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July 5, 2013 at 8:00 AMComments: 1 Faves: 0

The Truth Behind Stereotypes

By Claire Franklin More Blogs by This Author

Probably

My friend believes that men in large groups, say five or more, look like jerks. And because they look that way, she tends to believe they also behave like jerks. In a restaurant, bar, or other public place, she will snub such a group simply because she has an idea formed in her mind of what these men “probably” act like.

Here is a classic example of stereotyping at its very worst, in which perfectly innocent people are labeled based on their appearances. Even worse, it’s not one or two people, but an entire group, and for no reason other than that they are together. I hate pointing a finger at my friend for her behavior, especially because she’s generally an open-minded person, but she is guilty in this instance.

However, she certainly isn't the only culprit when it comes to blatant stereotyping. This activity seems to be so common that most people don’t even realize when they’re doing it. In other words, these automatic thoughts are embedded in many peoples’ heads and spring to life with little or no effort.

As long as we’re spreading blame, I may as well claim my share, because I am far from innocent. For instance, I know a female server who works in a small diner near my house. She is younger than I am, and she’s waited on me a number of times. Perhaps because of her age, or the multiple piercings she has in her eyebrows, on her nose, and in her ears, I stereotyped her as a relatively simple girl who couldn’t possibly have intellectual interests.

Boy, was I wrong.

Realistically

I had the opportunity to sit down and speak with this waitress during one of her breaks when I happened to be in the restaurant. Somehow, we began talking about books, and I quickly learned she has read more than I have. Not only that, but we were also able to discuss the subject of writing, which is my second-favorite pastime after reading. She floored me when she said, “I hate reading a book when the author hands everything to you. I want to be able to figure some things out for myself. Instead of saying, ‘Jane was a selfish woman,’ the author should provide situations in which Jane acts selfishly so I can witness this behavior and shape the character in my head.”

I don’t need to go into further detail with this conversation; suffice it to say that I learned a lot about this girl and, as I left the restaurant, I felt ignorant and small-minded for my earlier thoughts. Just because she takes orders and doles out plates of food doesn’t mean she’s stupid. Rather, I’m the stupid one for judging this girl based solely on her appearance.

Since that conversation, and a subsequent opportunity to tell my friend that not all men in a group automatically deserve the label “jerk,” I’m trying to be less judgmental. I don’t want to stereotype people anymore, because this keeps me from seeing them for who they really are. Appearances don’t matter, because a man with a green Mohawk and tattooed face might just be more sensitive and better educated than the sweetest and smartest person I know. And rather than miss the opportunity to converse with somebody like this, I’d like to open myself up and be receptive to whatever he has to say. The same goes for the waitress at the neighborhood diner… whether she’s a single mother with a GED or a successful graduate of Yale, I’ll let the words from her mouth do the talking rather than the thoughts in my head.

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1 Comment

  • It's great to see this epiphany making such a big impact on your life and writing! It's better to come to the unfortunate realization that you're stereotyping than to live your life looking down at people because of their employment/appearance/education/etc.

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