Main Entry: 2stereotype
1: a plate cast from a printing surface
2: something conforming to a fixed or general pattern ; especially : a standardized mental picture that is held in common by members of a group and that represents an oversimplified opinion, prejudiced attitude, or uncritical judgment
Ok, so clearly we are talking about the second definition here. Almost any aspect of a person can form a stereotype. This includes race, gender, nationality, sexual preference, age, income, occupation, style, musical taste, etc. When discussing stereotypes, the biggest problem I have is that we have come to a point where we as a society have said, more or less, that we should not stereotype people, without taking the time to discuss where the stereotypes come from or why they exist in the first place.
Lets start with something almost anyone can relate to. Age. Can you remember back to when you were a teenager? Anywhere typically from the time you were allowed to start going places on your own (even though your parents would have to drop you off and pick you up) until sometime in college… You would go to the mall with your friends, or to the movies, and if there was no adult with you, people would just treat you differently. Hesitantly. In stores, it seemed eyes were always on you, and you were always asked if you needed help, but not in a nice way… More in a “I just want to let you know I’ve seen you” type of way. At the time, this infuriated me to no end. Clearly they thought I was going to steal something just because I was a teenager. I had never stolen anything in my life, and had no intention of ever stealing anything. I was being stereotyped.
What I failed to realize at the time, is that they were stereotyping me for a reason. Take a look at the first sentence of the definition above… “conforming to a fixed or general pattern”. While I may not have been the type of person who would steal something from the store, I looked and acted like the type of person who had stolen in the past. My point is, while many people don’t fit into stereotypes, they exist because society has noted and sorted people who fit into general patterns of behavior.
Now, I believe strongly in “not judging a book by its cover.” Each human being on this planet has the ability to be completely unique and to make their own decisions. Each of us face hundreds, if not thousands of decisions (however big or small) that help to shape us each and every day. The problem is that often times, we choose to fit neatly into the stereotypes the world has set aside for us. As long as we keep doing this, and allow other people to keep doing this, it will never change.
Let me take this a step further, without straying too far from the original example. I used to work for a “big box” consumer electronic retailer for a few years back in college. This is the type of store where the “Security Guard” stands at a part of the store watching a monitor of multiple cameras throughout the store, in order to prevent theft. I was standing and talking with one of the security guards one day when a young, black man walked in. He had baggy jeans and nice sneakers and a loose-fitting, plain white t-shirt. To my dismay, the security guard immediately panned to him and stayed on him, watching from different angles for 10 minutes straight. I continued my conversation with the security guard but couldn’t help but be slightly put-off by the fact that he was watching this guy so intently while there were over 100 people in the store. Just as I was about to say something, I saw the security guard begin to zoom in. The young man had a CD case in his hand, and was cutting the sticker-edge with a small knife. He then popped the CD off of the back-plate, slid it through the slit, and put it in his pocket! Unbelievable! I was about to rip my buddy a new one for stereotyping, when this kid had come in and fallen perfectly into the stereotype. Not only did he fall into it, but he perpetuated it. My anger turned immediately toward the thief for almost making me look like a fool. If you are a young, educated African American, this should infuriate you even more. These are the types of people who are holding our society back from making progress and accepting everyone despite our differences.
This is just an example, and that this goes for all types of people and all stereotypes. The point is, judging people without knowing them is wrong. However, as long as we continue to act in ways that fit into the stereotypes that society has created for us (and really, that we have created for OURSELVES), they will never disappear, and we can’t expect people not to believe them. We have to wake up and realize that most stereotypes exist because at least to a degree, at some time, they are true. It hurts to hear, and it may not be true for YOU, but it is something we all need to be aware of and nothing will change until we admit it to ourselves and take the necessary steps toward progress.
If you are often falsely stereotyped, it is your job to change the world’s point of reference one person at a time, starting with yourself. Don’t fall into negative stereotypes and don’t allow friends to perpetuate negative stereotypes. Stop blaming society and the people doing the stereotyping. It is not their fault that they are ignorant. It is only natural for a person to use a frame of reference they are familiar with when they are viewing the world. It is our job, in our generation, to change the frame of reference and to stop expecting it to happen on it’s own.