Saturday, December 5, 2015

Knowing an Ingroup from the Inside Out

Earlier this October, I started reading an article about what to say to a friend who is wearing a racist Halloween costume (some people will dress up as a very stereotyped version of a person from another race. It's especially common for people to dress as Native Americans). The article set the scene saying that you've arrived at a costume party dressed as something relating to a current event, a play on words, or a nerdy reference because those are the best costumes ever - duh! And just like that, I felt left out. Silly me, I had thought that standing up to racism was something that anyone could be interested in, but nope. This was clearly a geeks-only club that I was not a member of.

If the wording had been, "You arrive dressed as a play on words because you thought that would be clever," that would have been fine. I would have felt like I was reading an individual person's narrative and they happened to go as a play on words. Or if this post had been on someone's personal blog, not a major blog that tons of people read and write for, I would not have been as bothered by it. But since I was reading a piece that was meant to be public (not like reading someone's personal blog or online journal), it was really disappointing to feel excluded.

That opening statement changed the way I read the rest of the article. I felt like an outsider. Since I would be going as either a glamorous princess, a character from a super-popular movie that everyone would recognize, or anything super girly and sparkly because in my world, those are the best costumes ever (duh!) I had this underlying sense that I wasn't the kind of person who would talk to someone about a racist Halloween costume, so why was I even reading the article?

I need to very careful not to do that in my book. Not on my blog - I know that my blog is aimed at a target audience, and I'm fine with that. But in the book, I need to make sure that I'm not targeting it toward the specific ingroup that cares about the issues I'm discussing, and making assumptions about them that have nothing to do with the actually issues I'm discussing. Whenever there is a group of people who all have a certain interest in common, a culture develops around that interest, so that everyone in that culture has other things in common as well, that have nothing to do with the original interest. Once that culture develops around an interest, people expect that if you have a particular interest, you will have those other interests and traits as well, even if they are not really related to the initial interest. And what's more, even if you are extremely passionate about a interest, you may never fit in with a group of people who share that interest because they may all have other traits in common that you don't and expect you to be something that you're not just because you share that one interest.

It's hard to understand what the ingroup stereotypes are when you're inside of an ingroup. Sometimes you get so used to everyone in the group being a certain way that you don't notice that a culture has formed around an interest and has expanded to things outside of the interest. Sometimes it takes an outsider or newcomer to say, "Hey, you said this knitting club was 'open to everyone,' but all anyone talks about while we knit is chores and obligations at home. As someone who doesn't do any work, I have nothing to say and I feel left out."

Obviously my book is aimed at people who want to be validating and consent-conscious. But beyond that, who is it aimed at? What are the interests and traits associated with those qualities that I'm not noticing because I'm an insider? That's a difficult question.

I know the book is too middle-class right now, with too many examples about kids going to college and summer camp and having music lessons after school. My friend Eli is working with me to change some of those examples for more of a balance.

The online culture where people talk about consent issues is basically the same culture where Halloween costume post came from, so my book is definitely not going the route of being geeky. There's also a lot of focus on autonomous relationships, and I especially have an example in my book that is accepting towards clingy, codependent people like me.

I'm just not sure if I might be missing something, if there are other traits that are commonly associated with being validating and consent conscious, but aren't specifically related to those traits, and I'm just assuming that everyone who reads the book shares those qualities.

If you are reading my first draft, any advice in this area is welcome. I don't to be assuming that everyone who cares about racism wants to dress as a play on words for Halloween.

No comments:

Post a Comment