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Stereotypes Your Students are Carrying (Part 1)

Leneita Fix —  December 12, 2013 — 3 Comments

stereotypes

I need to begin with context. Our ministry is a multi-site urban youth ministry. We work with a mix of “churched,” “unchurched,” “dechurched” and “overchurched” students. Our students are primarily African-American. My family and I have chosen to live in a neighborhood with some of the families that are a part of our ministry. That particular area happens to be a multi-ethnic community whose residents are primarily living under the poverty level. To be blunt we are known as the “white family” on the block.

At one of our small groups a couple of weeks ago we happened into a discussion that has left me thinking. One of my students made this statement:

“All white people are rich.”

I almost choked when 15 other High School students nodded their heads in unified agreement. I thought of the struggle to pay bills weekly in our own home, the one car we drive, and the “stuff” we don’t own. However, I also knew that many of these students didn’t have a car at all, and food in their cupboards is sometimes dwindling. My mind wandered to where this perception had been perpetuated.

“ALL is a strong word,” I said, “You do know we live three blocks from here?” (Intimating we live in the same neighborhoods they do, and they did not believe themselves to be rich.)

“Yeah, so,” was her response. I could see from the wheels turning that she knew we choose to live there. Even more so, it was her belief that at any point we could make a move to any other location, while she may never.

“ALL,” I pointed out once again is a strong word.

“When we start using that word we fail to see individuals.”  We talked about struggles, racism, and those who have fought for each student in that room to be able to truly be “anything” God has called them to be. I asked how many people in the room had cable or a flat screened television. All hands went up. I said, “We don’t, and this is a choice based on finances. As a matter of fact our television is 30 years old, and we have to use a pencil to turn it on.”  There was an audible gasp let out across the room, followed by perplexed looks. “Now don’t get me wrong,” I went on, “Our needs are met, however,  we are far from rich. My kids don’t get everything they want, and neither do we.”  We then talked honestly about barriers they might face that I might never know. I also let them know that Jesus came to overcome all of this. Their road might be difficult, however, this can’t be an excuse to give up now.

We talked about what a “stereotype” is. It is a negative over-exaggeration based on some common traits. In short, it takes the bad habits of “some” of a group of people and labels them “ALL.”  There are movies and television shows that perpetuate certain “stereotypes” based on our background and the color of our skin. There are others that are attached to our gender, size, hair color,  or geographic upbringing. Some of them make us laugh. Some of them we latch onto. However, I was struck with just how dangerous stereotypes can be.

For these students were using that statement as an excuse. They had already come to believe their lives were on track to be the same as most of those they knew. They would never attend college. They would exist day to day. They would struggle and be called “poor.”  Most of all they would be “stuck” in a life they hate, living in a place they despise and they would never have a way out.

“We can never know “ALL” people are any one thing,” I told them.”  They were shocked at the number of African Americans I am friends with who are married, living in suburbs and not struggling to put food on the table. I finished with letting them know it is about the willingness to get to know people and never looking at only the surface.

I got to thinking about when I was their age. I had made some connections and carried my own stereotypes:

“People in certain denominations weren’t really saved.”

“Kids from that side of town were “those” type of kids.”

“People from the north were ALL cold and indifferent,  people from the south were ALL shallow.”

I too used them as an excuse to not believe Christ can change everything.  I used them as a reason to never see or talk to certain people.  I used them as a reason to stay “stuck” existing in a box that couldn’t see the rest of the world.

Chew on this today. What are the stereotypes your students carry?

What are those we carry?

What will we do to stop using the word “ALL?”

Tomorrow, I would like to cover ways we can start a discussion to help students look at the stereotypes they carry and what we can do to help.

Leneita Fix

Leneita Fix

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Leneita Fix is the Director of Ministry Development for Aslan Youth Ministries, a family focused urban ministry serving Monmouth County New Jersey and Haiti. She has been working in some form of youth and family ministry for almost 22 years. In addition she has launched the coaching and resource organization, Front Line Urban Resources with Jeffrey Wallace serving those who work with families living in survival mode. The early years were spent in camp ministry, suburban and rural youth groups. With the Lord’s moving the last 17 of those years have been spent ministering in three different urban areas to primarily unchurched families (New Jersey, Virginia, Florida back to New Jersey). Her responsibilities have included Bible based program direction for children ages 5-18, curriculum writing, staff training and recruiting, discipleship, resource creation and speaking to national audiences. Her passion is to raise up workers in practical, relationship-driven methods while remaining in the trenches with the youth and families she loves. Her goal is to help others understand every student living in a survival mindset can and will be transformed in Christ. One of her greatest joys is serving in ministry as a family with her husband three wonderful children, and her niece. Simply she resides among her friends in the city just living life as a family that loves being there. You can contact her at leneitafix@aslanyouth.org.

3 responses to Stereotypes Your Students are Carrying (Part 1)

  1. Christianprincess December 12, 2013 at 10:32 pm

    Honestly I am finding my students and myself struggling with the stereotypes around gender norms. I had a conversation with a student who tried to (or rather tried not to) explain why it is okay for a boy/man to sleep with various women but for a girl to do this makes her a THOT. (For those who don’t know what this term is, ask your students it will lead to some very interesting discussions, especially around double standard and sexuality) In addition to once again explaining that God requires all of us as Christians to live our lives in purity seeing our bodies as His temple, I had to explain that all of us are responsible for the decisions and actions we commit with our bodies: male and female alike. I would love to believe he received this message in a bubble, but he didn’t.

    I have been thinking a lot about the various messages we send men and women about their roles, even in the Christian community. I recently read a post from a friend who explained how a girl’s attire can cause issues for men struggling (I entirely agree), but I have never heard a male being told that their attire, no matter how revealing, appropriate or inappropriate, could cause issues for women struggling with lust. I have seen too many double standards leak their way into our theology and teachings that have nothing to do with scripture and I find myself having to catch myself before repeating what I have heard instead of making sure that it is Biblically sound. It is a tough one loaded with historical, spiritual, cultural, and emotional baggage attached, but gender would be the stereotype I see appearing more and more often.

    • Leneita Fix

      Look for the follow up post to this Lora :) It’s entirely what that post it about! I realized that getting into that stereotype was too much for one article. Yes, I do indeed know what a “THOT” is. I think all we can do is look to the Bible and see what it says and realize that we have attached a lot of over arching ideas that have nothing to do with God says. For example the Bible talks about “different’ roles for men and women not a sense of “better” we have placed that idea there as a society. The problem with any stereotype is that we accept it as “truth” without digging into the reality of where it comes from or why we believe it. We perpetuate it in media and call it “funny.” It’s not.

  2. great article. I’m really looking forward to the follow up. It is a great reminder to a crucial topic.

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