LARSON: Sensitivity to stereotyping only skin deep

“Deliver us, O Lord, from the fury of the Norsemen!”

So mean were the Vikings that a prayer was written specifically to protect victim’s from their wrath. And no one would even think of saying anything that might offend them, especially if it might sound like an ethnic stereotype. (Don’t know if the Vikings really cared, but why take chances?)

I can’t help but think of a recent protest over the Mexican Barbie. Some Mexicans were offended because they thought she was stereotyped with a pink dress and a chihuahua. I don’t recall any protests over Irish Barbie wearing a green dress and holding an Irish Setter or Dutch Barbie wearing blonde braids and wooden shoes. Might they have been happier seeing her with Russian Barbie’s fur coat and muff?

On the flip side of this, I remember when I was getting my ESOL certification at Georgia State and how the topic of stereotyping kept coming up. A fellow student told of a brouhaha over a coloring book about little Native American children who were depicted fishing and hunting and dancing around a fire. The protesters had no problem with that. What sparked their wrath was that the children had little round faces and little button noses and everyone knows Native Americans have angular features and large noses.

Now that makes me think of the adorable Thanksgiving bulletin boards I’ve seen in several elementary schools. The teacher allows each child to choose a paper doll of either a pilgrim or an Indian to color. Then they give them a cutout photograph of their face that they customized on the computer to fit on the paper doll’s head. In the spirit of inclusivity, these are displayed around a dinner table on a bulletin board: Korean Indians, white Indians, black Indians, all interspersed with Middle Eastern pilgrims, Hispanic pilgrims, you get the picture. Yes, it’s cute as all get out seeing all these little historically incorrect multicultural faces gathered together, but I just hope none of those coloring book protesters ever get wind of this.

And this brings me back to those Vikings. The Time Life book I read also states that “terrified monks described the Vikings as brazen, plundering barbarians” but also observed that “they were well-dressed and combed their hair and beards.” Which takes me to that Capital One commercial that stereotypes Vikings in the traditional savage manner. Ragged clothes. Straggly hair. Boorish behavior.

As bad as that ad makes this ethnic group look, I have yet to see any Norwegians protesting it. And I am married into a huge family of Viking descent. Actually, all the relatives I’ve talked to think those ads are pretty funny. Even that beard growing contest, silly as it is.

But that beard thing could possibly be symbolic. Not that we need to grow beards per se, but maybe we would all do well to grow a little thicker skin.

Susan Larson is a writer from Lilburn. Email her at susanlarson79@gmail.com.


sarahldavis 1 year, 5 months ago

This reminds me of one of the stars of Duck Dynasty being shown out of his hotel in NY because an employee mistook him for a homeless person. He was able to laugh about it.


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