Want Some Great Stereotypes? Try Sony, Samsung or RCA

Nearly everyone who meets me thinks I smoke a lot of pot, surf regularly and play a nasty acoustic guitar.  Yes, I have indulged in all three activities at some points in my life, yet I am far from being jeffs1considered a pot smoking, guitar-playing surfer.

I found it absolutely hilarious one day after teaching a class on stereotypes and sharing this information with the class, when a student I had never met approached me to ask if I was the new guitar professor on campus. I didn’t even respond, I just laughed.

True story.

For a while this stereotype of a high, music loving, surfer -I am assuming based on my looks and attitude (think Patrick Swayze, “Point Break”)- was somewhat bothersome. Not THAT bothersome, rather “bothersome light”…kind of like the pebble in the shoe, irritating though not worth the price of having to stop and extricate. It was several years ago that I decided to completely embrace my look and go with it. No, I did not start smoking a lot of pot, surf or play guitar, rather I decided to embrace the persona of such a person.

Why not?

Pot smokers are pretty cool guys for the most part. Surfers tend to have a pretty chill outlook on life.  Unfortunately guitar players have a little more range in the “may be a cool guy or may be a total dick department” as the aforementioned surfer can play guitar as well as the moody, intense artist who does not use the instrument to attract chicks, rather to self-pity over his inner angst.

So I accepted what people thought I was. I now like to sport surfer attire and act the part; I even have a surfboard necklace. When people ask me if I surf I just respond with, “Yeah, sure” -as I did surf a few times back in high school. It is the follow-up question that usually flusters me, “Long board or short board?” Looking like the befuddled puppy with eyes wide and head bent slightly to the right, I look  at the person curiously and respond, “I…long board?”

The word stereotype is an interesting one with an interesting origin. The online etymology  dictionary defines it as “method of printing from a plate,” from French stéréotype (adj.) “printing by means of a solid plate of type,” from Greek stereos “solid”+ French type “type.” Noun meaning “a stereotype plate” is from 1817. Meaning “image perpetuated without change” is first recorded 1850, from the verb in this sense, which is from 1819. A stereotype is a copy of the original.

I love how we adopt words from various trades and apply a psychological meaning to them.  Though that is a different blog for a different time.

Each of us have probably been told of the evils of stereotyping yet we all still engage in it the great majority of our lives, even if in simple and seemingly harmless ways. We “stereotype” someone imagewhen we want to determine if they are friendly and approachable. We certainly stereotype when we feel threatened in some way. 

I do know people who stereotype consistently and rationalize this behavior because they claim to be nearly always right in their judgement. Of course I would argue that they may think they are nearly always right because the brain has a very convenient mode of dismissing the many times we are wrong as to not upset our delicate mental sensibilities of needing to be right as to avoid dissonance; not unlike the gambler who only informs others of her bets when she wins.

If we are to understand stereotyping based on the etymology (origin) of the term, it is interesting that we depend on the stereotype (the copy) for information as we forsake the original. The problem is the world is full of originals. Though similar in the universal human condition to be sure, our stories and narratives are all so vastly different that each person is strikingly original and unique thus the facsimile, or stereotype may often be right in part, it is never right in full.

After all, I have smoked pot, surfed and played guitar…though not many of such stereotypes also teach community college, blog and enjoy hip hop. Or maybe they do?

I’m going longboarding.



  1. Stereotyping is always a/an interesting subject to talk about. Like you said people do it without even relize they are doing it.

    I remember a story you told in class about how you were jogging one day and a woman avoided you because hey this guy is running at me. (Or something as such I don’t remember word for word 🙁 )

    Heck just the other day a former classmate of mine when the subject of swimming came up asked me, how can you even swim if you can’t use your legs.

    Things like this just happen. But as my social 101 teacher said to me.

    If you can come up with one stereotype that portraits in a good way. Please tell me.

    • I can think of a few good ways….though even if the stereotypes are good in a certain sense, it may mean a drawback in an entirely different way. I guess I am too PC to offer examples…though they are available upon request. Thanks for commenting. I need you in another class! You are an awesome student.

      • I have really thought about taking your speech class about talking to individuals or the debate one.

  2. I must say I’m a little put off by the tone of your post. You seem to be portraying the use of stereotypes as amusing in a rather flippant manner. That’s probably because you are male, white and (relatively) young. You might have a different point of view if you woke up tomorrow black, weighing 300 pounds or as a paraplegic … or all three. Then you might see how hurtful and destructive stereotyping can be. It is a sad practice that often leads to prejudice and discrimination. Stereotyping is a kind of shorthand we use to classify people so, as you say, we don’t have to look at the original individual. When I first moved to Hawaii, back in 1978, I was female, white and (relatively) young. I was also oblivious to the fact that people, especially local Hawaiians, were stereotyping me. It took a while to sink in. I started working at the front desk of a Maui hotel and, try as I might to be nice, the women I worked with were unfriendly and either ignored me or gave me stink eye. Then it hit me: this is prejudice. They were pre-judging me. They didn’t make an effort to see me as an individual … only as a type. They assumed I was a snob with a superior attitude, a disrespectful haole who cared nothing about Hawaiian culture and was only there to take their boyfriends away from them. (Well, that last part was more or less true) It took a long time for them to see me as a person … with my good qualities and bad faults. During the time I worked there I became sick and couldn’t work for awhile. When I returned, they had all pitched in and gave me an envelope full of money and a beautiful lei. It was so touching and meant so much because it showed they overcame their prejudice and could treat me as an equal. It is so strange that you chose this topic because just this week, a friend of a friend on Facebook (you know how that works) relayed a story of how he (a well-known Hawaiian musician) and his family were discriminated against at a 5-star hotel in Waikiki. I won’t retell the whole story but suffice it to say, a white woman at the pool asked a hotel security guard to check to see if he and his family were really guests at the hotel. It all starts with a little stereotyping. In her mind, because they were brown skinned, they had to be crashing the private pool of the hotel. But so often stereotyping turns ugly and results in prejudice and discrimination. This man felt embarrassed, belittled, and then angry. It affected his family, upset other locals and turned into a PR nightmare for the hotel. Be thankful that people are only stereotyping you as a pot-smoking, surfer, guitar-playing dude. It could be so much worse.

    • Thank you for your critical feedback Ms. Vahine….I love it! Though (relatively) young? You can stop there because you just made my day! 🙂 Yes, I am a white Hungarian male with green eyes and curly hair…and there ain’t a damn thing I can do about it. I am neither proud nor ashamed of it. I had no choice in the matter. The only eyes I will ever see through are these green ones. I can try to imagine how others might see the world, I can educate myself on how others might see the world…yet, ultimately, in any scenario, these would all be conjectural and speculative endeavors at best. In regards to waking up a black 300 lb paraplegic…the black part is fine though with being 300lb and paraplegic, I think I would have far worse concerns that just being stereotyped. I do not claim to speak for anyone except this white Hungarian person with a penis -limbs intact- who is only the product of his portfolio of life experiences. So if my criticism of stereotyping is not to your liking as it is not harsh enough, consider that you as well are the product of your white life experiences and perhaps see these issue through wounded eyes. Why are you not thankful for me that my condition is not worse than being labeled a guitar playing, pot smoking surfer? You suggest I should be thankful, though can’t you be thankful and grateful for me as well? It’s a good thing when one has not felt the sting of powerful, negative stereotypes. It saddens me that you were victimized by stereotyping in Hawaii…that sucks. Ironically, when I was in Hawaii last Summer, my stereotyped look worked wonders for me. So, stereotypically speaking, as long as it exists, you win some and lose some. I would argue that we have a long way to evolve as a society in this regard, though it is a practice that will probably never go away in full…though we can hope. On a somewhat different note, most of my son’s very close friends are black. I have asked my son Stevie and his friends if they have ever felt like they were treated differently for being black…and the answer is always a resounding no. Yet I realize that because they are trapped in the same condition we both are -only perceiving the world through our own personal filters- perhaps they are not seeing true reality (whatever that is). In the end, it pleases me a great deal that these young men can say they believe they have never been the victim of negative stereotyping. It gives me hope for our successful social evolution. Thanks again Sandra…I love your brain and I really hope you join us at Johnny’s Taco’s next Wednesday for further discussion! 🙂

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