‘Ahhh, This Porridge is Just White’: The Goldilocks Principle and Race

Minah Chapell | Contributor

Within the pages of the favorite childhood story “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” Goldilocks’ walk through the forest turns into a search for moderation. She stumbles upon porridge too hot, too cold, and finally just right. The bed she comes to rest on is the perfect mixture between the firmness of Papa bear’s and the softness of Mama bear’s. In each case, two extremes are juxtaposed to eventually reveal what Goldilocks sees as the best option, a happy medium between the two. We can call this the “Goldilocks Principle,” which states that the quality of a given item is a spectrum with two extremes and an area of moderation in between. The Goldilocks Principle applies to race and racial stereotypes as well, with whiteness as the standard from which other demographic groups deviate, often contributing to their being viewed as one end of an extreme.

Research suggests that even biologically, humans have a natural inclination towards moderate conditions. Today, this innate preference has transformed to further social disparities when whiteness is viewed as the accepted and ideal middle ground. The Goldilocks Principle plays an interesting role in creating stereotypes that we have come to assign to Asian communities, or “the model minority”, versus stereotypes we associate with the black community. For examples, Asian Americans are generalized as diligent, while Black-Americans are stereotyped as indolent. Both of these attributes are polar opposites on the spectrum of work ethic. White Americans, on the other hand, are categorized neither as hardworking nor lazy. This polarization seems to be the basis on which many stereotypes lie: Asian Americans as academically gifted, with Asian women viewed as overly feminine or submissive; Blacks are portrayed as having athletic dominance, and Black women are painted as “manly.”

White Americans are often absolved of stereotypical dichotomies, which places them in this gray area of moderation – an area we as humans are naturally inclined to achieve. We have socially constructed whiteness to be the standard by which humanity is measured. It is the societal default, and deviation from this standard is noticeably outside of the “norm.” These deviations, of course, are as artificial as they are unavoidable: By nature of being not being white, a person of color automatically exists outside the generally accepted standard and is viewed in often unwarranted superlative terms, whether positively or negatively.

The notion that whiteness equates to the norm is so deeply ingrained into our society that it is unnoticeable. It manifests itself in seemingly benign ways that have deeply harmful effects on the cultural treatment and conception of groups who do not fit the standard. That customizable character in the new game you just bought? Chances are it was white before alterations. When we read novels or watch cartoons (even Japanese ones!), we envision characters as white individuals unless the author states otherwise. The conception of people of color inhabiting extreme ends of a spectrum contribute to caricaturization, which is in itself dehumanizing, since none of these exaggerated and flattened personages can be representative of real people.

The Goldilocks Principle has been applied to biological as well as sociological phenomena, and it does not have to describe a harmful concept. However, the idea that whiteness must be the standard by which all people are measured is not only toxic and reductive, but automatically excludes anyone who is not white from any sort of realistic or fair societal reception.  The application of the Goldilocks Principle onto race reveals how anyone who does not fall neatly on the center of the central ground of whiteness is automatically an extreme and an “other,” and therefore, inherently abnormal.