Yes, the internet meme “Shit People Say,” which addresses a variety of things that particular groups of individuals say or say to others, is done. And, I am a bit late to add my two cents to the debates about whether these videos are funny, accurate, misguided, inappropriate, or critical. But, I cannot resist the temptation to chime in.
The “Shit People Say” Internet Meme
Racialicious offers a great review of how these internet trend came about and evolved, starting with silly, stereotypical portrayals of certain groups (e.g., “Shit Girls Say“). Then, the videos moved into insider portrayals of particular communities (e.g., “Shit Black Gays Say“); admittedly, I can see how these are funny to members of these communities. And, then more critical videos began to emerge, namely the portrayal of ignorant and offensive things that members of privileged groups say to members of disadvantaged groups. My favorite of these is “Shit White Girls Say to Black Girls.” More videos like this came out, but taking on a more serious tone, most notably in “Shit Everybody Says to Rape Victims.“
Though this fad came and passed quickly, I am happy to see that something that started off silly and problematic, regurgitating old, tired stereotypes flipped to become a critique of stereotypes and prejudice in everyday interactions. Unfortunately, we too often see something that offers a moment to have a critical conversation about some form of injustice perverted into a moment of comic relief. A great example is the autotuned video of Antoine Dodson speaking to the local news about a man who broke into his home and attempted to rape his sister; we, as a country, completely missed an opportunity to discuss sexual violence and crime at the intersections of gender, race, poverty, and sexuality. But, in the case of the “Shit People Say” fad, it is the activists and advocates who are having the last word.
My Own Unrealized “Shit People Say” Video
I was pretty excited when I realized I was one of the early contributors to the It Gets Better campaign, a series of Youtube videos aimed at young lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning youth to give a message of hope for their futures. Sadly, by the time I caught on to the “Shit People Say” trend, and thought up my own idea, I could see many were saying “enough already!” Oh well. But, if I were to make such a video, the one theme I’d select is “Shit Monoracial People Say to Multiracial People.” Here, what I mean is the comments and assumptions people who are themselves not of multiple races and ethnicity/mixed race and ethnicity (i.e., monoracial people) make to those who are mixed or multiracial/multiethnic. Here are a few things my video would feature:
- What are you? [Me: "Human...???"] No! What are you?! [Me: "What do you mean?"] No, you know what I mean. Like, nationality? [Me: "Oh. American."] Don’t be silly. I mean like ethnicity. [Me: Oh, uhm. Do you mean race?] Yeah, that’s what I said. [Me: Oh... uh, I'm Black and white.] Oh, okay. I thought you were, like, Mexican or something!
- So what are you mixed with?
- Wow, you definitely look white. I could hardly tell you were Black!
- Wow, you don’t look Black.
- So, are you more white or more Black?
- Which one of your parents is Black again?
- You could totally pass for Latino.
- You could totally pass for white.
- I think mixed babies are the cutest.
- Wow, so it’s like you get the best of both worlds.
- I love your caramel skin.
- Yeah, it makes sense that you’re half white. You’re not like other Black people.
- So, does that mean you have a big penis or a small penis?
- Oh, you’re mixed? So, you’re parents are divorced, right?
- I bet your mom is the white one.
- Since you’re half white, why would you tell anyone you’re Black?
- So, which parent are you closer to?
- You look like a thug in that hoodie!
Now, Let’s Push The Conversation
Okay, that was fun. But, I would also like to call for an even more critical close to this internet fad. Now that some have done a good job of pointing out some of the ignorant, presumptuous, offensive, and hurtful comments that others make, especially members of privileged groups, let’s contextualize the “shit people say.” In particular, let’s ask ourselves why people say these things. Where do these beliefs, assumptions, and stereotypes come from, and what factors contribute to people conveying them in conversation?
While it is easiest to dismiss people who make ignorant remarks as simply that — ignorant — we must challenge ourselves to reflect on society as a whole. Let’s take, for example, the “Shit Girls Say to Gay Guys” video. In the US and other counties, we are socialized and educated in heterosexist and cissexist cultures: everyone is assumed to be heterosexual and cisgender, heterosexual and cisgender people and heterosexual relationships are valued as the norm, and sexual and gender minorities are demonized yet made invisible in society. Schools are not required to teach about the lives and histories of LGBTQ people and communities and, in many places (e.g., places of worship, home), what little discussion there is about sexuality is limited to heterosexuality and/or the demonization of LGBTQ people and relationships. Thus, with little exposure to the everyday lives of LGBTQ people, heterosexuals and cisgender people know little about them. Ignorance, then, is to be expected.
But, this point can be taken as an excuse without also highlighting the role of heterosexual and cisgender privilege. To live in a heterosexist and cissexist society as a LGBTQ person is to be expected to share the norms, values, and interests of the heterosexual and cisgender majority, while sharing a common struggle, history, and identity with other LGBTQ people. (Separatism is an unattainable path in the long run, some might argue.) But, heterosexuals and cisgender people are afforded the privilege of not having to worry about unique lives and histories of LGBTQ people. While some may elect to learn more about sexual and gender minorities, either out of sympathy or mere interest, it is not necessary for their daily survival to know how the LGBTQ world operates.
This privilege is also manifested in the expectation that marginalized groups, including LGBTQ people, must explain themselves to the respective privileged groups. I see this in the audacity of strangers to ask me, “what are you?” In these instances, someone is perplexed by my ambiguously brown skin color and thus find it imperative to define me in terms of race and ethnicity. I find the entitlement most appalling; a total stranger can demand to know something personal about me that proves to be irrelevant moments after their rude questions are answered. I have seen similar “what are you” moments played out for transgender and gender non-conforming people. This demand for personal information is also seen in other ways, often stemming from stereotypes and ignorance:
- To a gay couple: “so, who’s the man in the relationship?” and “which one plays ‘catcher’?”
- To a Latina person: “so, when did you come to the US?”, “can you speak some Spanish for me?”, and “wow, your English is really good!”
- To a transperson: “so, are you going to have the surgery… you know, down there?” and “does that mean you’re straight now?”
- To a person with physical disabilities: “so, how do you have sex?”
- To a lesbian: “have you ever tired sex with a guy?”
- To a Black person: “so, you’re probably religious, right?”
Moving Beyond The “Shit People Say”
I appreciate the potential for conversation that this internet meme has started (though I fear the moment has passed). But, it is crucial that we not get stuck on the “shit people say.” While ignorance, prejudice, and stereotypes are problematic, they stem from larger systems of oppression and inequality. Too often we get hung up on racist comments, sexist jokes, homophobic rants, writing off the individual as a bigot. In doing so, we leave unexamined the ways in which society itself is structured to privilege some and disadvantage others; we miss how institutions in society shape and constrain our lives in unequal ways. Yes, the “shit people say” is a major concern, but we must not limit ourselves to focusing on verbalized ignorance (as opposed to that which is not), while ignoring the social factors that produce and encourage such ways of thinking in the first place.