Generalizations harm individuals, cause violence
On February 28, the Instagram account Humans of New York posted a story of a young man of African American descent who recounted a story from his childhood. While the narrative begins on a high note, of the man recalling a Friday tradition of KFC with mom and his siblings, he continues to describe a scene of a stranger offering to buy the kids a plentiful dinner.
He says looking back, he understands the woman’s kind intentions but realizes his family was racially profiled, as he said the woman assumed they were a struggling, poor family, when in reality, they were stable, secure and happy.
Even today, with many people seeing prejudice as a thing of the past, stereotyping motivates violent, unnecessary actions against those who commit no wrong. Today with increasing panic over the coronavirus, various prejudice-fueled attacks on Asian people have occurred.
While at a New York subway station, Feb. 2, witnesses claim that an East Asian woman wearing a face mask was called a “diseased b***h” by a man who proceeded to hit her. Afterward, a witness videoed the women pursuing her attacker before being attacked again.
According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, a stereotype is defined as “a set idea that people have about what someone or something is like, especially an idea that is wrong.”
Not necessarily negative, brains use stereotypes as a way to survive and rapidly process the world around us. For example, if you saw a donut, you would assume that it could be eaten. Unfortunately, we have expanded these generalizations to include gender, race, class and other factors.
Stereotypes surrounding race, gender, political opinion and social identification often arise as the root cause of prejudice. Seen in the civil rights movement of the ‘50s and ‘60s, the #MeToo movement and current presidential elections, generalizing people groups spark conflict amidst controversy.
Although some argue that stereotypes, such as those which influence age requirements for driving and voting, are necessary to maintain collective order, this universal mindset removes the opportunity to value individuals apart from their “label”.
While utilizing the concept of age as a determining factor for maturity aids general understanding, applying this thinking to personal beliefs subtracts from full exposure to all peoples’ views.
Reinforced by personal communities or skewed perceptions of people, stereotypes encourage humans to view others through a lens that is obstructed by preconceived notions of how they should act or think.
Often people subconsciously associate others with negative connotations due to both experience, education and cultural influence; we adopt generalizations and are unaware of their control.
In order to combat negative generalizations, it remains important to recognize a person’s own stereotyping and how that negatively impacts their view of the world. Making an effort to ask questions and stay open to different people and new experiences helps resist detrimental assumptions and increases personal and communal growth.
Due to the influx of coronavirus cases and fear-mongering tactics used by the media, Clinical Director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital Dr. Paul Sax wrote an article discussing some frequently asked questions and his concerns surrounding the coronavirus.
Take some time while going throughout your day to consciously observe the generalizations you make. Examine how your assumptions impact your actions in relation to others. Share your observations in the comments below!
For another editorial, read EDITORIAL: Firearm restrictions hinder protection against potential threats.
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