An Alphabet of Stereotypes

So, I was having a conversation with myself today about names, and I came across the name Summer. Summer. It’s a great word and a lovely name, but how many ways can you really slice a Summer? There’s never been a Queen Summer or a President Summer or even a Grandma Summer. I thought about adding it to my list of potential daughters’ names, but it’s just too…Summer. There are very few places you can go with a Summer, and most of them involve being in a bikini.

Since everyone’s blogging about Scotland’s independence referendum today, I thought I’d do something different and present to you an alphabet of name stereotypes. These are not common names like John and Mary, and not timeless names like Michael, Katherine, and Elizabeth that have too much history to be placed in one category. Rather, these are names that are uncommon but not unusual, but at least for me they have a certain way about them. To be fair, I’ll just do one random name per letter, per gender, skipping Q and X for obvious reasons. Join me, y’all.

And welcome, first visitor from Kyrgyzstan! You were always my favorite Stan.

Disclaimer: This list is meant to be read in complete jest, so Jacquelyn, the coffee is fine.

If your name is Albert, don’t get any piercings. This will only work against you.

If your name is Brook, have a headshot on your faculty website.

If your name is Chuck, you probably spit a lot when you talk and collect things.

If your name is Dallas, you probably own a ten-gallon hat but have never had the opportunity to wear it.

If your name is Eddie, be my drinking buddy. But not Ed. He can go and sit in the back of the closet.

If your name is Fred, you have a lot to live up to. Same for the Wilmas, Mickeys, and Minnies of the world.

If your name is Gilbert, you probably watched Howdy Doody in its first run.

If your name is Harrison, you probably have your hair parted on the side. Oh, and don’t go to China to teach English.

If your name is Ira, don’t be surprised if in the near future you get mistaken for a girl.

If your name is Jacob, be cool about it. Don’t toss that name around willy-nilly. Taylor Lautner did a number for us; unfortunately it was a negative number. And be friendly. If you want to be a jerk (and if I am), be Jake.

If your name is Kevin, take a break and sit down.

If your name is Lorenzo, eat some graham crackers.

If your name is Mickey, you better be cuddly or else.

If your name is Nathan, I really enjoyed those hard, wooden chairs you made me.

If your name is Ozzy, get that bat out of your mouth, I do not want to buy candy from you, and pull your shorts above your butt crack.

If your name is Peter, my deepest sympathies for the inappropriate jokes you have encountered in your life.

If your name is Ray, chill out. You’re much too intense.

If your name is Scott, I never want to see you wearing anything but underwear.

If your name is Timothy, and you haven’t heard the song, your life is incomplete. Also, if you shorten to Timmy don’t expect anything for your birthday other than Tonka trucks.

If your name is Ulysses, be prepared to work hard because you will be called useless at least once a day.

If your name is Victor, don’t make me walk into your magic cabinet.

If your name is Wilbur, your mother’s favorite book was Charlotte’s Web.

If your name is Yorick, I knew him well.

If your name is Zzzzybrrqahh, please don’t eat my brain.

If your name is Alice, you will probably have a husband named Al and move to Alabama where you’ll sell ant farms.

If your name is Bella, avoid used bookstores.

If your name is Carol, you probably either sing in a folk rock band or own a large collection of fuzzy sweaters.

If your name is Donna, you’re an asset to the secretarial pool. Maybe you’ll be an executive assistant one day.

If your name is Edith, thanks for the peanut brittle.

If your name is Frances, you probably need to lighten up.

If your name is Georgia, watch where you’re swingin’ that hoop skirt.

If your name is Helen, I hope you like cats.

If your name is Isabella, you probably can’t read this because you were born sometime this decade.

If your name is Jacquelyn, I may or may not have spit in your coffee this morning.

If your name is Kimberley, congratulations, you’re the head of the cheerleading squad and the top of the pyramid.

If your name is Lola, you were a showgirl.

If your name is Marni, you really got the short end of the stick. That is not a real name. And don’t stomp your platforms at me.

If your name is Nancy, you have an unhealthy relationship with yarn.

If your name is Olga, I am putting all my hope in you at the next Olympics.

If your name is Penelope…yeah, no one’s cool enough to pull off Penelope.

If your name is Summer, you have damaged skin, hair, or both.

If your name is Tiffany, you are never going to give up the 80s, are you?

If your name is Ursula, you either rule a sea kingdom or are in fact a Kodiak bear.

If your name is Velvet, you have served prison time and have the tattoos to prove it.

If your name is Willow, you have either participated in or led a women’s retreat.

If your name is Yolanda, you thoroughly enjoy the conveniences of a convenience store.

If your name is Zona, my seventh-grade Bible teacher gave me permission to shoot your parents.


Kinc-Aid: The Metaphorical Tropical Punch!

What is anger in literature?

That was the question of the day in class when we discussed A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid. Some called her angry, some vehemently disagreed, but we all read it. Well, at least I did, enjoying my first work of literature from the nation of Antigua & Barbuda.

A Small Place tells the story of the island of Antigua through the eyes of its author, Jamaica Kincaid, an Antiguan now living in the United States. It was originally an essay for The New Yorker, but was rejected, which I guess was good for Kincaid. We start in second person, with Kincaid narrating the arrival of “you,” the tourist, on the island of Antigua, and all of the wonderful activities – the beach, the food, the hotel – that you will experience. She then takes a turn towards with the pragmatic, detailing the island’s faults that are unseen to the tourist eye, including but not limited to: the island’s lack of proper sanitation and health care; the collapse of banking and local food production; hotels enforcing neo-colonialism by training native Antiguans to serve tourists; the corruption of the government, mostly of Syrian descent.

Jamaica Kincaid

Elaine Richardson AKA Jamaica Kincaid

My initial reaction: Jamaica Kincaid is a frank and rational person, and expresses herself with flair and with evidence to support her viewpoints. I’m inclined to trust her, since she was born and raised in Antigua and all I know of the island is that my seventh-grade history teacher used to go there during school vacations to help build schools. What I see here is a fierce pride that doesn’t place blame with militancy, rather, through the strongly-pointed fingers of the writer’s steady hand. For some reason, I also imagine that hand in a white glove, but maybe that’s because I have images of colonial Britain in my head. Kincaid goes postcolonial without managing to go postal; she tells it like it is, and if people don’t like or agree with that, that’s fine, but it doesn’t take away from the validity and urgency of her work. The truths of the tourism industry are spot-on, and as a friend and classmate of mine pointed out, “there is a certain element of escapism at work here; the tourist goes away to this idyllic place to forget about the stress and inequality at home. But guess what? There’s stress and inequality here, too.” And yes, it’s not apparent, as the resort wants the tourist to believe, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. In this day and age, I would think that people would be able to believe that nowhere on our planet is there a nation that exists in a complete vacuum of splendor, comfort, and luxury.

I decided to look at some positive and negative criticism of Kincaid’s work to further my own knowledge on the subject.

There’s this stereotypical “angry black woman” image. Kincaid is not only a black woman but also an Antiguan expatriate, a fact that critics use to exacerbate this incorrect stereotype about her, stamping everything that comes out of her pen as the writings of an “angry black woman.”

This 80-page book packs a punch – but is it a physical punch or just a splash of metaphorical fruit punch to the face?

Also, I found this beautiful gif today and I just had to share it, so indulge me.


Go Ask Alice

In television news, this past week was marked by the announcement of ABC Family’s new shows for the fall, including a controversial one entitled Alice in Arabia, which was 86’ed after several days of uproar from CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) and the general public, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. The premise of the show, created by ex-Army linguist/cryptographer Brooke Eikmeier, revolved around an American girl named Alice, who, after her parents’ death, gets kidnapped by her Saudi grandfather and taken to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where she is put into the women’s section of the palace and shut out from exterior life, including leaving the nation because her grandfather now controls her passport.

A follow-up BuzzFeed has claimed to have obtained a copy of the script, which they say is “exactly what critics feared (McKay)”, rife with stereotypes, cultural errors, anti-American sentiment, and vain attempts to portray Muslim women in a positive light by showing them watching Sex and the City, wearing lingerie, and reading the news.

Well then.


Unimpressed Muslim woman is unimpressed.

Here, I can see a case for both sides, and support it based on my own experiences.

First, the easy part: the cons. A show like Alice in Arabia could (and probably would) revert to the increase of Islamophobia in the United States as well as misidentification by those uninformed/unfamiliar with Islam and the differences between Arab, Muslim, Saudi, Moroccan, and Iraqi, to name a few. Any show which plays off of too many cultural stereotypes is seen as off-color, and if the acting is poor or errors are discovered, the show, its network, and its cast will pay for it dearly. Portrayal of Islam is a touchy subject; just look at the comic strip controversy in Denmark. Many within the Muslim community who would vocally and unequivocally disapprove and many outside the community would either stand by them or boycott the show for other reasons, such as not believing that this is appropriate “for the children” or some other reason. It could also potentially result in violence. There are obviously a ton more reasons, but message boards and BuzzFeed have already covered it.

Then, there’s the hard part: the potential of the pro. First of all, it could spark conversation about Islam and Saudi Arabia and lead some viewers to investigate more into Islam and maybe even change their views, much like Sister Wives and polygamy, or Long Island Medium and the supernatural. It’s not entirely untruthful to say that women are oppressed in Saudi Arabia; we know what we know, and the fact that there are secrets of Saudi society that they actively discourage outsiders to uncover is reason enough to believe that there is something shameful that is being hidden. It might be an unrealistic situation, but there are plenty of other shows with even more unrealistic situations and stereotypes that end up on our TV screens – Raven-Symoné was not actually psychic, Hannah Montana was not a real person, and hospitals are not anywhere in the realm of House, Scrubs, ER, General Hospital, or Nip/Tuck to name a few. Also, we have laughed at (and continue to laugh at) shows at the expense of stereotypes of Italians (The Sopranos, Everybody Loves Raymond), Jews (The Nanny), African-Americans (Martin, Everybody Hates Chris), the poor (Roseanne), the overweight (Mike & Molly), and others, something that has not yet been achieved with Muslims. Furthermore, a show like this, if accurately cast, could launch the career for promising young Muslim or Saudi actors who are more talented and worthy of our time than any of the (largely white) reality show contestants who are forced down our throats every time we turn on the TV.

Obviously, shows like this would mostly likely get things wrong and offend people, as Alice in Arabia was deemed to have done. The cons would be amplified higher than the pros.

What irks me the most in this situation, though, are the reactions it generates, and how unbalanced they seem to be. It’s all black and white, and there is no ability for some parties to look past the ends of their own noses. Some critics have stated that Alice gets it all wrong, one hundred percent of it, and that every detail, sight unseen, is disgusting/stereotypical/abhorrent/pick-a-word. There is an element of tunnel vision that’s at play here to a certain extent.

And I speak from experience.

A few years ago, a Muslim friend of mine who is now an ex-friend, posted some pretty hateful stuff on Facebook about Israel, calling it an “apartheid state that needs to be eliminated.” First off, I’m pretty sure that that statement is a threat, if not hate speech, which is against Facebook’s policy. Second of all, having a statement like that connected to one’s name might cause consequences, anywhere from getting fired from your job to being investigated by the government as someone who actually has a plan to hurt someone, which is not good. I couldn’t say silent; I brought both these facts up to her, and added the fact that what does it say that Muslim women in Israel are allowed to drive (unlike Saudi Arabia, at that time), and allowed to wear their choice of head/face covering (unlike France, which might punish this girl, who wears a hijab). This started a comment/message war between us, where she basically pointed the finger of “you don’t know Islam, and you never will” and “you don’t understand where I come from,” which eventually became “you’re a racist and a Muslim-hater” and “since you are white and not Muslim, you have no place in this argument” and “your opinions are invalid and don’t matter anyway.” Instead of asking her to put her money where her mouth was (do you know everything about the Arab experience? The Muslim experience? If a Muslim can write a book on Christianity, why can’t it be the other way around?) I ended it there and defriended her. (By the way, at this point in my life, I had spent a year living in Israel, whereas she was born and raised in the Muslim homeland of Delaware, and had never actually set foot in the Middle East or an Arab country.) I hadn’t given up hope yet. I have another friend, who is also Muslim, and was born in Morocco and raised in the United Arab Emirates, so I sought out her opinion. She did not agree with either of us, but she said that I was absolutely correct in pointing out the dangers Muslim women face in Saudi Arabia and France that they do not face in Israel or the USA. She then added that Morocco and Dubai, while considered to be among the more secular of Muslim societies, still frown upon public practice of non-Muslim religions, and that Dubai is nowhere near as liberal as it was portrayed in the Sex and the City movie.

In conclusion, I think that there’s no better time than the present for an American television show about Muslims. Not in the same vein of Alice in Arabia, but not showing something that is completely unrealistic. After all, part of sitcom is comedy, and if Muslims are not ready or willing to laugh at themselves or consider being laughed at, that’s cool, we can wait. But television has proven, in the past, to also have the ability to break stereotypes and norms, so it works that way too. I feel like if some Muslims would let their guard down, America would reciprocate in kind, and even begin to question, and ::gasp:: maybe even find ways to identify with our Muslim friends and neighbors.

For now, that option has been completely taken off of the table, but if and when it comes up again, we should go ask Alice to write and produce her own sitcom.

Works Cited

McDonough, Katie. “ABC Family cancels Alice in Arabia after being called out for the pilot’s glaring racism.” Salon.com. 23 March 2014. http://www.salon.com/2014/03/23/abc_family_cancels_alice_in_arabia_after_being_called_out_for_the_pilots_glaring_racism/

McKay, Tom. “Alice in Arabia” was Really as Shocking as All the Critics Said – Just Take a Look at the Script.” PolicyMic.com. 22 March 2014. http://www.policymic.com/articles/85989/alice-in-arabia-was-really-as-shocking-as-all-the-critics-said-just-take-a-look-at-the-script.