On the Lifetime TV Network, there’s a series of commercials that profiles women from all different professions and walks of life (a wedding planner, a political activist, and a veterinarian are just a few examples). I always see these commercials when I’m watching Project Runway and there’s one that sticks in my mind whenever it comes on. It profiles Christy Haubegger, a very successful Mexican American woman who founded Latina magazine and has continually worked to raise the presence of the Hispanic community within the media. The reason her commercial is the most powerful to me is because it gives such a bold example of how race and ethnicity can influence people’s perceptions of someone and how stereotypes come into our everyday thinking.
I tried to find a better recording of the commerical, but this was the only one I could find. It’s a little unclear but I think it’s still understandable. In the video, Christy Haubegger tells a story about an experience she had while getting ice for her room at a hotel. While she’s walking back with her ice bucket, another woman walks past her and asks if she is bringing ice to all the rooms, assuming that Haubegger is an employee.
To me, this short commercial speaks volumes about race and ethnicity. For one, the fact that this unnamed woman assumes Christy Haubegger is a hotel employee is directly connected to her ethnicity. As she mentions in the video, she is wearing a suit and had just come from an event honoring her magazine. She does not have on a name tag, is not wearing a hotel uniform, and is not pushing a housekeeper’s cart. Haubegger is giving no outward sign that she could possibly be an employee besides the fact that she is carrying a single ice bucket, which does not come across as a strong indicator of employment to me. What does seem to have been a strong indicator for this other hotel guest, however, was Christy Haubegger’s race/ethnicity. This guest saw a Latina woman walking down the hallway and assumed she was an employee, despite her giving off no signs that she worked there. It’s as if Haubegger’s ethnicity superseded all other factors to the contrary in this woman’s mind. This assumption is also connected to class. The other hotel guest could have assumed Christy Haubegger was an employee because, due to her ethnicity, she must also be in a lower socioeconomic class and therefore could not afford the hotel. Could I give this unnamed hotel guest the benefit of the doubt and say that maybe she made an honest mistake based upon the single ice bucket? Sure, but it seems unlikely. Maybe cognitively she wasn’t even consciously aware that she was making this kind of judgment. Either way, the judgment and assumption are still harmful.
While within sociology, stereotypes can have either a positive or negative effect on group members, this instance would be an example of a stereotype having a negative effect on a person. As we recently read, the numbers of Hispanic immigrants in many entry level service industries, such as housekeeping, are increasing. However, this obviously does not mean that every Hispanic person in a hotel is an immigrant or that they are all employees. It also does not mean that every hotel employee is Hispanic. Despite how obvious this may seem, the stereotype persists. Christy Haubegger’s experience is direct proof of that. Like she says in the commercial, until people look at her and see a lawyer or an entrepreneur, there is still work to be done to dismantle racial and ethnic stereotypes.
As one small aside to this I want to mention the connection of gender to the idea of Christy Haubegger’s work against stereotypes. Her magazine, Latina, is geared towards women and focuses on fashion, beauty, and celebrities. While Haubegger’s work is extremely important and giving Hispanic women a voice within this area is crucial, it’s interesting to me that while working against ethnic stereotypes, she is also promoting gender stereotypes. Beauty norms and youth are still held up as ultimate goals. Is it good that Latina women are made the focus rather than the typical white, European women? Of course. But I still don’t think it’s perfect.