A stereotype is “…fixed, over generalized belief about a particular group or class of people” (Cardwell, 1996). The term stereotype was first coined by French printer Didot to describe a process of printing to create reproductions (Ashmore and Del Boca, pp. 1-Z). It was in 1922 that the term “stereotyping” was used by journalist Walter to refer to “pictures in the head” of reality which would evolve to mean “generalizations” about members of a group (Plous, p.1).
The stereotype is usually connected with the term prejudice or the attribution, usually negative, to a group or its members. Plus adds that it is more than a judgment, but “an attitude that includes feelings of contempt, dislike or loathing” (ibid).
Historically, stereotyping have led to cultural characterizations that survive even in this day. Some could be positive but most of these stereotypes have negative connotations. One excellent example of stereotyping was a study made my Daniel Katz and Kenneth Braly where they surveyed one hundred university students and asked them the most characteristic traits that described ten different social groups. The study’s aim was to investigate the stereotypes that Americans had against other races.
Stereotyping is sometimes used to simplify the characterizations of races. This is most evident in media wherein a certain trait is usually magnified to infer the origin and race of a character. These stereotypes can be shown in the way they dress, in their intonation, color of skin or physical attributes. Content analysis, research of advertisements has revealed that these are riddled with racial and gender stereotypes (Plous, p. 17). Racial stereotypes have been become a source of humor with stand-up comedian Russell Peters adopting them for his successful and wildly popular skits.
Media have always had an affinity for using racial stereotypes in tackling issues regarding ethnicity, race and diversity. This paper will explore and critique one of the most successful movies that utilized that relationship in creating awareness on issues of race, ethnicity and diversity, Paul Haggis’ Crash.
“Moving at the speed of life, we are bound to collide with each other.”
The movie crash tackles the issue of race through the interwoven lives of its characters who live in Los Angeles City. It is a commentary on how race affects and impacts the lives of Americans who are thrust into a world of diversity. The main difference of the movie from other attempts on the subject is that it attempts to present a holistic view of how racism, with its presentation of white, black, Hispanic and Asian experiences and these races’ reactions to the issue. It has been hailed as a film that presents the gritty truth of the diverse American culture, but it has also been accused of creating a too graphic representation of racism, thus framing the film’s treatment of the issue as “truth”. However, the film won the Academy Award for Best Picture in the 2006 academy Award lending weight to the film’s view of racism.
“You think you know who you are. You have no idea.”
Gender in the film was treated as a consequence of one’s race. This was apparent in the scene wherein the Police Officer Ryan (Matt Dillon) made the a black American couple, Cameron and Christine Thayer (Terrence Howard and Thandie Newton respectively), pull over because he thought that the couple were doing something illegal in the vehicle. With the couple out of the car, Ryan proceeds to “frisk” Christine but is actually groping her. Christine protests ad asks her husband for help but Cameron instead tells her to follow what the officers are saying and thus she was sexually harassed by the police officer.
This scene shows the interplay of power, race and gender with the white, symbolized by Ryan, empowered with authority, his status as a policeman, which he uses to justify his discrimination and harassment of the black, symbolized by the couple. Although sexual abuse is committed by all races, this scene actually transcends sexual abuse and can be termed as “gender” abuse. How so?
In this scene, it was not only the woman whose sexuality was abused, but also of her husband, whose masculinity was rendered impotent by the power wielded by the white policeman. This gender abuse would lead to marital conflict as the Christine no loner trusts her husband as capable of protecting her, which further leads to Cameron’s feeling of impotence. This conflict would then push him to do something rash, such as when he verbally confronted the police who gave chase later in the film.
Another gender-themed scene was when the Iranian/Persian father and daughter, Farhad (Shaun Toub) and Somi (Bahar Soomekh), tried to purchase a gun as a protection for their shop. After Farhad I am thrown out after a disagreement with the store owner because of some racial slurs, Somi is left to purchase bullets for the gun. The store owner then proceeds to coat his conversation with her using sexual slurs. Although no physical harassment occurs between the two, the store owner is still guilty of sexually abusing Somi making her feel uncomfortable.
This scenes are a direct contrast to the triumph that Kao Kalia Yang has attained in the United States. In her book, the Latehomecomer. She chronicles the journey of her family from persecution in Vietnam to rebuilding a life in America. All throughout her book, her grandmother, acted as an empowered figure who held the family together through sheer will. This representation of the gender woman as an empowered figure is hated in both scenes of Crash, revealing gender issues that still plague society.
The issue of class was portrayed in Anthony (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) and Peter (Larenz Tate) have just left a restaurant and are discussing the image of blacks in society and Anthony pertains to their skin color as an identifier of their class. Even though they do not look like goons, the fact that they are black and are in a pre-dominantly white part of the city makes them targets of prejudice.
Marger reveals that most people would attribute the conflict between blacks and whites as “human nature” and there is “inherent mistrust” between racial groups creating fear and distrust (Marger, p. 1). Although he points out that this is flawed and that issues of race and ethnicity can only be properly investigated with sociological processes, Ludacris’ cites this flawed philosophy as a justification of their unlawful actions.
But this mistrust was not just portrayed by Ludacris’ character. Farad harbored a mistrust of everyone, from the American store owner to the Hispanic locksmith, readily blaming them of racism (which in the case of the store owner was right) and involved in conspiracy to ruin him even though the Hispanic’s intention were purely professional. This mistrust would explode in the haunting confrontation in front of the locksmith’s house.
Race and ethnicity are the general theme that runs throughout the film. All the characters experience and commit racial stereotyping and racial slurs, albeit from their own perspectives. All are portrayed as victims and suspects of this sociological issue. In the scene where the locks of Rick Cabot’s (Brendan Frasier) house are replaced by a Hispanic locksmith, Daniel Ruiz played by Michael Pena. When Jean (Sandra Bullock), Rick’s wife, sees Daniel’s shaved head, tattoos and Hispanic ancestry, she readily judges his character as a hoodlum and a gang member. She then confronts his husband about this and demands that they change the locks again in the morning. Unfortunately, Daniel hears this exchange, but does not react, but still finished the work and presents the keys to Jean.
This was just one of the scenes where racial stereotyping was committed in the movies. Despite the civil rights movements and the fact that an African-American has elected been elected President of the United States, African-Americans are still viewed as violent and aggressive. And most people refer to statistics to prove it. Jones reveals that blacks (28.5%) are six times more likely to be in prison than whites (4.4%) (Jones, The Truth About Black Crime). Hispanics statistics of the Bureau of Justice Statistics 2009 show that their incarceration rate is 150% higher than that of local Americans. These statistics give rise to racial stereotyping of Blacks and Hispanics as violent and aggressive.
Marger shares that sociologists believed that with the onset of industrialization, race and ethnicity would diminish as significant factors in a modern society. However, the scenes in the film, and the fact that the film itself tackles the issue, refutes this sociological claim. In today’s world where diversity has become a social norm, race and ethnicity are still very much a factor in how an individual would be treated. Most whites see a society where race and ethnicity carry no significant social and economic consequences for people; blacks, by contrast, see race and ethnicity as still dominant factors in their lives.
Although sexual orientation was not that tackled in the film, let us connect it to the relationship between Graham Waters (Don Cheadle) and his partner, Ria(Jennifer Esposito). Their relationship is in itself a crashing of two racially similar cultures. Similar in the sense that these races of the two characters, Black and Hispanics, are known as the most violent in today’s America. One would think that their experiences would force to find more “socially empowered” races as their partners, but they chose to be together, empowering their own ethnic races. However, they are still guilty of racial slurs as demonstrated by the conversation Graham had with his mother and his comments directed at Ria.
“Live your life at the point of impact.”
The film crash explores and exposes issues of race and ethnicity in a diverse America. Although it grounds the lives of its characters in these issues, its treatment was still able to portray important aspects of stereotyping and racial discrimination This film demonstrates the fact that even though we think we are just a small cog in life, our actions and how we affect other people will impact the great big Fear of life.
- Ashmore, Richard and Del Boca, Frances. “The Social Psychology of Female-Male Relations.” Academic Press. 1986. Book. pp. 1-Z.
- Plous, Scott. “The Psychology of Prejudice, Stereotyping and Discrimination: An Overview.” Wesleyan University. www.UnderstandingPrejudice.org.Web. Accessed July 30, 2010.
- Jones, R. Jeneen. “The Truth About Black Crime.” www.peace.ca. Web. Accessed July 29, 2010. <http://www.peace.ca/truthaboutblackcrime.htm>
- Marger, Martin. “Race and Ethnic Relations: American and Global Perspectives.” Wadsworth Cengage Learning. 2009. Book.
- Yang, Kao Kalia. “The Latehomecomer.” Michigan: Coffee House Press. University of Michigan. 2008. Book.