By John Latta
This blonde walks into a bar.
When we hear a line like that, we usually begin to make assumptions about what is to come.
The blonde will be a little absent-minded at best and dumb-as-a-stump at worst. She is about to become a figure of fun. She has been stereotyped. And for “blonde” you can substitute any number of people.
How odd that truckers are perhaps the most, certainly one of the most, negatively stereotyped groups in the country. It’s odd because truckers are a very diverse group. By age, gender, political persuasion, race, ethnicity, ancestry, personal history and a hatful of other measurements, truckers are a varied crowd.
So why the stereotyping? Why doesn’t reality poke so many holes in the stereotype that it withers? And if it must occur, why not stereotype the trucker in a positive light, which would help illuminate, far more than the common image, who the vast majority of truckers are?
While many of us laugh at that blonde without ever really thinking that the blondes we know or the blondes we meet are anything like her, a vast number of Americans casually accept this typecasting of the American trucker. I suspect if we were to prick their skin, to dig in a little and challenge the person assuming the stereotype, we’d find a sort of mumbling, fumbling, humbling uncertainty. The American trucker label is one of those “Oh, everybody knows that” sort of things, a mass assumption held together largely by a pack mentality and/or lazy thinking.
It starts young. Ask a little girl for her idea of a princess, and she’ll more than likely describe something from television or a movie. This, she is sure, is how a princess is supposed to look. She is so certain she may spend her life trying to become that fiction, eyes shut to reality. Ask a little boy about soldiers or cops, and he’ll also likely deliver a description from a screen. As they grow, television, movies, media politics and colleagues will reinforce the images. And the big rig driver will be added to their list of certainties. They will drive next to semis, scared to death of them but not fearful of the four-wheelers zooming around them. And one day maybe one of them will say to you: “Prejudiced? Me? Heck no, I have trucker friends.”
I often hear from “ordinary” Americans telling me they want to thank a driver for some help out on the road. The driver was kind, courteous and a gentleman, they will say. Maybe a tough lady trucker helped when the kids were a handful. It was such an unusual thing they had to tell people about it: “You don’t expect that kind of thing from a trucker, do you?” Others tell me heatedly how people would be safer on the roads if we’d “get rid of those dangerous trucks or at least slow them way down.”
And yet. And yet. We know that truckers help people every day, most of the time without the four-wheeler driver they save from a wreck ever knowing it. And we know fewer, slower trucks aren’t the magic key to safer roads. We also know drivers keep stores full and factories rolling. So on paper, the stereotype should be a good guy. Someone a person would seek out for help, rely on during tough times and have faith in.
Yet the American public really doesn’t have much time for the American trucker, does it? Not all the public. But most of it.
Our respect is far too easily directed. We tend to respect people that are set up for us to admire, chosen by others and splashed on screens and in print for us. Do a tough, dirty job, and you probably won’t look like a hero at first glance. In the old days movie makers put the good cowboy in a white hat and the bad guy in a black hat, and that was that.
But surely today we don’t need to have neon checkmarks next to people indicating that these are the good guys and those are not. Surely.