The Downside to Positive Stereotypes

Solely seeking and demanding positive portrayals of Latinos in the media is as erroneous and precipitous as mostly showing us in a bad light. We are capable of committing repugnant, heinous acts of violence, crimes against humanity, as well as incredible acts of kindness. We are not one-dimensional characters: We are both good and evil. That makes us human.

We're not a subspecies; Homo sapiens haven't been here long enough and we all know that race is a social construct. However unreliable phenotypes are, it is still a persistent construct. We're not magical creatures who have this special spicy condiment that separates us from others. While we're at it, let's get rid off subculture, subgroup and "ethnic," too. It's vulgarism at its finest. Let's not separate ourselves from others to the point of unrecognition. We're human.

Even though we don't have to go to an extreme in order to be accepted, philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti makes some valid points that we need to consider:

When you call yourself an Indian or a Muslim or a Christian or a European, or anything else, you are being violent. Do you see why it is violent? Because you are separating yourself from the rest of mankind. When you separate yourself by belief, by nationality, by tradition, it breeds violence. So a man who is seeking to understand violence does not belong to any country, to any religion, to any political party or partial system; he is concerned with the total understanding of mankind.

Deep stuff. Most of us are not there yet. I don't think we can at this point, anyway. If we want to survive in a multicultural world, that is. Besides, and like I always say, a diverse world is a lot more beautiful and advantageous than a homogenous one.

Back to my point: Positive portrayal is a double-edged sword. Another one-dimensional angle that turns us into caricatures. People don't know that even positive stereotypes are as malignant so let's turn them around: the caretaker (who enables her drunk husband to abuse her kids), the hard-worker (who spends all his money getting wasted on weekends and picking fights with his fellow country men), the arduous student (who takes speed or non-prescribed Adderall to keep him/her up so he/she can study all night long). It's not pretty, it's not always the case, but it makes us human. That is the point. Let's not exalt or reduce ourselves above or below others. We're human.

Positive stereotypes come hand in hand with negative. There cannot be one without the other.

People will continue to watch and seek out shows and movies (and songs) in which people are portrayed deeply flawed because humans are more attracted and interested to/in sex, violence, the dark, and macabre. In this world, at least to the Western culture, we are fascinated with our mortality. Sensationalism will always trump unadulterated reality. We even exaggerate our own experiences for the sake of sounding more interesting. Then again, "it is no measure of good health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society," according to Krishnamurti.

Unfortunately, we'll have to join the Dark Side for now if we don't want to be marginalized. That means admitting to society and ourselves that we are sentient and we feel a range of emotions just like everybody else: anger, fear, pain, jealousy, envy, sadness, happiness, love, and hate. That makes us human.

Embrace the human experience. Don't simplify it. If we're going to push for positive stereotypes, at least let's exaggerate them to the point of ridiculousness so neither negative or positive are taken seriously. Seriously, we're human.

Demanding for accurate portrayal is entirely different, though. However, being that there's a huge imbalance with the amount of negative ones polluting our senses, we need a lot of yang to balance all that debilitating yin. Let's just not go overboard with them. Let's steer clear of them and for the love of all that is holy, don't yield, support, or spend your money on films and shows that perpetuate exaggerated negative and positive stereotypes. We're better than that. We're human.


As previously published on the UPLIFTT (United People for Latinos in Film TV and Theater) blog.