BLOG POST (Module 9): JAMES LI, Representations of Gay Characters on TV

(watch the whole clip for the first one)

(watch till 0:53) enjoy some music and dance 🙂

Glee was a famous television series that aired in 2009, with the reputation of being a gay text. Kurt Hummel, the flamboyant gay character in Glee, presents several stereotypes that are associated with gay characters on TV. The first video clip takes part in the very beginning of the whole series, where Kurt and several other main characters are first introduced. Inside the scene, we see several bullies from the football team tosses Kurt in the dumpster. If you continue to watch the series, we see that there are multiple places where Kurt is constantly getting bullied. This is connected to the stereotype that Miller mentions in the article that gay characters are usually victims in TV series. Inside this short clip, Kurt only has one line, “please, this is Mark Jacob’s new collection.” From this sentence, we can get the idea that he is coming from a family that is economically well off. This is also evident in the second video clip, where he is dressed fashionably and dancing in a large house with multiple floors. Another stereotype that we are encountering here. Gay characters are often depicted as being overly flamboyant on TV series so that producers can make audiences understand that the character is gay when they first see him.

All of these stereotypes create false imagery for the gay community just as what we learned previous weeks regarding how television creates stereotypes for other communities although we do see more gay representations on TV. The increasing appearance of gay characters on TV is mainly because the Slumpy class (Socially Liberal, Urban-Minded Professionals) desires “edgy, risqué programming” with a “socially liberal and fiscally conservative” position. These audiences want to include equality and diversity within their ideology to make them seem more liberal and cosmopolitan without challenging their economic conservatism. There are several issues that we are facing with these stereotypes.

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The first problem that we encounter here is the idea of “model minority” that Becker mentions in his essay. We see that gay characters are always educated and wealthy. What they are struggling with is social recognition of their sexual orientation. This phenomenon is evident with the character Kurt in Glee and the gay couples, Mitchell and Cameron, in Modern Family. All of them are middle-class family, who live in a decent neighborhood. We do not see gay characters who are minorities or poor as if gay people are only white and wealthy. This is a stereotype that the Slumpy class wants to see because it offers “straight Slumpies a painlessly passive way to affirm their open-mindedness.” They do not have to struggle with challenges from minorities or people in lower class if they only have gay characters that are white and wealthy on television. This allows them to include diversity and is more cosmopolitan without confronting their economic conservatism of not willing to have redistributive policies for the minorities and the poor people.

This idea leads to the second issue that we are facing with gay representations on TV. We assume the opinion that gay characters are included more and more on television because the audiences actively support gay rights. However, “consuming difference commodified for one’s convenience and being repeatedly encouraged to celebrate diversity did not guarantee that one’s consciousness was thoroughly transformed” according to Becker. Watching more television series that include gay characters does not necessarily mean that the audiences are actually supporting gay rights. It is possible to think about the idea that they are watching it only because they desire edgy and hip contents to be included in the television. It is because gay characters do not hurt their principle ideology that they allow gay characters to be widely represented on television. Becker illustrates this idea by comparing with the decrement of African-American characters on TV. If the Slumpy class truly wants diversity, then there should be more African American representations. However, we do see the fact that the Slumpies “shared the same intolerant attitudes toward blacks as older generations.” This phenomenon hints to the fact that it is not the actual gay rights that they are supporting. What the Slumpy class wants is to make them seem more open-minded with the inclusion of diversity that fits their ideology.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you think that the Slumpy class is supporting diversity and gay rights or they simply want to include more edgy and hip contents?
  2. Are there more stereotypes that you can think about are associated with gay characters? What are some TV examples that you think of?
  3. Are there any other problems that are associated with the gay stereotypes on TV?
  4. We do see quite a lot of gay representations on TV but often with negative imagery. Consider the discussion question that we did for Module 7. Do you think gay characters should have more but worse representations, or less but more positives representations?

Relevant Readings:

Ron Becker, “Gay-Themed Television and the Slumpy Class”

Taylor Cole Miller, “Performing Glee: Gay Resistance to Gay Representations and a New Slumpy Class”

Thoughts and comments welcome below!

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15 thoughts on “BLOG POST (Module 9): JAMES LI, Representations of Gay Characters on TV”

  1. Hi, I’m from Juan Manuel’s section and I agree with your argument. The model minority is shown in an upper-middle class environment by placing the minority in situations that hint his/her social status, personality, and sexual orientation. I think that the Slumpy class is the result of networks trying to appeal to its new demographic. “This started to change in the late Sixties and early Seventies when the networks began paying attention to the particular demographics watching television series.”(Canote 2009). The Native American began to be represented in a way that showed them overcoming stereotypes and institutionalized habits that ‘normal’ Americans saw as progressive. Almost any comedy show will include a gay joke, which to me perpetuates the lack of seriousness and ignorance towards general groups. Mac from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is an example of a gay character who feels many different types of emotions as a man who believes in God and rejects his true feelings. He is shown acting strange all the time and always reaffirming his ‘manliness’, which I think can be seen as a negative way because people can think that that is how gay men in real life deal with these types of situations when in reality it’s harder emotionally and mentally.

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    1. *used wrong module, i knew something was up*

      Hi, I’m from Juan Manuel’s section and I agree with your argument. The model minority is shown in an upper-middle class environment by placing the minority in situations that hint his/her social status, personality, and sexual orientation. I think that the Slumpy class is the result of networks trying to appeal to its new demographic. “Gayness, and to an even greater extent queerness, has become so conflated with stereotype, that we have subscribed to a new species of performativity — one that must be carried out flawlessly so our sexuality is not indeterminate.”(Miller) Almost any comedy show will include a gay joke, which to me perpetuates the lack of seriousness and ignorance towards general groups. This exaggeration of sexuality creates distance between the viewers and this subject. Mac from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is an example of a gay character who feels many different types of emotions as a man who believes in God and rejects his true feelings. He is shown acting strange all the time and always reaffirming his ‘manliness’, which I think can be seen as a negative way because people can think that that is how gay men in real life deal with these types of situations when in reality it’s harder emotionally and mentally.

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  2. Hi James, I greatly enjoyed reading your input on the representations of gay characters on television. The appearance of LGBTQ characters is becoming significantly more apparent on television today; nevertheless, I agree that such characters severely lack in diversity.
    Although it is notable that more television shows like Glee are making gayness more visible and less foreign to the public, those who portray such characters, as well as the mannerisms in which they reinforce some characters, are incredible narrow. For one, many characters, including Glee’s Kurt, are depicted as White individuals, of middle or high class and primarily speak or act in a certain way that manifests their gayness. As mentioned in Miller’s article, the stereotyping of queerness by specific feminist mannerisms is such a narrow, offensive stereotype; As a result, many individuals, in our contemporary society, inevitably conform to these stereotypes since doing so secures visibility/recognition for these individuals. As for other television shows, I rarely, if ever, witness low-class, non-affluent, people of color being characterized as LGBTQ characters. I have taken notice of the television show Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, portraying a person of color as homosexual. Titus, a middle to low class African American man is portrayed as a flamboyant, exciting, and highly proud LGBTQ character who befriends protagonist Kimmy, and refuses to let any individual bog him down in spite of his sexuality. In fact, he even showcases his pride for his identity in one episode by fashioning a shirt that writes “Baby Slut” in bright pink font. Although I find it refreshing to see people of color, such as that of Titus, perform gayness in spite of social class or color, it is still disappointing that that majority of such characters are primarily white, of higher class, and are scripted to conform to specific stereotypes garnered to their sexuality.

    And as for your question about whether gay characters show have more but worse representation or less but more positive representation: Although I do not favor imperfect representation or little to no positive representation, I think affirmative depiction of this minority group is the more satisfactory of the two. For one, any smidge of positive reinforcement can benefit the group as a whole since it allows its viewers, and the society as a whole, to view these LGBTQ folk in a different, better depicted light. Although the negative yet popular representation will still overpower that of the positive representation, it will, nevertheless, be still refreshing to the viewers, yet also challenging to the systemized labeling of this specific group of people. Just a single positive depiction of these individuals in the media can potentially initiate a domino effect and spur the challenging of negative norms. In other words, I see more harm in popularly depicting gay characters in a negative manner, rather than occasionally representing them in a positive manner.

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  3. The Slumpy class supports diversity on a very surface level, especially when gay themed media content began entering mainstream media. The pairing of social liberalism and fiscal conservatism opened the doors for the superficial desire of cultural and social equality, however only within reason, so that beliefs rooted in fiscal conservatism would remain intact. If someone or something “too different” was shown, especially in terms of socioeconomics, ethnicity, and other innately disadvantaged communities, the Slumpy class would be less supportive of this content. This does not mean that they are not genuine in supporting some diversity and gay rights- it just means that there is a limit what media will be consumed, and how deep support for these issues runs.

    With this limited representation of diversity, especially avoiding intersectionalities that produce unique three-dimensional and complex characters, it is interesting to discuss the question originally brought up in Module 7. I believe that fewer but more positive representations are better. Only then will the community be accurately represented so that stereotypes can be lifted, and the majority of the population can see the given group in a more balanced light. When these stereotypes become less evident, and the characters become more like people instead of caricatures, their inclusion in media will also increase. Moreover, if the LGBT community feels better represented, television content producers and networks will reap the benefits, further stimulating an increase in LGBT characters and themes. Granted, this is a very long-term approach, however I believe it is the most effective at dismantling societal stereotypes and barriers.

    Thank you for your post and these interesting discussion questions!

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  4. Great post! I don’t think that initially the slumpy class is supporting diversity and gay through the inclusion of gay people in television. In the beginning, as with many other minority groups, television shows the gay stereotypes and include them to make their content more intriguing and edgy. It’s interesting how you mentioned that consuming new and different content did not guarantee that one’s consciousness was thoroughly transformed. Not many people in the slumpy class would have changed thoughts and supported gay rights. People will think that they are liberal and open-minded but in reality they do not know much about gay people except for how they are portrayed in media. However, I do think that many shows are working towards combating such stereotypes. Even in Glee there are many characters in the later seasons that are not the typical gay people. Glee tries to celebrate diversity through new and different portrayals of gay people.

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  5. Hey James, great post! I agree with pretty much all the points you made about gay representation television and what it means to the straight audience. To address the second half of your post and your first discussion question, I want to bring back bell hooks’ idea “eating the other.” I bring this into play because like you suggested, I believe the Slumpy class is not supporting gay rights by watching TV shows with gay characters but rather are just enjoying the edginess and hipness of it all. This reminds me of “eating the other” because as hooks discussed about a white person being into a minority due to how different, new, and forbidden they are, a straight person may enjoy seeing a LGBTQ character on TV for the same reason. I think it’s not because they’re ready to accept LGBTQs into society, but rather they get enjoyment out of the edginess of following a character that is so different (yet not so different) than them. And to address your last question, I think its a good thing that there are more and more gay characters on TV, even if they may be very stereotyped. I say this because these characters open up the doors for more gay characters who may not be as stereotyped and who may actually be an accurate representation of the queer community. You can already see this with characters like Ian Gallagher from “Shameless” who is not affluent and flamboyant like most gay characters on TV. Enjoyed the read!

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  6. Loved your blog post!

    In response to your third question, throughout the past few modules, we have seen that television network executives have a tendency to categorize broad ranges of communities simply as “Asian American,” “African American,” “Latina/o,” or, in this module, “LGBTQ.” Gay stereotypes on television ignore intersectionality, which could not be more problematic. I hardly ever see LGBTQ characters who are people of color on television. According to Steve Williams, “Intersectionality is a sociological theory about how an individual can face multiple threats of discrimination when their identities overlap a number of minority classes, such as race, gender, age, ethnicity, health and other characteristics.” Intersectionality is important because these wealthy white television characters are representative of only one aspect of the LGBTQ community, an aspect that is arguably quite similar to the majority heterosexual experience. Because of the way television stereotypes gay peopel, the challenges faced by LGBTQ people who are neither white nor wealthy are often overlooked.

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  7. Hi, I greatly enjoyed reading your blog post. I also believe that more LGBTQ characters are appearing on television although the diversity within this type of characters is not so great. It is obvious that most of these LGBTQ characters are from a wealthy class who has pleasing physical appearance and fashion, like the character Kurt from Glee that you mentioned in your post. I believe that the Slumpy class is the result to spread the awareness and diversity of the LGBTQ characters to the society. I can’t really think of any other stereotypes of gay characters other than being clean, fashionable, and feminine, but what I do see is more problems that are associated with gay stereotypes on TV. For example, it is common that a TV show to have at least one gay joke, which I think that sometimes these jokes aren’t too appropriate. Problems associated with gay people are still discussed in today’s society and these negative imagery are spread to the audience, I believe that the representation of gay characters should have more positives but less representation. The spread of negatives will not ever help these gay people if they want people to have positive imagery in them.

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  8. Hi James I really enjoyed reading your blog post which questioned whether the representation for LGBTQ characters was truly out of celebrating diversity or not. I believe that the “slumpy class” could not justify increasing LGBTQ representation on television as a means of celebrating diversity because of how as you mentioned, they opposed expanded roles for African American actors and actresses. Clearly, this contradicts claims of celebrating diversity since members of other minorities are severely opposed to gaining more screen time and attention on the TV. It seems that the “slumpy class” does not truly care or understand what diversity really means and how it entails inclusion of all minorities and underrepresented communities; they only operate on providing a reflection of society’s current interests and appeal to the common, popular trends of the everyday under a façade of celebrating difference. As for your question on whether there are other stereotypes about gay characters, I can find an example in Bruce from Family Guy. Portrayed as a mustached man who wears earrings and conveys feminine movement and mannerisms, he is seen talking in a soft, light voice with a very noticeable lisp. Despite how far our society has come in offering acceptance and tolerance to members of the LGBTQ community, some shows like Family Guy still employ stereotypes like claiming that all gay people speak with lisps. Although this may be true for some, it is not entirely the case and provides a very negative, narrow image about what an LGBTQ person tends to look like and how they act. In addition, many of the gay characters we see on television are often portrayed as closeted and hidden in the initial parts of a TV series only to come out later when they are more comfortable with their environment and setting. By portraying these characters as overtly timid and uncomfortable with themselves, it gives a very negative impression of how TV still views members of the LGBTQ community as uncertain, enigmatic, and outcast. All in all, portrayals of LGBTQ characters should strive for positive, accurate representations of its community members no matter how few these representations may be. It is better to give a more accurate, wholesome picture rather than one that is fabricated, incomplete, and inaccurate.

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  9. Overall I would like to start off by saying that I really liked the post as a whole, I think it touched on a great many different ideas and topics that at first may not be visible to everyone that is reading the texts. I have not seen Glee and thus am making my assessment on the show based solely on the information, and scenes, that you provided for us. I think I would have to agree with you that the scenes that I saw are pandering to the typical Gay guy stereotypes, that place them as want to be fashion people like girls. In regard to your first question I would have to say that the ideas that Slumpy are trying to push on the TV networks have nothing to do with changing the culture or ideas that are already represented, I believe that the issue lies in the ability to make edgy content. I think that it is very clear that they are trying to use gay and queer TV to push a broader audience base and make a larger profit. As you stated if they cared about integration they would have pushed other minorities into the fold as well. I think that there are a lot of stereotypes that can be associated with gay characters and a few shows that I see them in are Shameless and The Originals. The key stereotypes that I see that happen in these shows are that one guy has to be a “girly” guy where the other has to be all tough and strong. At the same time, it pushes the ideas that for some reason one of the guys usually has to have an issue or problem with the idea that he is gay or is coming out as gay. I think it thus shows us that there are many stereotypes that have nothing to do with gay men in real life that are projected onto us via TV. In The Originals, the gay character has trouble being gay because he is not out to his parents and thus works actively to hide the fact he is gay because he is ashamed of something. I think that there are a lot of representations of gay characters on TV, but I believe that there should be less because of the way they are shown. I think that if you are going to do everything wrong and pretend as if you know the people then you should not be doing it at all. Like I said in the questions for last week I think it is important that if you have nothing nice or positive to say about a group of people than you should say nothing at all. I think that the images and ideas of gay characters that are spread around are done in an attempt to garner more attention for the show, and not to educate people about the race.

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  10. Hi!

    Your analysis of Modern Family was very similar to one of my discussion questions, I’m glad you brought it up! To answer your fourth question, I think having more but worse representation would be detrimental to the LGBTQ community. In my opinion, the majority of gay representation right now are very similar to the characters of Kurt, Cam, and Mitchell, and I believe they are harmful for the gay community. Although there is more representation of gay people, it mostly consists of white, wealthy, cis gendered gay men. What is the point of having more representation if the representation perpetuates gay stereotypes and marginalizes the rest of the gay community? Television has to start recognizing PoC, people with low-income, and especially people who aren’t cis-gendered when considering in creating a character that is supposed to relate to the gay community. Miller talks about how the flamboyant stereotype became a necessity in the gay community in order to validate one’s sexuality and make it visible to the world. In my opinion, we are passed those times where that is necessary. We need to start recognizing that the gay and LGBTQ community are a lot more than just their sexualities and stereotypes.

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  11. Hi James, I really like this post. Your analysis of the Slumpy Class and the stereotypical representation of gay characters on television was great. I agreed with many of the points you make, especially supporting Becker’s argument about gay characters as “model minority.” You also explain the reason why gay characters are more frequently shown in shows more because of the Slupmy class and add perfect clarification.
    The two main stereotypes, the flamboyant gay and rich and white gay characters, are the main ones I can think of that I see most on television. I noticed that most of the gay characters that I’ve seen are usually always rich enough to support their flamboyant lifestyle and white and educated as you stated above. Some examples that I can think of that present these stereotypes is of course Modern Family, Glee, Gossip Girl, and Faking It. In these shows, they have a gay character or a gay couple that are usually white, flamboyant, rich and educated. I’ve rarely seen shows that don’t show these stereotypes, however one show that strays away from these stereotypes is 13 Reasons Why. In that show, Tony is a gay character who is Latino, still in high school, and doesn’t dress flamboyantly. He’s nearly the opposite from the stereotypes that are usually represented on TV. In my opinion, I believe that more characters like Tony should be represented on television and as you said, break the stereotypes that are supported and preferred by the Slumpy class.

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  12. Hi James! First off, I’d like to say that this was a very well-written article and I found it to be very relevant to the information discussed in this module. Everything you mentioned regarding the Slumpy Class I definitely agree with. In my personal opinion, I do believe that the Slumpy Class “wants” to support diversity and gay rights. However, the problem is that members of the Slumpy Class do not want to give up their conservative economic values in the process. Due to this dilemma it is almost impossible for members of the Slumpy Class to wholeheartedly support diversity and gay rights. I also think that the incentives of the members of this class are also very misaligned. From what I can observe it appears that the Slumpy Class is much more concerned with being edgy and following what is deemed by popular society to be desirable. Most of the incentives that people of this class have for supporting the LGBTQ community is only meant to make themselves look better in the eyes of a wide audience. If you think about it, most of these young business-professionals that fall into the Slumpy Class only want to be accepted by society and will follow whatever trend is seen positively by society. Besides the stereotypes that you mentioned in your blog post, I also think that many male gay characters are seen as being very effeminate while female gay characters are seen as being very masculine. I have noticed this almost every time I watch television and have always found it to be intriguing. The projections of certain male or female stereotypes onto LGBTQ characters only intensifies the queerness, or the otherness, of the characters. By breaking traditional stereotypes associated with sex, LGBTQ characters on television are able to distinguish themselves very clearly from the other characters on the show. I think that this is done intentionally by producers of shows in order to set the tone of these LGBTQ characters very early on. In many of the examples you provided in your blog post, it was very easy to tell which characters were gay without them even speaking many words. One specific television show in which I find this stereotype to be prevalent are “Orange is the New Black” and “Glee”, which you mention in your post. In each show we see stereotype reversals based on the sex of the LGBTQ character presented. Another problem associated with gay stereotypes on television is these stereotypes categorized all gay people under one umbrella. This is bad not only because it makes harsh generalizes about all gay people, but it also causes people in the gay community to become infuriated with the way that society may perhaps perceive them. Making any kinds of generalizations about groups of people is a very bad thing to do. Whether it be a generalization about African Americans, Asians, Police Officers, UC Berkeley Professors or the LGBTQ community for instance, it is something that should be avoided. Grouping individuals based on a person’s basic observations only divides people. Overall, I think that gay characters should have less but more positive representations as opposed to the other way around. To me, it is better to showcase the positives instead of continually looking at the negatives. It’s simple, quality over quantity. The more positive representations of LGBTQ that are out there, the better people may tend to respond to the LGBTQ community as a whole.

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    1. Hi James!
      You bring up some really great points!
      I like that you talked (and showed) some of the stereotypes there are out there and asked about more. You made me think about a lot of things…

      I have a lot of questions…
      Like, how do I stereotype these specific characters? (If you’ve seen these shows)
      So, Scandal has a gay couple in it. They are what Miller would describe as “white and wealthy” and “affluent” and all those great things. BUT, they are older, (one especially older than the other) and involved with politics, which doesn’t really exclude them from this definition but doesn’t quite fit the “stereotype” we usually see which is younger.
      How would you classify these characters?

      The same thing with Grace and Frankie.
      This show has two men who are both wealthy and white, affluent and have tastes in paintings and all that stereotypical stuff but they are in their 70’s.
      Where do they fit in all this?
      Is this a new emerging stereotype?
      The gay affluent older man?

      Or perhaps this has been all along and I have just not noticed.

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  13. Thank you for that fantastic analysis of LGBTQ representation within television, James! I would like to start out by stating that, regarding your first question, I find the SLUMPY class to be a helpful, if slightly misguided, force in the support of gay rights. Specifically, I would go so far as to say that the “Socially Liberal, Urban-Minded Professionals” provide a platform from which LGBTQ rights have been able to gain mainstream acceptance and acclaim. Although the commodification of LGBTQ rights, in this case, is a side effect of the incorporation process, it does much to address the specific pain points that this community has striven to address over the years. If it were not for these “socially liberal, but economically conservative” young professionals wanting to “remain hip,” LGBTQ rights would be without a number of avid supporters in the legal and political battle of the last few years.

    With regards to television, LGBTQ characters tend to trend towards the flamboyant, allowing viewers to easily discern their underlying sexual preferences quickly and without too much thought. This continuous stereotype allows for the convenient commodification of LGBTQ culture and provides the viewer with a template for understanding and interacting with such a previously taboo and “edgy” topic. One such television example is Archer, in which Gillette plays the part of the flamboyant, LGBTQ comic relief.

    One clear problem with the stereotype of LGBTQ members is the consumer-centric portrayal that many characters share. In this post, you were keen to note that the statement “please, this is Mark Jacob’s new collection,” demonstrates financial stability, but also a consumerist mindset. In this way, much of LGBTQ culture centers upon fashion and other consumables, making little of the other, more important aspects of their shared identity.

    In terms of the current representation, I feel that LGBTQ members suffer far less than other minorities regarding their portrayal on screen. Although they are often portrayed as fragile and consumption-oriented, they are depicted as a “model minority” and for that reason are benefited by their portrayal on screen more than they are hurt by it. Although the tag of “model minority” can be damaging in and of itself, it is arguably less so than having a negative, violent portrayal like those of Latina Americans and African Americans. Considering this, I would argue that it is better for LGBTQ members to garner more television air time, as their portrayal typically aids their acceptance within the general Dominant culture.

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