A 152-foot mural goes up at AutoZone Park in downtown Memphis and city residents go crazy. Why? It's a 152-foot mural of an 80 year-old black woman sporting a gold tooth. The mural also depicts several other people of varying ages and races, but the gold tooth stands out like a sore… stereotype. [Yes, I'm trying to be funny.] Anyway, a group of concerned citizens led by Rev. Al Sharpton’s local chapter of the National Action Network paid a visit to Rhodes College, the crazy behind the crazy mural and discovered a big surprise. The gold-tooth woman was not a racist interpretation from the mind of some racist white; it was a depiction of a real woman, Ms. Savannah Simmons of Memphis. In fact, the mural's idea originated as an attempt to soften Memphis' ugly race relations.
Here's my concern: are we overdoing it with the stereotype anxieties? If we see an overweight woman in the media or in art we deem her a mammy stereotype. If we see a lighter-skinned and articulate black man, we deem him a Uncle Tom stereotype If we see a person eating watermelon, we deem that a watermelon stereotype. Laugh too loud, dance too much, talk excessively, talk not enough… we'll find something to deem a stereotype. What ISN'T a stereotype? Should we pull in the reins when it comes to how we view ourselves? Ms. Savannah Simmons of Memphis and her gold tooth are real. I don't think the black community will tuck away its stereotype radar until we all look and sound like the Obamas. What are your thoughts?
Keith Josef Adkins is an award-winning playwright, screenwriter and social commentator.