Thursday, February 21, 2008


Judgmental - doesn't that word have such a negative connotation? And, I am sooo judgmental. Today I was sitting in the Chinese fast food place waiting for a take-out order, and I watched some people walking across the parking lot to the sub place next door. One woman had her mouth open and a vacant stare. She also had a strange hairdo and was grossly obese. I immediately thought that she wasn't very intelligent. I don't know her, never will, but I judged her intelligence on the way she looked.

So, I began thinking about other visible characteristics that connote both good and bad things to me. Frizzy hair on a white woman says "ditzy" to me. Think of Phyllis Diller, if you can remember that far back. Punk dressed kids make me think of drop-outs.

The stereotyping game is alive and well in my head. I deliberately lost my Southern accent (for a while) so that I would be more respected. And, I dyed my hair so that my seminary friends wouldn't think I was old and stupid...just stupid.

And, I saw a bumper sticker with the Confederate flag on it and "Heritage not Hate". Yeah, maybe that's what it means to you. Indeed, the Civil War was fought over states' rights - but mostly it was the right to enslave other people. When I was growing up in the segregated South, the issue with most people was "You can't tell me what to do." Rebellious rednecks that we were. And, I still feel that way to a large extent. "Don't tell me what to do" - that teenage growth spurt that I never resolved.

Some stereotyping is hyper-intuition. Growing up in a home with an alcoholic father, I learned quickly to read signs and looks and sounds in ways that would protect me. I can make some assumptions about the woman in the parking lot. Perhaps her mouth was open because she can't breathe well because she is overweight because she has diabetes or some other disease. And, wild hairdos are not automatically anything unless other signals go along with them.

Nonetheless, all the signs taken together, I'd still say that woman was probably not terribly intelligent. So, how does that affect me now. Well, I certainly wouldn't confront her about much of anything. And, I'd not look her directly in the face. I have some fear of large stupid people. Frankly, I have some fear of large people...even as feisty as I am.

Christians probably ought not to do this kind of stereotyping, but survival instincts create certain images that we avoid. I wouldn't walk at night in some neighborhoods. For that matter, I no longer drive at night in certain neighborhoods. As I get older, I avoid groups of young people - maybe that's because we often made fun of old people when I was young and stupid. Maybe not where they could actively hear us, but they got the message.

I'm not sure what Christians ought to do and ought not to do. Stereotyping can help us identify possible dangers, but we can miss so much and be so wrong. Looking at me in the mirror, I see a very judgmental person, one who uses stereotypes, one who trusts gut feelings and intuition more than "facts". And, I accept that. God forgive me when I'm wrong.


Anonymous said...

I guess it's the line where intuition, a good gift, becomes judgmentalism that's so slippery.

zorra said...

I accidentally lost my Southern accent during my seven years in California, but it's back now. (I was so appalled when someone said to me, "You're from the South? I thought you were from up north somewhere.") If someone thinks I'm stupid just because I have a Southern accent, it's their problem, not mine.

And yes, I avoid groups of young peoplw when I am alone, and I don't drive at night in certain neighborhoods either. As you said, God forgive me when I'm wrong.

Judy Vaughan-Sterling said...


It's OK to think what you think. But I know you would be kind, gracious, and loving to anyone who came near. We can't help being human, being afraid, and it makes sense to avoid certain locales and situations.

When I lived in Philadelphia (PA) as a grad student at Penn, I voiced my fear to the man who was my rector then, a very wise and kind man. He said, "God never asked us to love everyone. He asked us to ACT as though we do."

Whether this is really true or not, it has helped me over the years.