When You See Someone Like Me

What do you think about this video?

How willing are we to talk about the stereotypes we uncomfortably cling to? How have stereotypes affected you?

I remember the moment Hollywood’s version of teenage angst came crashing down on my reality – the movie Sixteen Candles and the infamous Long Duck Dong. My teenage takeaway was very simple – not only could I not be Samantha who eventually gets Jake, but the guys that “should” be available to me were along the lines of the Donger, who wins over jock-ette ¬†Marlene. I can’t get Jake, and I don’t want the Donger. I can’t be Samantha, but I don’t want to be Marlene.

Please remember that I was not-yet-13 at the time.

Earlier this year my daughter, niece, nephew and I were watching Twilight when the “Eric” character came into the scene. Many Twilight fans weren’t expecting actor Justin Chon to be playing the geek. Let’s face it. Most of us were expecting a white actor. But my it was my nephew’s reaction that said it all: “Why are the dorks always Asian?”

Stereotypes run both ways though. My freshman year roommate was my worst nightmare – tall, blonde, bubbly. I figured we would have absolutely nothing in common, and it got worse when she and almost everyone in our small dorm decided to go through rush. I was going to room with a sorority girl. (Now, mind you. I had no idea what the Greek system was until that week. When I heard “Are you Greek?” I was utterly confused at how someone could mistake me for someone from GREECE.) My interactions with my roommate were completely driven by my stereotypes of tall, blonde, bubbly girls because surely she was dumb, all about getting the guy and having fun, and carefree.

I must confess that at this point I am 17 but still so painfully close to 13.

What I learned from living in close quarters with my roommate and many other young women, who at least on the outside lived up to every stereotype imaginable, was that we had a lot in common. We were all young, often confused, trying to find our voice and way. We all had huge aspirations and suffered disappointment just as deeply as the next. Most of us had very different backgrounds – ethnic, racial, religious, socioeconomic, but when we found ways to talk about those differences there was space to learn. It’s just that those ways were tough to find, tough to prioritize, tough to commit to.

So when you see someone like me in an elevator, what do you think? Does the mention of a college education change your perception? When you find out I’m in Christian ministry what are you thinking? Does finding out I have three kids surprise you? Does a little bit of my story change what you see?