Jennifer Adkins is a public scholar at UBC engaged in researching interracial relationships and social ideas about race.
She hopes to address questions present of race and how humans relate to each other, and to debunk some of the flawed thinking that remains unaddressed in people’s minds.
Every idea we don’t know we carry
Jennifer Adkins takes a very cautious look at the word ‘stereotype.’
“When I teach a class and we talk about stereotyping, I try to take the negativity away from it, although I don’t fully support that it can be a positive thing. There is a lot of psychological research that shows it’s [a natural thing that] people do and it’s thought of more as a way to categorize things [outside of ourselves],” she says.
However, Adkins does not hesitate to point out that even at its best, it can still have very negative consequences.
“[With] Asians and the stereotype that they are smarter, the problem there is that if they are someone who struggles with school and they happen to be Asian, they are frowned upon,” she explains.
Adkins adds that when these stereotypes become deeply embedded into people’s consciousness they become dangerous, even extraordinarily harmful. If these ideas are repeatedly given to children, it is possible for them to feel the need to conform to images that run counter to their sense of self and best interests (stereotypes regarding black people and athleticism vs. scholarly achievement). It can be so normalized that children begin to enforce these ideals upon each other without understanding the harm it produces.
However, there are many opportunities to combat these negative portrayals. Adkins states that cultural history months (such as Black History Month) or days recognizing the achievements of individuals from various ethnicities (like Louis Riel Day) give us moments to educate children on the contributions and impact that people of all ethnicities have had on national and global history.
Watching the love race
When it comes to interracial romantic relationships, Adkins sees both the good and bad in media representation.
“Something has gone on where a leap has been made. I guess media can work both ways,” she says.
The media at present normalizes these relationships and shows them as commonplace, which is often true in places with a diverse racial makeup.
“[But] in the past, whenever you saw mixed-race couples, it was over sexualized and it was always about the exoticness of it and [the way] black bodies are portrayed. Oftentimes people are just looking to have ‘a ride’ with a black body and move on,” she says.
The media has also dominated the expression of beauty.
“I think the concept of beauty is defined entirely by a European standard so the black women who are considered beautiful are the ones who possess more European features… [some of the research] in regards to online dating [shows that] women who have a more African phenotype are often considered less attractive. The closer to looking like a white woman, the more attractive she can be to those outside of her race,” Adkins points out.
Addressing our biases
Adkins has examined and conducted research showing the various ways our previous interactions, culture and upbringing can affect the ideas we bring with us into relationships.
“We have grown up with and had installed in us this very stereotypical discourse of what ‘whiteness’ and ‘blackness’ is. When you meet someone who is different from you, all of this information follows. There is an assumption that when two people come together, they must be two very liberal-minded people with no hang ups over colour and race. In many ways I think that’s wrong. That is one of the things my current research is looking at and trying to debunk,” she says.