I consider the character Jean Cabot in the movie Crash to be the embodiment of the worst kind of white female stereotype. Her character is cold and judgment and has no respect or empathy for those outside of her in-group.
In the beginning of the movie we see a more submissive less dominant side of Jean. She is walking down the street with her husband and clings to his arm when she sees Ludacris’s character and his friend. After the carjacking Jean becomes increasingly assertive with her husband and even punches him in the chest during an argument. You can tell that she is attempting to assert dominance with her maid by refusing to make eye contact or to initiate any type of touch behaviors (Richmond, McCroskey, & Hickson, (2012), p. 100). There is also a contrast between her vocal behavior pre- carjacking and post carjacking. In the beginning she is quieter and softer when talking with her husband and afterward she speaks very loudly and rapidly which communicates anger (Richmond, McCroskey, & Hickson, (2012), p. 116). The way that Jean looks also asserts a type of dominance to those around her; she is dressed very tastefully in designer clothes. Under most circumstances this may offer her an upper-hand in social situations because it communicates her high status, however when confronted with the carjackers her appearance makes her a target of violence (Richmond, McCroskey, & Hickson, (2012), p. 38). Only at the very end of the film to we see Jean start to become more open towards others, after her accident on the stairs she initiates a hug with her maid. This is a big deal because she usually is very critical of her maid, but finally she is able to see that her maid is the best friend that she has.
Jean’s character has a sense of superiority and self-righteousness when it comes to her race. It’s evident from the way that she speaks to her maid and the locksmith that she has a lack of respect for people of different backgrounds. It is also conveyed in the things that she says to her husband about the locksmith that she has a definite distrust of racial minorities. I think the fact that she is from an upper socioeconomic class causes her to have a more close-minded view of those around her. Being in a class of privilege she is more readily able to seek out people that are similar to her in background and race, and less likely to come in contact with people from different backgrounds. Her distrust may stem from her inexperience with individuals of different races. It has been found that white people tend to experience more anxiety in interracial interactions than minorities (Trawalter, S. & Richeson, J.A., (2008), p. 1215). This may be due to the fact that minorities are more experienced in interracial situations due to being in the minority.
I think Jean’s character somewhat blind to her unjust treatment and prejudices towards others. I think from the other characters reaction to her it can be drawn that they see her as cold-hearted and prejudice. Research has found that although ethnocentrism is very much alive in American society that is becoming increasingly unacceptable to express negativity towards out-groups. (Raden, 825). The fact that she is so outwardly expressive about her contempt for individuals of different races is a violation to this new social norm. I think that it would be helpful if Jean had more practice communicating and interacting with people outside of her in-group. I think she would have much more constructive interactions and feel less anxiety and fear if she felt a sense of familiarity. It has been found that the more familiar you are with someone the more you tend to like that person as a result (Riela, S., Rodriguez, G., Aron, A., Xu, X., & Acevedo B. P., (2010), p. 488).
In American culture I would see her as the stereotypical upper class white woman that is cold and and completely obsessed with keeping up a good outward appearance. I think that the fact that there is such a great divide in wealth in the US helps perpetuate this view. I think Jean’s character is an exaggeration of the dark side of a life of privilege and the one-sided view of life it can cause. I’m a big believer in the idea that when you know better you do better, and I think that when Jean is confronted with the inaccuracy of her beliefs (especially in the case of her maid) it sparks a change in her actions.
Jean has a high level of ethnocentrism. She both expresses a preference and feelings of ingroup superiority along with negative attitudes towards out-groups (Raden. 804). I think her ethnocentrism was only made worse by her encounter with the carjackers which exacerbated her negative feelings towards out-groups. She also seems to have xenophobia, which is apparent in her opposition to having a Latino with tattoos change the locks in her home.
I think that Jean is a good depiction of the distrust that still exists between people of different races and cultural backgrounds. I think that as a society we like to think that we’ve come so far that racism and prejudice no longer exist, and that’s not true. The sad thing is that both of those things are still very alive in our society. This film serves as a reminder of the ethnocentrism that I try to pretend doesn’t exist within myself. I think we all have a tendency to think that our in-group is special and does things the “right” way, and it’s that type of attitude that causes problems. Being cognoscente of these tendencies can help combat prejudicial attitudes.
Raden, D. (2003). Ingroup Bias, Classic Ethnocentrism, and Non-Ethnocentrism Among American Whites. Political Psychology, 24(4), 803-828. doi:10.1046/j.1467-9221.2003.00355.x
Riela, S., Rodriguez, G., Aron, A., Xu, X., & Acevedo, B. P. (2010). Experiences of falling in love: Investigating culture, ethnicity, gender, and speed. Journal Of Social And Personal Relationships, 27(4), 473-493. doi:10.1177/0265407510363508
Trawalter, S., & Richeson, J. A. (2008). Let’s talk about race, baby! When Whites’ and Blacks’ interracial contact experiences diverge. Journal Of Experimental Social Psychology, 44(4), 1214-1217. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2008.03.013
Richmond, V.P., McCroskey, J.C., & Hickson III, M.L. (2011). Nonverbal behavior in interpersonal relations (7. ed.). Boston:Pearson/Allyn & Bacon