Embracing identities – Stereotypes can be accurate, but disregard the complexity of the human condition


I think I”m voting for Hillary Clinton because I”m black.

Election season is a rare moment when our culture accepts crude demographic labels. Ted Cruz woos evangelicals. Marco Rubio targets Hispanics. Hillary Clinton wins blacks.

It”s the language of voter blocs and the big sort – and we use it because it works. People with similar identities tend to vote in similar ways.

Danny Bugingo

I thought I was an outlier. Despite being young and idealistic, I was unconvinced by Bernie Sanders. But then Clinton rode black voters to commanding wins in primary elections across southern states.

Maybe there”s something about the black experience that lets me overlook her scandals, lies and general awfulness, and appreciate her pragmatism. At least, that”s what the polls say.

Similar people do more than vote similarly. They listen to the same music, talk the same way and live in the same cultural spaces. Our fragmented American culture gives us diversity with clear divisions, the salad bowl and not the melting pot.

So stereotypes flourish. People get glances at other cultures without fully immersing themselves. They develop images and associations. Asians and rice. Mexicans and sombreros. Blacks and fried chicken.

We are told that these stereotypes are false. After all, race does not matter – we are all American. However, this well-meaning sentiment brings measurable harm.

Idahoans struggle with people who neatly fit into stereotypes. I love basketball and hip-hop, and people have trouble squaring that with my black identity without becoming noticeably uncomfortable or overtly racist. I become an incomplete, one-dimensional self.

While I am a fan of basketball and hip-hop, I also like cooking and writing code. My mom wishes I would call her more. It bothers me when people don”t close the door all the way. I keep having this dream where my house floods with milk and an octopus chases me.

I am a complicated person with way more going on in my life than basketball, hip-hop or any other black stereotype. But when I tell someone how the new Kanye album changed my life, or invite them to ball out, I can feel myself shrink. No longer am I Danny, with opinions and fears and ideas. I am the black guy.

The problem with stereotypes is not that they are always false. Certain trends follow people with similar identities.

It is when they become the only window into someone, narrowly define them and erase their complicated self, that stereotypes play a destructive role.

Racism is simple. It”s easy to reduce people to one-dimensional caricatures. Compassion, however, takes time, effort and discomfort. Crossing cultural boundaries and seeing the complexity in other people does not come naturally, especially in a state with as little diversity as Idaho.

But compassion is humanity”s crowning achievement. It is what raised us up from crowds of cavemen hitting each other to societies as complicated as the individuals they contain, with libraries and schools and laws – and elections.

Danny Bugingo  can be reached at arg-opinion@uidaho.edu

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