Monday, August 5, 2013

Life: What is Wrong with Stereotyping

"The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete, they make one story become the only story." ~ Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I have never had a clear position on stereotype. I have always thought there were pros and cons to stereotyping, so I have always struggled enunciating my thoughts on this matter. So when I saw this video, the topic became a bit clearer to me.

One of the issues I always had issues with was the removal of stereotypes. What I mean by this is that when we see a stereotype, our society has a tendency to remove the stereotype because stereotypes have a negative connotation. For example, the Native American mascots in US sports. A lot of effort is being put into removing any references to Native Americans.

I had always thought it odd that people found it offending that a team would use an ethnic group. There have been teams that used a region's name. Is it just as wrong to use animals then? Why do we not have the same issues with Notre Dame's Fighting Irish?

My problem with understanding the issue was that I was not stuck on the stereotype of the Native Americans portrayal of the mascots. What I failed to recognize was that there are other people who are influenced by what I thought were minor details. This I see now as a problem that should not be tolerated.

It is still odd to me the resolution to most of these problems is to remove such a stereotype. Even if the stereotype is false, this seems like a good opportunity to educate the truth. A platform to grow our social identity instead of hiding it away.

I also find it odd that we think stereotype is bad or wrong. It is a part of us. A part where we are trying to simplify the world around us and make associations... debugging the world through our faulty senses. We see patterns even when we know is false like several consecutive even numbers from dice rolling or roulette. A stereotype could become a bad influence when it becomes over-simplified.

Making judgments based on stereotypes are bad, but where do you make a distinction between a stereotype and a trend? Is it wrong to take more precautionary choices when you fear for your safety? Where is the line where it is ok to be defensive personal safety (a stranger on a street) and not ok (a stranger in an interview)?

At some point it is about content, but safety does not always afford the time to learn the content. Danger strikes before a person can recognize someone's intent. On a lesser degree, someone can also trick or commit fraud. Even if you wish to avoid certain stereotypes, how can you avoid certain correlated trends? What if you mistakenly thought it was a stereotype when it really was a trend?

Is it just as wrong to stereotype people who stereotype? Is it wrong to feel safer among people you look similar knowing that people are less likely to harm those who look the same? Is it wrong to feel more comfortable among people of the same religious faith? Is it wrong to joke about stereotypes that I belong to?

I think it is impossible to avoid fitting in a stereotype. At some level, I have to accept what people perceive of me. I can only "educate" others of who I am whether I prove or disprove certain stereotypes. On the other hand, I have to recognize that stereotyping may also be influencing my decisions. But how can I learn if they do not express themselves?