+
More

I spent my life trying to defy race and gender stereotypes. Here's why I stopped.

I remember how shocked my third-grade teacher was that I knew the word "hyperbole."

The day I used it perfectly in a sentence, her eyebrows raised so high I thought they would leap fully off her forehead into her frozen blonde bob. "Where in the world did you learn such an advanced word?" she asked. She looked at me strangely for the rest of the day.

Sure, it was a big word for an 8-year-old. But what she didn't know is that my father taught it to me that morning and told me to use it in a sentence in class just to see her reaction.


The middle-aged white woman had been not-so-kind to me, one of only two black children in the class, all year long — seating me in the back, not letting me read out loud to the class, never ever letting me answer the hard questions despite my hand always being first in the air.

Yes. That's me.

Unbeknownst to me, my parents had already filed a complaint and could only assume that despite the fact that I was a well-behaved and academically advanced child, her assumptions about my race led her to have very low expectations for me.

When I got in my father's car that afternoon, he asked if I had done as he instructed. I told him yes and described her incredulous reaction in detail.

And then he smiled. He was proud of me, and while I didn't understand why, I knew right then and there that somehow, by showing her that I was smarter — different than she previously assumed — I had done something good.

That was the day I became a Stereotype Defier.

You see, we Stereotype Defiers are everywhere. In fact, you yourself may be one. We move through our lives making choices (sometimes even subconsciously) about what we will do, say, be, or enjoy in order to confound others' expectations of us.

Sometimes the choices seem harmless: “Um, no. I don't want to be the woman with a pink glitter phone case in a business meeting full of men. I'll take the gray one please."

Sometimes those choices push us to do better and showcase our talents: “Oh, you think because I have a disability, I'm not smart? Well watch me ace this test and show off with the extra credit a bit."

But other times the choices are a bit more pernicious:

Like if you were the Asian kid who really, secretly did love math but pursued English in college because you just couldn't be that guy.

Or if you're a woman suffering a hurting, broken heart but buried your pain deep inside because you refused to be seen as sensitive or weak.

Or if you've ever offered to pay for people at a group dinner knowing that you barely had enough money to get by for the week because God forbid they know you're poor.

Or if you're a single mom but you volunteered for a senior position in the PTA that you know you don't have time for, but no one expects the single mom to be that involved so you overcompensate.

Or if you worked hard to get rid of your Southern accent because you know what people think about people who are "country."

No matter the scenario, we Stereotype Defiers try to convince ourselves that the negative stereotype we face is actually a motivator pushing us to be great — even as we narrowly define greatness as “the opposite of whatever they think."

Living your one wild and precious life within the confines of another person's limited opinion limits your freedom, your brilliance, and your joy.

We tell ourselves that we make these choices not just for ourselves, but for others. We worry (often nobly) about how those who come behind us will be perceived as a result of our actions today.

But the irony in that reasoning is perfectly explained by something that researchers call “stereotype threat." When people worry that their performance might be seen as confirmation of a negative stereotype about a group they belong to (race, gender, socioeconomic, or otherwise), that stress and self-doubt can end up significantly reducing their performance — ultimately creating the very outcome they were trying to avoid by defying the stereotype in the first place.

In other words, worrying about the opinions of others and how they might reflect on us causes us to do and be less than who we really are.

Still, we tell ourselves that we enjoy the thrill of the raised eyebrows, of proving “them" wrong.

But often, hiding behind the short-lived thrill of defying a stereotype lies the very dangerous fear of fulfilling the stereotype. And fear is the ultimate killing machine — RIP dreams, RIP authenticity, and, many times, RIP good old-fashioned fun.

So what is this thing that we've given so much power over us?

The word stereotype originates from the 18th century world of printing — it was a tool for the printing press that allowed printers to more easily reproduce text instead of having to place letters in order one by one; It was a single metal plate made from a mold of the original letters. In non-technical terms, a stereotype was a printing tool that made it easier to copy something because the work of actually reproducing the original was too painstaking, too hard.

A stereotype mold being made. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Now think about that in the context of modern stereotypes. A stereotype as we know it today is a collection of traits that we associate with specific groups of people that makes it easier for someone to categorize an individual person. Too often, this happens because the work of fully knowing the unique, complex individual person is too painstaking, too hard.

And when you follow that logic, why would we ever consciously make any choices guided not by our own instincts, desires, or intentions, but by our desire to reject a misconception that someone else created as a shortcut to accommodate their limited capacity to know us?

We deserve so much more.

In her famous TED Talk “The Danger of a Single Story," writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says that stereotypes are not always inaccurate. They are just incomplete. Yet somehow, we have been tricked into thinking that we can never be what others presume about us, which, ultimately, robs us of our humanity.

Junot Díaz, another writer, calls stereotypes a sensual cultural weapon. But guess what? The only way we let the weapon harm us is by allowing its very existence to become an internal GPS, guiding us to go left, go right, slow down, take this route or that one when in fact the stereotype has no idea what your true destination is supposed to be.

Here is what I learned during my years of Stereotype Defier rehab: The most powerful challenge any of us who are routinely and unfairly stereotyped can give to the incomplete picture that exists in the world — and to the people who apply those stereotypes to us — does not come from breaking the mold and proving them wrong. It comes from our agency, our choices, and our wholeness.

Let me say it another way.

We defy the stereotype not by intentionally being something different, but by intentionally ignoring it in favor of being exactly whoever and whatever we want to be, exactly however and whenever we want to be it.

Even if that means embracing behaviors that others deem stereotypical.

Living your one wild and precious life within the confines of another person's limited opinion limits your freedom, your brilliance, and your joy. And that burden is far too heavy to carry. So why not just put it down?

Go ahead and cry.

Bring fried chicken and watermelon to the office party.

Have another baby and stay at home to raise her.

Go back for seconds and fill up that plate in a room full of skinny people.

Laugh loudly on the subway.

Shop at the thrift store.

Stick that WWJD bumper sticker on your car.

Retire your title of Stereotype Defier. And as much as you can, just be your authentically angry, emotional, country, flamboyant, occasionally late, beautiful self.

The original print of you is so much better than a stereotyped copy ever could be.

Nature

Pennsylvania home is the entrance to a cave that’s been closed for 70 years

You can only access the cave from the basement of the home and it’s open for business.

This Pennsylvania home is the entrance to a cave.

Have you ever seen something in a movie or online and thought, "That's totally fake," only to find out it's absolutely a real thing? That's sort of how this house in Pennsylvania comes across. It just seems too fantastical to be real, and yet somehow it actually exists.

The home sits between Greencastle and Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, and houses a pretty unique public secret. There's a cave in the basement. Not a man cave or a basement that makes you feel like you're in a cave, but an actual cave that you can't get to unless you go through the house.

Turns out the cave was discovered in the 1830s on the land of John Coffey, according to Uncovering PA, but the story of how it was found is unclear. People would climb down into the cave to explore occasionally until the land was leased about 100 years later and a small structure was built over the cave opening.

Keep ReadingShow less
Architectural Digest/Youtube

This house was made with love.

Celebrity home tours are usually a divisive topic. Some find them fun and inspirational. Others find them tacky or out of touch. But this home tour has seemingly brought unanimous joy to all.

“Stranger Things” actor David Harbour and British singer-songwriter Lily Allen, whose Vegas wedding in 2020 came with an Elvis impersonator, gave a tour of their delightfully quirky Brooklyn townhouse for Architectural Digest, and people were absolutely loving it.

For one thing, the house just looks cool. There’s nothing monotone or minimalist about it. No beige to be seen.

Keep ReadingShow less
Pop Culture

Buffy Sainte-Marie shares what led to her openly breastfeeding on 'Sesame Street' in 1977

The way she explained to Big Bird what she was doing is still an all-time great example.

"Sesame Street" taught kids about life in addition to letters and numbers.

In 1977, singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie did something revolutionary: She fed her baby on Sesame Street.

The Indigenous Canadian-Ameican singer-songwriter wasn't doing anything millions of other mothers hadn't done—she was simply feeding her baby. But the fact that she was breastfeeding him was significant since breastfeeding in the United States hit an all-time low in 1971 and was just starting to make a comeback. The fact that she did it openly on a children's television program was even more notable, since "What if children see?" has been a key pearl clutch for people who criticize breastfeeding in public.

But the most remarkable thing about the "Sesame Street" segment was the lovely interchange between Big Bird and Sainte-Marie when he asked her what she was doing.

Keep ReadingShow less
Health

Oregon utilizes teen volunteers to run their YouthLine teen crisis hotline

“Each volunteer gets more than 60 hours of training, and master’s level supervisors are constantly on standby in the room.”

Oregon utilizes teen volunteers to man YouthLine teen crisis hotline

Editor's Note: If you are having thoughts about taking your own life, or know of anyone who is in need of help, the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is a United States-based suicide prevention network of over 200+ crisis centers that provides 24/7 service via a toll-free hotline with the number 9-8-8. It is available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.

Mental health is a top-of-mind issue for a lot of people. Thanks to social media and people being more open about their struggles, the stigma surrounding seeking mental health treatment appears to be diminishing. But after the social and emotional interruption of teens due the pandemic, the mental health crises among adolescents seem to have jumped to record numbers.

PBS reports that Oregon is "ranked as the worst state for youth mental illness and access to care." But they're attempting to do something about it with a program that trains teenagers to answer crisis calls from other teens. They aren't alone though, as there's a master's level supervisor at the ready to jump in if the call requires a mental health professional.

The calls coming into the Oregon YouthLine can vary drastically, anywhere from relationship problems to family struggles, all the way to thoughts of self-harm and suicide. Teens manning the phones are provided with 60 hours of training and are taught to recognize when the call needs to be taken over by the adult supervisor.

Keep ReadingShow less
Family

Mom shares her brutal experience with 'hyperemesis gravidarum' and other moms can relate

Hyperemesis gravidarum is a severe case of morning sickness that can last up until the baby is born and might require medical attention.

@emilyboazman/TikTok

Hyperemesis gravidarum isn't as common as regular morning sickness, but it's much more severe.

Morning sickness is one of the most commonly known and most joked about pregnancy symptoms, second only to peculiar food cravings. While unpleasant, it can often be alleviated to a certain extent with plain foods, plenty of fluids, maybe some ginger—your typical nausea remedies. And usually, it clears up on its own by the 20-week mark. Usually.

But sometimes, it doesn’t. Sometimes moms experience stomach sickness and vomiting, right up until the baby is born, on a much more severe level.

Hyperemesis gravidarum (HG), isn’t as widely talked about as regular morning sickness, but those who go through it are likely to never forget it. Persistent, extreme nausea and vomiting lead to other symptoms like dehydration, fainting, low blood pressure and even jaundice, to name a few.

Emily Boazman, a mom who had HG while pregnant with her third child, showed just how big of an impact it can make in a viral TikTok.

Keep ReadingShow less

The cast of TLC's "Sister Wives."

Dating is hard for just about anyone. But it gets harder as people age because the dating pool shrinks and older people are more selective. Plus, changes in dating trends, online etiquette and fashion can complicate things as well.

“Sister Wives” star Christine Brown is back in the dating pool after ending her “spiritual union” with polygamist Kody Brown and she needs a little help to get back in the swing of things. Christine and Kody were together for more than 25 years and she shared him with three other women, Janelle, Meri and Robyn.

Janelle and Meri have recently announced they’ve separated from Kody. Christine publicly admitted that things were over with Kody in November 2021.

Keep ReadingShow less