Now in an utterly different level of serious, we have a conversation between me and Kiddo#3 about stereotyping.
Kiddo#3 likes the Hot Chelle Rae song “Tonight Tonight.” If you haven’t heard it, imagine a party song filled with every musical and verbal cliche you can cram into the thing, and that’s about right. I let him listen to it, though, because it’s all too easy to imagine my guardian angel suffering through the garbage I listened to in my teens.
At the very end of the song, the singers throw in a line saying that everyone is partying, “even the white kids.”
(I will note for purposes of discussion that the singers of Hot Chelle Rae appear to be white kids.)
After the 2983742374th time hearing the song (possibly a gross exaggeration, although it feels accurate) Kiddo#3 said to me, “What does it mean, ‘even the white kids’?”
I said, “Well, the joke is that supposedly white kids don’t know how to party, don’t know how to dance, and so on. It’s a stereotype.”
He said, “Am I a white kid?”
I said, “Yes, you are.”
He got mad. How DARE they say he can’t dance or doesn’t know how to party! That’s just WRONG!
This all took place at the world’s longest red light, by the way. I had to explain to Kiddo#3 about racial stereotypes, and I asked it that made sense (he agreed it didn’t) and after that he resolved to sing other words when they say that, but not (sigh) to avoid hearing the song.
I’m keeping in mind that this is very mild as racial stereotyping goes, and to be honest, I’m glad I have to deal with it in this direction rather than the opposite. I don’t want to hear that someone was calling his friend a terrible name, or that my son was using a racial epithet. Not partying is not a huge blow to anyone’s self-esteem.
But I wonder: why is it okay to perpetuate a stereotype in a song, even if it’s a silly one? I’m not up on the current racial stereotypes, but back in the 80s, the joke was that Polish people were dumb, and in the 90s it was that blondes were dumb. If you can imagine a perky pop song about “We’re all going to college!” and at the end they sang “even the blonde kids” or “even the Polish kids,” that wouldn’t be funny. Pick a racial stereotype, as mild a one as you can think of, and imagine inserting it into a song about the opposite. It’s not funny anymore, is it?
I’m not going to boycott the song because it doesn’t seem worth the bother. By this time next year it’ll be like you never heard it. But it’s worth a question at a stop light, and it’s worth getting my kid to wonder why people make the judgments they do.