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Illustration for article titled Why I use the term controlling image and not stereotype

Now that I am no longer freaking out about half-face paralysis, time to start writing! I don't know if this is the right venue for this kind of stuff, but I think a lot. Also, what are people's opinions of Tumblr for blogging? I don't understand Tumblr at all...everything confuses me! But anyway...

Once upon a time, I wrote an undergraduate thesis. I know that the definition of a thesis can vary wildly across institutions, so I will clear that up, it was a major work that spanned two semesters of writing. Anyway, I refuse to believe that I wrote that beast to only be read by a handful of people. And so I decided to keep writing about my thesis and other things that interest me through blogging! And with Halloween coming up, is there a better time to talk about controlling images and stereotypes? I think not!


So what is the difference between a controlling image and a stereotype? Often, I think people almost exclusively use the term stereotype. We can point them out like the "fiery Latina," the "Dragon Lady," and the "Welfare Queen." But let's challenge language and stop referring to these (very real) depictions of WoC as stereotypes. Stereotypes is a word that does nothing to convey why these depictions are dangerous. "So what they are stereotypes?" people can say. "Everyone knows stereotypes aren't real depictions."

But that ignores the biggest problem with these images; the fact that they do not exist in a vacuum. Because if someone sees enough of these images depicted, one can start to forget that they aren't rooted in reality. More importantly, seeing these images can start to have real effects on how you view the actual people who are supposedly represented by these images. In the words of someone far smarter than me, these representations are dangerous because they have the ability to "guide behavior toward and from those persons, constrain what is seen and believed about them, and when internalized, profoundly influence the self-perceptions of the marginalized." (Beauboeuf-Lafontant, Behind the Mask of the Strong Black Woman)

I myself have experienced this peculiar phenomenon. Like when people imitate my speech and liberally sprinkle in the word "girlfriend" though I never use it in my actual speech. Or when someone exaggeratedly moves their head when mimicking angry!alwaysajayne. It is an incredibly interesting experience when you realize that your own personality doesn't matter at all, that people are capable of projecting a false personality onto you.

So let's call a spade a spade. The word "stereotype" doesn't capture the actual problem with these images, and let's be honest about that. I look forward to hopefully hearing other people's thoughts in comments, and please let me know how you felt about this post as far as being appropriate for this forum!

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