You might be getting sick of me using dictionary definitions, but I’m finding them a good jumping off point. So. The definition of stereotype:
to believe unfairly that all people or things with a particular characteristic are the same
(noun) Sociology. a simplified and standardized conception or image invested with special meaning and held in common by members of a group
(verb) to make a stereotype of; to characterize or regard as a stereotype
What’s interesting about these definitions is my realization that we use these ALL. THE. TIME. whether we mean to or not. We are creatures of habit, and othering whole groups based on stereotypes is as common as breathing. I mean, think of all the things that fall into -isms that we say to each other, on the media, etc.:
“Oh, I’m a White Witch! I don’t do those things because that’s dark magick, and I’m not a Black Witch!”
“Those damn Christians! All they want to do is convert me!”
“The Qu’ran says [insert verse here], so all Muslims have to believe in violence!”
“Hahaha! Did you see that people of Wal-Mart meme?”
“Damn, she must be hormonal today.”
“Oh, he’s just a guy.”
I’m completely guilty of saying similar stuff, even now. It’s work to try and not to, and I don’t always get it perfect. It’s easy to fall into these patterns of using stereotypes to describe people. What really puts the wrench in the works is that some stereotypes are wrapped up in identity. Some people will embrace stereotypes because it’s part of who they are. Some people will embrace them to try and fit in. Some people want to break stereotypes with jackhammers.
I think the problems arise when people assume that groups are monoliths and assume that the stereotype applies to everyone in a particular group equally. I try to remind myself of this when dealing with people because I find that even if someone lives up to a perceived stereotype, they will always do something to surprise me (whether good or bad). I want to assume the best, although, it does get difficult because I’m human and I’ve been trained to make monolithic assumptions. I’m a work in progress, and hopefully I’ve tried my best, even when I’ve been angry, to find the road to greatest compassion.
This is part of a series of writings on social justice for 30 days. You’re welcome to join me.