Last weekend I was in Las Vegas with a bunch of my friends. We are normally known for our outlandish behavior and disregard for social norms during our nights out on the town, but this time a few people in our group took our code of conduct to another level.
Before we went out on Saturday, I moseyed on down to another room where my friends “DJ” and “Csarbs” greeted me. Everyone was dressed in their finest attire, but DJ and Csarbs really stood out. Both were donning thawbs – traditional ankle length garments worn by Arabian men in Middle Eastern Gulf States. But DJ and Csarbs aren’t even Arabs. In fact, one is Persian and the other is Indian, although their facial features are strikingly similar to people from the Gulf States.
I was bit a confused by their motives at first, but they were later made clear when we hit the casino floor. Almost immediately, every club promoter and pit boss descended on DJ and Csarbs to offer them free, expedited access to the best clubs and high stakes gambling tables. But it wasn’t just the Vegas shot callers staring at my friends. Everyone was.
It then became obvious that my friends were betting on people to stereotype them as oil rich, Middle Eastern royalty in order to receive special favors from the people who run the entertainment industry in Las Vegas. And as the night progressed, our ingenious social experiment only confirmed our suspicions.
To make sure that people really bought into our ruse, I began to pretend to be their bodyguard. It worked like this: As we stopped to speak to club promoters, I’d walk up on the back left of them and act like my watch was a concealed radio, “This is 6. Dubai’s halted on the casino floor.”
I couldn’t count the number of people who approached me and asked how I got into the private security business.
Later on as we were walking through the Cosmopolitan Hotel, a man approached DJ from behind and said, “As-salamu alaikum”.
I didn’t get a good look at him at first, but a few seconds later we realized that the man who greeted us was none other than the world famous comedian, Dave Chappelle. I was shocked, although I’m not sure if it was because I was starstruck or because I was so impressed that these disguises were working on everyone – even famous people!
The next day I was still reeling from how awesome it was that our alter egos worked so well, but on the drive back home I began to question if people who stereotyped my friends were being just a little racist.
Although being stereotyped worked to my friend’s advantage in Las Vegas, I couldn’t help but wonder – what if they were dressed that way in an airport or at ground zero? Would they have still been stereotyped as oil rich princes? Or would they have been categorized as terrorist Muslims that scream “Death to America”? Well, a third person who pretended to be their boss didn’t make that stigma any better when he walked around the casino saying, “Receptionist don’t let us in, everything will blow.”
Some believe you should judge a book by its cover, but stereotyping fosters injustices and prejudices that can have devastating effects on our society. One only needs to look at the Trayvon Martin tragedy, where young black teenager was racially profiled as a criminal, stalked and then killed after an altercation with an overzealous, white community patrolman because Martin was, “…real suspicious looking.”
But not only does stereotyping dehumanize and subjugate, it also negatively impacts the stereotyper as well.
Take for example the hotels we visited. When DJ and Csarbs dressed up as Gulf State Arabs, hotel management made the mistake of immediately typecasting them as rich when in fact, they are merely two, poor, 20 year old community college students. As a result of the prejudices and ignorance of these managers, my friends were able to exploit their hospitality which ended up hurting the hotel’s bottom line (not to mention making them look really stupid too).
But let me be clear: “Don’t stereotype people” is not a universal rule. There are many cases where it’s smart and reasonable to typecast someone.
As Mark Cuban said, “If I see a black kid in a hoodie and it’s late at night, I’m walking to the other side of the street…And if on that side of the street, there’s a guy that has tattoos all over his face — white guy, bald head, tattoos everywhere — I’m walking back to the other side of the street.”
Stereotyping can be a reasonable thing to do but most of the time it only hurts American society and leaves us more ignorant than we already are.
- High Stakes in the US Casino Industry(article-3.com)
- My First Pride(article-3.com)
- Respect the Person, Not the Logo: The Psychological Effects of Racist Symbols in Sports(article-3.com)