managed to fit Washington into almost every stereotype society has of black women—an unwavering Obama fan, even changing her into Beyonce and Oprah in the same skit to mock the fact that no other cast member could—this close-minded depiction is the most frustrating and the one I feel affects me the most.


I can admittedly say that I’m fairly sassy, assertive when need be and ultimately, I make no apologies for having the thoughts and values that I do. These characteristics probably apply to a substantial number of people on campus, but I don’t think many feel their personalities are either pigeonholed or challenged due to longstanding societal stereotypes of them.

This is the plight of the black woman.

It’s really hard to win. I state a view passionately, and a friend may try to comically brush it off by doing a little neck roll. I’m annoyed and a little disappointed, but I let the moment pass. Later on, I may be quieter and reserved—because people are multifaceted, go figure—and someone will wonder where the sassy black woman went. I won’t say this is an everyday commonality, but it has happened often enough to make me unwillingly less outspoken or ridiculously cautious of what I’m saying to others to prove especially that I do not always fit the stereotype.

While this dangerous pattern of polarizing stereotyping can affect people of all ages, I find that it is particularly dangerous in college, as these four years are so pivotal in determining who we are and wish to be as people. Having others thrust on you a prescribed idea of who you are is completely detrimental in this search.

And do not think you’re safe if you are not a black woman. Stereotypes are so pervasive within our lives that at times they can go unnoticed. Last year, a friend commented on the fact that, to her surprise, athletes filled the first row or so of her CHM 201: General Chemistry I lecture. In the moment, we laughed. But almost immediately after, we realized how horrible it was that she was surprised in the first place, as if athletes cannot be both physically and academically hard-working. If they allowed others to pigeonhole them in this way, perhaps they would not even bother studying or attending lecture and become self-fulfilling prophecies. My own friend of Asian descent often feels pressure to do well, simply because of her background. And while the stereotype of overachieving seems superficially great, it can have harmful effects: One could take on a large course load that is completely impractical or avoid challenging courses so as to maintain the image of complete academic control.

None of this is to say that stereotypes hold zero truth. They must, of course, have origins. As black women have historically been a marginalized social group, outspokenness has been a necessity for them to demand their rights. With both challenging schoolwork and practice schedules, athletes must sometimes sacrifice a bit of one for the other. And many parents of Eastern descent instill in their children the drive to succeed, as it was their own sense of ambition that led them to prosper.


But these truths can never hold true for all of those who are stereotyped, and moreover, to determine the actions and behaviors of an entire group is simply a reflection of our laziness to acquaint ourselves with the many faces of both a person and the groups with which he or she identifies.

We are in the Orange Bubble. Typically, this is seen negatively as a source of ignorance of the outside world. But it also gives us the unique opportunity to step out of the roles society has so adamantly tried to create for us—whether it is the stereotyper or the stereotyped — and make our own. Do not waste the chance to break this mold, or in wasting your chance and choosing to acquiesce, force someone else into the same fate.

Lea Trusty is a sophomore from Saint Rose, La. She can reached at

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