Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Breaking through Stereotypes and Labeling

As a writer, I try to break through stereotypes and labels. I don't want to write about cookie cutter people because the world is filled with snowflakes of people. We're individuals. Sure, we might look for like minded people to play with, but life is so much more interesting when we step out of our comfort zones and get to know people from all walks of life. I don't lump people into a box and say that is who they are, I try to get to know them based on their character, their ideas, their passions.

That is how I've raised my daughter. Yesterday she came home with a taste of being labeled and she was angry. Very angry. She is a theater/drama student. She loves performing and has participated in many musicals, plays, Improvs and choir performances. Performing is as natural to her as writing is to me. She eats, lives, breathes theater and the arts. Her peers come from all walks of life and are also very talented individuals. Yet, the 2011 Yearbook treated them as a stereotypical bunch of shy, scared kids and they had to share a page with the choir kids.

Homecoming got 2 or 3 spreads. Sports? Don't get me started on the bias of PRO sports in this area. And the worst part? She felt like they were portrayed as geeks and losers, not winners. And my kid is no loser. She is in the top 50 of her 800 2012 class. She is not afraid to embrace the challenge and the thrill waiting for her after she graduates. She's is one of tomorrow's leaders. So are many of her peers.

I was offended. As was her father. The sports, homecoming, snow days received better attention. I thought long and hard about it, discussed the situation with my daughter, and finally decided to contact the yearbook teacher about this inadequate coverage. Below is an edited version of my letter.

September 28, 2011

Dear XX:

My daughter is a XX High School Theater Advanced Production student. She is part of an outstanding group of approximately 300 young people at XX High School who are as dedicated to honing their craft on the stage as a football player is dedicated to winning the Homecoming game. However, unlike an athlete at XX HS, her theater and choir groups were given very little space in the 2011 Yearbook.

This lack of attention disappointed us, but we were more offended by the journalist’s portrayal of this diverse, multi-talented squad of actors and singers. She relied on stereotypes to describe the group by using words like “shy, crawling out of their comfort zones, breaking out of their shells” with an emphasis on overcoming “stage fright.” She also didn’t go out of her own “comfort zone” to discover the wide variety of students involved in the technical aspects of theater or the top student acting body in Mr. XX's Advanced Theater Production class.

Ms. XX, as a theater parent I can assure that I haven’t met many shy, retiring, scared kids who are only able to crawl out of their shells through theater arts. Just as a football player must overcome game day jitters, an actor or singer has to fight nerves to play a role on stage or sing a solo. I’m positive football players don’t want to be thought of as Jocks with no brains as is so often portrayed in the movies. I know my outgoing, bright and talented daughter doesn’t want to be labeled as a shy kid with theater as her only refuge.

Nor do her peers.

We’d like to believe the journalist did not intend to offend the theater/choir students with her portrayal. We know the Yearbook staff can do a better job for this diverse, talented class. In 2010, the choir and theater departments received individual spreads. In addition, the 2010 Yearbook did not use stereotypes to write the spreads. That journalist had an intimate understanding about the theater/choir programs because she participated in them.

Ms. XX, we sincerely hope that the 2012 Class of Theater and Choir students receive individual, honest, and fair spreads that showcase their diversity, talents and dedication to honing their craft and giving winning performances.

Have you ever had to break through a stereotype or a label? How did the label make you feel? What would you say to a person who labeled your child, your child's peers negatively?

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