I really wanted to write a column about prejudice, but it’s been done about a million times before, so I almost didn’t. Because, does the world really need yet another random internet person sharing their thoughts about how prejudice is super lame, man?
I don’t have a background in sociology or anything prejudice-related, so it’s totally just me spouting my own personal opinions. But, on the other hand, though tons of people are always writing and reading stuff about the subject, there is still plenty of prejudice in the world that shows no signs of going anywhere (and in some cases is getting worse). So, in light of that, I figure this is the sort of issue that should be talked about over and over and over until the problem is solved.
Probably until the human race dies out in a final media-led, hatred-filled, ignorant, nightmarish nuclear holocaust. When we’re all just a bunches of post-nuclear holocaust bones chilling out in the radiation-infused, scorched dirt, bleaching in the sun, we’ll all finally look around (with our empty sockets) and have the realization that deep down we’re all just the same as everyone else and that we were stupid to shut ourselves off in our tiny, judgmental little worlds. We’ll finally see that peace, love, and understanding were pretty alright concepts after all.
Sure, the garden variety, everyday stereotyping isn’t the blind-hate-and-ignorance kind of thing that is setting the human race on the road to oblivion, but it sure isn’t helping, is it? If we look at it rationally for two seconds, I hope we can all clearly see that prejudice is idiotic. Taking in a stranger at a glance and thinking that you have them figured out because of some readily obvious trait they possess is always moronic. Unless the readily obvious trait is that they’re a violent criminal or a fan of free jazz. In which case, judge away! You have my blessing.
But come on, let’s all agree right now that there is no way a human being with all his or her complexities and layers and thoughts and opinions and history and dreams and issues can be summed up just by, “Oh, that person is (female, gay, Muslim, overweight, elderly, poor, etc.), so they must be (traits commonly associated with this type of person). I totally have this person figured out!” You know that you yourself can’t be judged at a glance, so you must also know that no one else can be either.
I’m sure we’re all offenders in some way or another, in regards to some group or another, since the irritating reality is that, as human beings, we do have to generalize all the time. We can’t really take the time to stop and think hard about the hidden complexities of every single person we encounter though any given day, or ponder at length the people in the news and try analyze what elements of their past and their society have made them into the people that they have become. We just can’t do that. Our senses are constantly being bombarded with stimuli, so we need to generalize. We have lives to live, and sanity to maintain to the best of our ability.
It’s very sad that, because of this way humans have of generalizing in order to get through the day, we have a tendency to see someone who could be an awesome individual and assign a whole bunch of traits to them which may be nothing whatsoever to do with who they are. Stereotypes are nearly always negative, so when you judge at a glance you’re nearly always assigning traits to a person that they wouldn’t want assigned to them. Not cool, man. Not cool. Yes, I’m a lady, but no I don’t want you thinking upon looking at me that you have me figured out because you see I am a female. I’m good at math, I can’t stand shopping, and I hate romantic comedies (With exceptions. Roman Holiday and Princess Bride, for instance. Love.).
Also, when a person does exhibit stereotypical traits, that also doesn’t mean that you have them figured out; or that they justify the stereotype by being it. Let’s take me for instance. I’m a female, and yes, I hate sports, I think little kids are awesome, I love both salads and pints of ice cream, and I do crafts, but those things don’t define me. Those things are just a part of me. Want a white, middle-class, boring example, since that’s the only sort of example I am qualified to give? Here you go: In my current sphere as a stay-at-home mom of small children, I have been judged many times by other moms because I love knitting and stuff like that. I’ve been called one of “those moms”, and the assumption has been made that I aspire to be the next Martha Stewart. This is so laughably far from the truth that I can’t fathom how someone could think it of me. Also, the knowledge that people judge me in this way makes me pretty mad. So, I can’t imagine how horrible it must be to be a person who has to deal with prejudices that actually hinder their ability to live the life they want to live. If people hurt my feelings as regards my craftiness, I can just decide not be their pal anymore. I can’t imagine what it would be like if I were being denied a job or education based on a judgement, or if I couldn’t marry the person I loved because an entire subsection of the population was judging a subsection of my entire lifestyle, or if I couldn’t walk down the street without people looking at me suspiciously like I was about to mug them, or whatever.
So, my dear fellow social beings with a built-in tendency to generalize groups of people, what are we to do? Are we condemned to a life of narrow-minded stereotyping? Of course not. That’s idiotic. The prejudices you have are a result of your upbringing and your society, and for the most part they were formed when you were a kid. Most stuff that becomes ingrained in you as a kid is tough to get rid of, but it can certainly be done. And there’s nothing like practice to make you get better at a thing, whether that thing is juggling, perfecting your Tetris game, or not making imbecilic generalizations about a fellow human being.
Before I go on, let me clarify something. I’m not necessarily talking about you. Perhaps you think stereotyping people is awesome and that it’s something that everyone should do more often. If that is the case, then I am most certainly not talking to you, because I have stereotyped you as someone too scary and mean to approach, and a lost cause to boot. Or perhaps I’m not talking to you because you’ve already ascended to Ghandi-level love of humanity. If that’s the case, congrats! That’s awesome! Please be my friend, and teach me everything you know.
However, if you are just a regular ol’ person who falls into the typical patterns that regular ol’ people tend to fall into, you’re totally stereotyping in some way. And it’s usually doing nobody any good. Not you, not the person you’re turning into a caricature of the group you associate them with, and not the group as a whole. So, how about whenever we catch ourselves judging someone at a glance, we stop ourselves from being jerks and try to think something good about that person instead? After all, the only way to accurately judge a person is if you know everything about that person, so whenever you’re judging, you’re wrong. If you’re going to be wrong either way, why not err on the side of not being a jerk?
Also, how about reminding ourselves now and then that we don’t know everything? Our opinions aren’t absolute truths, and other people’s existences have nothing to do with how we think things should be. We don’t even know everything about what made our closest friends what they are, so how could we hope to know anything at all about a stranger?
And, if you have a kid or know a kid, be a good example. Help them to grow up to be people who don’t arbitrarily look down on, or even hate, people who are different from them. People aren’t born with prejudice. They’re born with the ability to see good in everyone. Let’s let the kiddos think ill of only the people in their lives who deserve to be thought ill of. Like people who stereotype, and hate arbitrarily.