SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch Fall 2009 Personal Memory Ethnographies
The Westside Curse
Recently, my husband and I visited a popular bar and restaurant in Scottsdale. We have been there several times and really enjoy the atmosphere and the food. At some point in the evening, while my husband was inside getting us some drinks, a Caucasian male about 40 years old sat down next to me and we started talking. The guy speaking to me was Caucasian, short, balding and mostly talked about his ailments, which seemed odd to me. We were on the smoke-filled patio which wasn’t as loud but people were still carrying on and having a good time. I was annoyed with the smoke and even more annoyed when he sat down next to me and started talking. About half-way into the conversation we began talking about nightclubs and how different the people are at certain ones, in certain areas. He commented on how most of the women are fake and plastic at the Scottsdale bars and how there really are not any clubs in the Central Phoenix area. He said that he would not go to clubs on the Westside because everyone there is either Mexican or Black. You can imagine his surprise when I told him that I live on the Westside, and I am Caucasian.
A few weeks ago my wife met a guy at a bar in Scottsdale. During one of their conversations (while I was in the restroom) he mentioned how he didn’t go to bars on the Westside of town because everyone over there is either Mexican or Black. My wife and I live on the Westside, which she later told him. His response was that he used to live on the Westside. As if that was supposed to make it alright for him to have made that comment and everything would be ok. We both grew up on the Westside.
He then tried to tell me that he used to live on the Westside, which turned out to be North Phoenix and not the Westside at all. The most interesting part of the whole conversation was the look on his face when my Black husband walked up and introduced himself. He left shortly after that.
Speaking for myself, I think this topic is so difficult to understand or even comprehend because I have always been attracted to black men. I’ve always preferred to date them but have also dated men of other races including white. So for me race has never been an issue because I’ve never really seen these men as anything but attractive, courteous, respectable people and I still feel that way. While writing this paper I’m reminded of the time my mother said something similar (to the guy at the bar) to my husband. She said she didn’t want to move out by us on the Westside because of all the Mexicans and the n*ggers. It’s hard to know where my mom was coming from when she said that to him but I do believe she said that from her heart but at the same time didn’t mean anything offensive by it. My mom and the rest of my family love my husband and are very comfortable with him. I think that is why the statement was so easy for her to say. My husband politely told her that she should probably never say that again or at least find better language.
The comment the guy made to my wife along with all the other uninformed people and the media are what provoke aggression and frustration in minorities. I feel these comments are based off of color and not the person. When I hear of people making comments like that it just reminds me of how society still hasn’t changed and how small I really am. The media constantly portrays the Westside negatively by showing only the bad things that happen. I have heard acquaintances of mine (Caucasians and African-Americans) make derogatory comments about how they would never go to a bar on the Westside because there are too many Mexicans and African-Americans. Their comments are based off of what they have heard from the media and from other people who have also never lived or visited the area.
I believe that one of the reasons people stereotype is that it is too difficult to take in all of the complexities of other people so they fall back on just plain ignorance. I think that stereotyping is also a form of social consensus rather than an individual judgment. The media plays a huge part in this “consensus” by showing all of the negative acts that take place which leads people to believe that is how everyone in the West valley operates.
Certainly if we're talking about white people living in predominantly white communities, it is fair enough to say that many people will grow up without having contact with minorities. And because we don't have that direct contact, the information coming to us is largely from second hand sources; maybe from the television we've watched, the movies we've seen, jokes, the casual comments we hear our relatives making. So racial information is predisposed to stereotyping. One of the problems with racial stereotyping is that if you've heard these things, and then you meet somebody of another race, you are probably going to look for those characteristics. The timeline I put together for this story shows that minorities are taking steps in the right direction but it’s the white people that continue to hold on to assumptions and prejudices.
Because the news industry is under pressure to attract readers and viewers, it has to produce stories that are compelling, short and easily understandable to a general audience. By using stereotypes, a complex issue involving people with complex motives can be reduced to a simple conflict between "good guys" and "bad guys." This can happen when the media try to make real events appear more dramatic, or when a situation needs to be explained in a 10-second sound bite.
In the search for images and stories that will attract audiences, the media tend to focus on issues of crime, violence, tragedy and disaster. (Check the local TV news to see how much coverage they give to what the police and fire departments did today!) While car crashes and shootings are sure-fire attention grabbers, a steady diet of these images can give us a distorted view of what goes on in the world. The negative slant of the news means that when young people (and members of other minority groups) do appear in the headlines, it is most often in the context of crime, drugs, violence, death, or some other alarming issue. From my encounter with the white guy in the Scottsdale bar, I’d guess his media diet had fed him too many of these slanted images.
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