|Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still #21, 1973|
When I talked to my students about common stereotypes today, I got some interesting responses, especially when asking about the stereotypes people have of them. "People think teenagers are troublemakers. That we drink and do drugs and are violent." "People think that rednecks are racists. That's no true. I'm a redneck and look at who my best friends are." "People think that Blind people can't do anything." I was surprised how often students complained about people confusing their disability with deafness. I know some teachers at the Academy for the Blind have people, when they find out where they work, say, "So you must know sign language." And one of my students had someone ask him if he could teach him American Sign Language. "I don't know it. I have a visual impairment, but I'm not Deaf."
Similarly, another student said, "People think that introverts don't talk. I talk. I just don't like to be around a lot of people." He taped his mouth for his portrait, showing the viewer how silly people are for imposing a stereotype on him.
I was surprised at how many of my students who are mildly intellectually disabled (MID), seemed immune to negative stereotypes. "If someone who had never met you, saw you on the street and all they knew about you was that you were a black teenager, what might they assume about you?" I asked one student.
He answered, "That I'm smart and that I'm cute." And when I ran down a list of superficial characteristics, for them to respond with first thoughts, they were pleasantly nonjudgemental. Each student could, however find a time when they misjudged someone and they vowed to be more careful in the future.
All of us unfairly judge others from time to time. Sadly, even many bright adults make the mistake of believing every thought that comes into their mind. If racial/,cultural, and ideological diversity or, at the very least, critical thinking skills were taught at an earlier age, we might all be more comfortable with people who are different than ourselves.
My goal in introducing my students to the art of Cindy Sherman, and having them do this project, is to help them be more careful in their thinking and to be able to more effectively self advocate.