Debunking Stereotypes, Embracing Individuality

Stereotypes are one of the things we always think to say are not good or should be avoided. We can, however, not help but use these same stereotypes we disagree with to make sense of the world we live in.

Why? Because we simply tend to think that they are true. Can we fully rely on stereotypes to define and refine the world and those around us? And why is it that we think that stereotypes are true?

Whether it be the oversimplified generalisations to describe a group of people by the types of foods eaten, such as frogs, snails, rats and snakes, for example, or cleanliness, body odour, intelligence and many other things in the form of a joke or other; we assemble ideas, thoughts and notions of a people in a country and store them in a part of our brain that collects the information as accurate pieces of reliable data.

Often, this information is repeated throughout our upbringing, by family members, peers and the media, so much so that it becomes reliable information – a believable and accepted truth. Whenever the need arises and the time comes for us to deal with people, our brain fetches the stored information and hands it to us. The on this, we base our understanding of the person in front of us aided by the preconceived ideas.

Stereotypes can be negative or positive, but it should not mean that the positive stereotypes have to be accepted. The only thing that stereotypes do is group people together without exploring each of their individualities, and therefore places limits on the uniqueness of each person.

What usually happens once the stereotypes are repeated, accepted and saved as being the perfect definition, we stop questioning their accuracy. These cognitive shortcuts that our brain makes becomes our go-to tool for any type of analysis.

It made me realise that it was all a game that our brain plays to ease the incoming information – quickly labelling and categorising the previously stored information. I can understand that it is important to have a broad understanding of our world and that maybe what our brain does is not that bad.

On the contrary, however, it is very bad. This is because what this then becomes is what psychologists have called social conditioning; the application of the stereotypes then results in bias. When applied to the person facing us, the information our brain has fetched from the previously gathered stack of data becomes inaccurate; it may or may not apply to this specific person.

I think it is unfortunate that we sometimes unknowingly apply this, as it results in a level of unfairness in our treatment, service and overall dealings with others. Imagine we believe that a person of a certain colour, and/or ethnic background, tends to have more money or are harder workers than other; we then give them better treatment in the belief that they will tip more or treat us better. Is this not a biased decision and one not necessarily based on the merit of the actual person in question?

This thinking will only favour a certain type of person and, in turn, hurt those not belonging to this ‘selected’ group. Sometimes, it may be the case that stereotypes are not far from the truth. But it’s far more likely that people who have always heard that the group they belong to is hard working will naturally work harder because it is expected of them by society – they have grown up hearing this about themselves. On the contrary, it is also true and very possible that, if one group is deemed to be worthless, then people belonging to that group may end up doing nothing of value.

Our world has somehow kept moving in this biased direction, with certain stereotypes that have kept it unbalanced. This includes thinking that women tend to require maternity leave, therefore, hiring women will be more costly in the long term – something that has left many women unemployed, or with very low wages, compared to their male counterparts.

It is, and should be, our personal duty not to allow these stereotypes to guide our relationships – both professional and personal. It is also our duty, as a group, to understand the pressure that certain stereotypes create and veer away from them. How about allowing and accepting one another’s space to reflect and express our individualities?

By Christine Yohannes
Christine Yohannes writes about social change, performs at public events and conducts poetry workshops in schools. She has established a monthly event entitled “poetic saturdays” - a platform created to allow everyone the freedom of self-expression through art. She can be contacted at poeticsaturdays@gmail.Com

Published on Sep 28,2016 [ Vol 17 ,No 856]



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