A few days ago, I caught up on a recent Modern Family episode. In the episode, Alex Dunphy, a high school junior, is all stressed out. It’s her sweet sixteen, but all she wants is to get the rituals over with: Skip the song, blow out the candles, DONE. Just watch how it unfolds below:
The next morning she owns up to her outburst, and tells her parents she’ll see a therapist to rationalize out her feelings. It starts out rough, and Alex feels as though this might not work for her:
Dr. Clark: “What are you thinking?”
Dr. Clark: “No, no, go ahead. Tell me.”
Alex: “That maybe you’re not up for this. I mean, no offense, you’re just a lot older than you look on your website. Did you even have SATs when you were in high school, or Asian kids?”
(Aggressively changes channel.)
Stereotyping is a daily occurrence; it’s all over our pop culture, in our school hallways, on any street you walk down. No matter how much of a “post-racial society” we claim to be, racial stereotypes are still the one liner of a major “all-American” television show. Does the 2007 Desperate Housewives slur ring a bell? “Can I just check those diplomas, because I just want to make sure that they are not from some med school in the Philippines.”
I get it. As a minority, I get it. As a person, I get it. It’s our reality—it’s impossible to get to personally know every person you pass, and it’s natural to make subconscious or deliberate assumptions about how to perceive someone because of the way they look or some other trait. Stereotyped deductions, if you like.
Don’t tell me you haven’t heard stereotypes emphasized in the college admissions season. In a stressful process that seems so random, it’s comforting to have any gauge of where we’re at—no matter how untrustworthy or false it may be. Trust me; I’d be lying if I said I’ve never tried a “Chance Me” (spoiler, don’t do it).
You hear it about races: “Of course he’ll get in, he’s [insert Affirmative Action minority].” Or talents: “She’s a national level athlete, she doesn’t have to try.” Or traits… You get the idea. We like to think we know the point value of people’s characteristics, only because in reality, the college admissions process—especially with the recent push on holistic applications—is all too subjective.
In Modern Family, they’ve turned one natural, ascribed (or born) status into their “master status,” or the social role that becomes the “primary ” characteristic of a person in someone else’s eyes.
“But it’s a compliment. It means you’re supposed to be smart.”
So again, does making assumptions about someone—or a group of people—even if it’s a “good” quality, make it okay to judge them, or discredit their accomplishments? And on the other hand, why give into losing your merit–what you’ve earned and worked for–by giving into those jokes or Chance Me’s?
Last summer, Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Ed reported that Frank Samson of University of Miami found “in a survey of white California adults, they generally favor admissions policies that place a high priority on high school grade-point averages and standardized test scores.” But when surveyed with the preface that the University of California schools have high Asian enrollment rates, the majority would shift to reduce favor of grade and test scores in admissions.
So it’s not just our peers. It’s ingrained into our society. What is it to remove anyone’s merit?
While this one liner is meant to be a fun joke in the episode, it has a lot of credit to it. Giving it a second chance, I finished out the episode: the parents head to an open house, trading places with their kids for a day, Alex realizes why she had her breakdown… I won’t spoil it for you, but even its drama shows the stress high-schoolers have to deal with pretty directly. Because of this, maybe it’s gained itself a bit of redemption.