“Don’t live up to your stereotypes.” -Sherman Alexie

Cultural stereotypes are everywhere. Normally they are used for entertainment purposes. I mean really, who hasn’t felt entertained by characters such as Madea, Jack McFarland, Nanny Fine, and Blanch Devereaux. Each of these characters represent a stereotype from their respective minority: A southern black matriarch, a gay man, a working class Jewish woman, and a white southern woman.

Stereotyping is a way for our brain to quickly categorize people we first meet. Our brains are always examining information so they can quickly make conclusions about its environment. A stereotype is a collection of perceived ideas about a group of people.

Stereotyping does have some validity. We as a society only create stereotypes for groups of people because that said group of people share general qualities. This isn’t to say all members of the same race, country, region, or any other group is exactly the same. However, the fact that a group of people share similarities lends to the fact that certain characteristics within a group of people may occur more often, therefore creating a stereotype.

Stereotyping is actually a defense mechanism our brain uses to protects itself. Again, it constantly interprets the new data it collects by using and comparing it with old data. Stereotyping is natural.

As an example, examine the southern stereotype. Most people associate southerners with slow accents, sweet tea, and unhealthy fatty diets. We understand that not all southerners are unhealthy-sweet-tea-drinkin’-slow-speakin’ idiots. However, enough people in the American South engage in this behavior that you can deduce a pattern. An average person in the South may actually be involved in more than one of these activities. I fit in a few of those categories.

However, one should never let stereotypes make your final decision on whether or not you would like to get to know someone better. One conversation cannot adequately convey everything you need to know about that person. Get to know a person before you make a final judgement about them.

Cultural stereotypes can also be reversed. There are some folks out there that become upset when a person does not act in a way that fits their preconceived notion of  what  that person’s race, religion or group is like.

I started to think about stereotyping and how society relies on it in many different ways. Often we find ourselves pleasantly surprised when someone doesn’t act the way we expect them to.

However, our society also has a problem with people not living their cultural stereotype either. Many times one will hear that a person isn’t “acting” their race/ethnicity. When one argues that a person is “acting” outside of a perceived stereotype they are affirming that the individual is under false pretenses.

Often this could not be farther from the truth.

An example that comes to mind is when a person of a certain race does not behave in a stereotypical fashion.

I watch a Youtuber who is a black male. However, he loves K-Pop and things of the Korean culture. Often he is told by his black friends he is forsaking his culture and he needs to start  “acting” black. Obviously this is offensive to him and it should be.

When one says you need to “act” more black or to “act” a certain way, he/she is essentialy imply that the other person’s behavior is a sham. It isn’t really who they are or what their true interests align with.

So what if a non-Asian person enjoys anime?  Just because he/she enjoys it doesn’t mean they are actively denying their own culture. Their interest is simply in something outside of their culture.

Cultures and stereotypes should not be exclusive to just one set of people. If one enjoys different cultures and decides to take advantage of it, that is their business. It’s great that they are expanding their horizons.

If you believe that a person should only “act” or behave in his/her own stereotype, you are part of the problem.

No one group has a lock on certain characteristics. Everyone is different.

You should never let your preconceived notions of a group of people be the final judgement you make on an individual person. One should always attempt to better understand a person on an individual level.

If we let our constructed stereotypes keep being the factor that determines how we interact with different types of people we may never truly be comfortable around people who aren’t like us.

In fact, the more people you meet that combat your preconceived thoughts about certain types of people the more you are widening your understanding of that person’s stereotype. Essentially, you are recreating that stereotype from the new information your brain has collected and possibly have made a new friend.

This in itself is humbling.

 

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