On Stereotypes of Homeless People

A little over two months ago, four homeless people were brutally beaten to death in New York City—Lower Manhattan, to be exact.[1] More recently, one of the local television stations in New York City, which is where I live, profiled these four victims of the brutal attacks.

One thing that became apparent to me, as I was listening to the profiles of these homeless individuals, is that we need to address some of the stereotypes about homeless people.

The National Coalition for the Homeless, which is one of the most prominent homelessness advocacy organizations in the United States, had a piece that succinctly mentioned three of the most prominent stereotypes about homeless individuals: that they are viewed as lazy, crazy, and/or drug addicts.[2]

Yet, Chuen Kwok, an 83-year-old man who was the oldest of the four victims beaten to death, was considered the “uncle” of the neighborhood, and only became homeless after falling on hard times during his sixties.[3]

Yet, Nazario Vazquez Villegas, who was also beaten to death in his sleep, worked a number of odd jobs over the years, and doesn’t exactly fit the stereotypical profile of a homeless person, either.[4]

Yet, Florencio Moran, the 39-year-old who was the youngest of the four who were killed, was someone who, at the time of my writing this, didn’t have much information to his name.[5] Therefore, there’s nothing to show that he fit the homeless stereotypes, either.

Yet, Anthony Mason, 49, was a blogger, just like me and just like some of my readers.[6] He founded nonprofit organizations in Mississippi to help the homeless and was a preacher too.[7] Mason’s story is actually quite extraordinary.

The only person involved in all of this who fits those homeless stereotypes (even when you include David Hernandez, the one person who was beat up but survived[8]) was the attacker: Randy Santos, a homeless man with a reported history of violence and mental illness.[9] That fact should be, by itself, a cause for reflection on the stereotypes our society often has about homeless people.

This story out of my hometown isn’t an anomaly, either. The people I know who’ve done work with homeless populations can often point to people they have encountered (sometimes, many people) who don’t, by any means, fit within the “lazy, crazy, drug addict” stereotype about being homeless. Personally, I can even say that I’ve encountered homeless individuals over the years who are every bit as talented as Anthony Mason, or every bit as well-regarded as Chuen Kwok, and that’s even though my work with homeless individuals has been much more limited than those who have dedicated their volunteer and/or professional lives to work with the homeless.

So, next time you see someone who you think is homeless on the street, the sidewalk, the bus, the train, don’t assume that the person is some lazy, crazy bum. That homeless individual you see may have more in common with you than you realize.

I dedicate this post to the memories of Chuen Kwok, Nazario Vazquez Villegas, Florencio Moran, and Anthony Mason.

[1] https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/10/05/homeless-men-beaten-death-manhattan-police-say/3879039002/

[2] https://nationalhomeless.org/tag/stereotypes/

[3] https://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/news/2019/11/06/chuen-kwok–why-an-83-year-old-man-found-himself-homeless-in-the-twilight-of-his-life

[4] https://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/news/2019/11/04/homeless–not-nameless–a-look-at-the-lives-of-the-four-men-who-were-beaten-to-death-found-nazario-vazquez-villegas-chinatown-

[5] https://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/news/2019/11/07/murdered-while-sleeping-on-the-street–a-family-still-not-found

[6] His blog is here: http://anthonythepriestlyartist.us/?fbclid=IwAR2K985QbOxguzHc1AYfQuIP5lfQwnuqxIE_d49PTKo7twUVJQeLU_Kjhew.

[7] https://gothamist.com/news/wanderer-victim-homeless-attacks-kept-detailed-online-diary

[8] I’ve heard hardly any information on Hernandez, so I don’t have any information to confirm that he fits the homeless stereotypes.

[9] https://gothamist.com/news/wanderer-victim-homeless-attacks-kept-detailed-online-diary

Shared Post: Looking After Your Well-Being During the Holidays

The holidays can be a busy and stressful time for some of us. Gift shopping, meeting with family you don’t get along with, changes in schedule, and much more, in addition to trying to keep up with the usual responsibilities, can be stressful. Thankfully, Jenny at Jenny in Neverland has some tips on how to look after your well-being during the holidays. I definitely benefit from following these tips, and so would many others, which is why I’m sharing her post today.

Also, if any readers have additional tips on looking after one’s well-being during the holidays, feel free to comment below!

Jenny’s post, titled “Looking After Your Well-Being During the Holidays”

You can find Jenny’s blog here.

Note: Since it is just to take care of yourself during the holidays, this is a ‘Blindly Just’ post/shared post.

LGBTQ+ Stereotypes Series: A Conclusion

Over the past several months, I have written posts about stereotypes associated with some of the major identities in the LGBTQ+ community; namely, stereotypes associated with identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual.

When I started this series, I planned for it to coincide with a number of big events this calendar year, such as the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in June, but I had no idea quite how much this series would coincide with some other major events related to the LGBTQ+ community. For example, in July, Olympian Caster Semenya, an athlete born with intersex traits, was barred from defending her world title in the 800-meter race;[1] that was part of why my post on intersex stereotypes weighed in on whether Semenya was being unfairly treated. I was also unaware that, before the end of this series, the United States Supreme Court would start yet another term where LGBTQ+ issues were up for consideration. There were probably other things that came up between the beginning of this series and now, but those two developments come to my mind.

If anything, these events show that understanding yet rejecting these stereotypes associated with different groups in the LGBTQ+ community is as important as ever. The rights, livelihoods, and lives of many people in the LGBTQ+ community depend on our rejecting such stereotypes.

Previous Posts in this series:
Introducing a Series on LGBTQ+ Stereotypes
Stereotypes Associated with People with Same-Sex Relationships
Lesbian Stereotypes
Gay Stereotypes
Bisexual Stereotypes
Transgender Stereotypes
Queer Stereotypes
Intersex Stereotypes
Asexual Stereotypes

[1] https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/olympics/2019/07/31/caster-semenya-barred-from-800-world-championships-by-swiss-court/1875957001/

The LGBTQ Pride Flag.

Asexual Stereotypes

A few months ago, I began a series addressing stereotypes for LGBTQ+ people—talking about people who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer, as well as people who are intersex and asexual. This is the next-to-last post in the series, as I will do a wrap-up post next week.

As I am going in order of the acronyms for LGBTQ (or LGBTQIA), it is time for me to discuss stereotypes associated with being asexual. But before going into details about those stereotypes, I should start by talking about what it means to be asexual and stereotypes that I’ve learned (and stereotypes that others should also dismantle) about being asexual.

Asexual people are people who are not sexually attracted to anyone (men or women), and/or have low or no desire for sexual activity. You may hear the term “ace” when hearing talk about asexual people; “ace” is short for “asexual” (and the asexual community is often referred to as the “ace community” or as “aces”).

Now that we’ve talked about what it means to be asexual, here are a few stereotypes associated with being asexual:

  1. Asexual people can’t have sex. This stereotype confuses a lack of sexual desire with the lack of ability to have sex. Just because an asexual person does not have sexual desires does not mean that the person is incapable of having sex.
  2. Asexual people can’t be in romantic relationships, let alone get married. This is a stereotype where asexuality gets confused with another identity: aromantic. To keep things straight and to the point, asexual people lack sexual desires but can have romantic desires that don’t necessarily involve sex, while aromantic people have sexual desires but not necessarily romantic ones. In addition to the confusion between asexuality and aromanticism, this stereotype also breeds the notion that sex needs to be at the center of a deep relationship or a marriage, which need not be the case. Oh, and by the way, if you still have doubts about the ability of an asexual person to be in a romantic relationship or in a marriage, I encourage you to read this Vice article on asexual people who are in very deep romantic relationships.
  3. Asexual people just haven’t found the right person to have sex with yet. If someone is asexual, what this means is that there is nobody who an asexual person will have a deep desire to have sex with. And that is not about an inability to find the right person, but is instead just about a lack of sexual desire.
  4. Asexual people are afraid of sex. Not necessarily—asexual people just lack sexual attraction and/or desire. Lacking the desire to do something is not necessarily the fear of something.

These, of course, are just a few of the harmful stereotypes associated with being asexual. If there are other stereotypes about asexual people that should be discussed and/or if anyone wants to expand upon the intersex stereotypes mentioned here, please feel free to post a comment below!

The Asexual Pride Flag.

Institutional Racism Series: How it Affected How I, and Others, Were Policed

From a young age, I was taught that as long as I didn’t look for trouble, I wouldn’t get in trouble with the police.

Thankfully, for me, that has been the case. I’ve never looked to cause any trouble, even with something relatively harmless like marijuana, and I haven’t gotten into trouble.

But because of institutional racism, which I defined in my introductory post in the institutional racism series as “racism that is practiced and sometimes even normalized by social, economic, governmental, and other institutions,” the story is often different for those who don’t look Caucasian.

For example, some of my brother’s elementary school friends who were people of color got into troubling situations with the police, even though they weren’t looking to cause trouble (yes, you read that correctly: elementary school). For example, these friends were often searched thoroughly by police under a practice in New York known as “stop-and-frisk,” even though there was zero evidence of their carrying weapons. On the other hand, you never heard similar tales from my brother’s and my white friends or from my Caucasian family. It was therefore no coincidence that the bias against people of color in stop-and-frisk was so severe that some people called it “walking while brown.”

These stories seemed to fit with the actual statistics on stop-and-frisk. For example, a May 2012 New York Times article cited by Forbes said that “85% of those stopped were black or Hispanic even though those groups make up about half of NYC’s population.” With a statistic like this, there is validity to the claim that someone is stopped for “walking while brown.”

Readers might be looking at these statistics and thinking, “Fine…you have stories and statistics, but where does the institutional racism come in?” To find the answer, it’s important to look at how stop-and-frisk was justified—it was justified by saying that people who are deemed a threat need to be stopped. Hence, by using stop-and-frisk disproportionately on people of color, an institution (the police) was sending the racist message that a disproportionate number of people of color were a threat.

While stop-and-frisk in New York City is much less common than it once was, the idea among many law enforcement institutions that people of color are still a threat still exists. From two people of color getting arrested at a Starbucks in spite of doing nothing wrong to a graduate student at Yale having her ID taken away after she slept in a common room and was getting called in as a potential threat by a white student, there are still widespread stories of people of color—many of whom are doing nothing wrong—being treated like threats and criminals.

In contrast, similar stories are never heard of from light-skinned people like me. You see a white person sleeping in the common room at college? The thought is that, “Oh…the person has studied a ton. No big deal.” You see two white people at a Starbucks waiting to meet with someone? You don’t think anything of it, probably. But people of color doing these things are viewed as a threat by many people, law enforcement or not.

As I said in the beginning of this piece, I was taught from a young age that I would not get into trouble if I didn’t seek trouble. As it turns out, though, I might not have gotten into trouble even if I had sought some trouble.

At the same time, I recognize that it is a different story for friends of mine who are people of color. It is a different story because of the startling disparities between the way whites are policed and the way people of color are policed. Indeed, institutional racism exists in the way that I, and others, are policed.

This image is from a march against racially disproportionate policing. The racial disparities in the way practices like New York City’s stop-and-frisk was implemented raised concerns about racially disproportionate policing. By longislandwins [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.

Update as of November 24, 2019: While this series on institutional racism ended long ago, the issues I addressed in this post have become relevant again due to the renewed scrutiny on Michael Bloomberg’s stop-and-frisk policy while he was Mayor of New York City. In case you were wondering, the stories and statistics I have of stop-and-frisk in this post are from Mayor Bloomberg’s tenure in New York. The current scrutiny over this tactic exists because he declared his candidacy for President of the United States today, just one week after he apologized for his use of the tactic while he was mayor.

I am hoping that this post serves as a reminder that, regardless of his apology and regardless of whether you believe in his apology, the institutional racism that led to Bloomberg’s stop-and-frisk is still relevant.

As for readers who didn’t expect a post from me until after Thanksgiving, sorry about that. I figured that this post is too relevant not to re-publish right now.