Smashing Stereotypes

Stereotyping may be unavoidable for humans but it can be controlled by a clear conscience.

Emmy Walker, Columnist

I was walking through the local Wal-Mart on Monday when I came to a realization. This store was in Mesa, and appeared to be full of your typical “people of Wal-Mart.” There was a child screaming and a mother coldly telling him to shut up. In the makeup section, the models in the advertisement picture were colored with lipstick and eyeshadow that someone had opened and slathered on. Honestly, I was beginning to feel this frustration with Wal-Mart, and I know I’m not the only one. Just Google “people of Wal-Mart” and you will see pages and pages of people making fun of Wal-Mart customers who may be overweight or dressed a certain way. We stereotype these people, and yet we don’t even know who they are. My realization was that I am guilty of stereotyping, even if I don’t even realize it.

We stereotype people, and are stereotyped, every single day. Boys are good at sports, girls love makeup, white people have no rhythm, blondes are dumb, red-heads have anger issues, and the list goes on. What I don’t understand is why we would place people in this box of who we think they are, when in reality we have no idea who they really are. We place these labels on people while at the same time they are placing labels on us. Yes, I do love Starbucks and sweatpants, but does that make me your stereotypical white girl? Yes, I am a Christian. No, I don’t hate people who mess up, because I mess up too. And I have heard so many blonde jokes in my life that I don’t even get offended anymore.

What bothers me the most about stereotypes is that they categorize humans. We tend to place people in categories of either jock, nerd, girly girl, and more. I love doing hair and makeup, but that doesn’t automatically put me in the girly girl category. I also love sports, especially football. Maybe you are extremely intelligent, but does that make you a nerd? We can’t make up our minds about a person, because they are so much more than what you are seeing.

It’s the human instinct to stereotype. We can’t understand everything about everybody, so we try to sort out who they are by logically assuming we know them. We hardly ever realize that we are doing it, because it is human nature. According to Psychology Today, “many children have definite and entrenched stereotypes about blacks, women, and other social groups by the age of five years old.” This is referred to as implicit stereotyping. This type of stereotyping happens outside of our control, whereas explicit stereotyping occurs deliberately. Our views of people were being shaped when we were younger, and some stick with us whether we realize it or not. If we grew up thinking the elderly were frail, weak, and helpless, we may have residual thoughts of this even when we grow up. We would never admit it, but the thoughts are still there.

I wish we didn’t stereotype, because it keeps us from getting to know people who might actually be amazing. The issue is, we are all human, and we all stereotype even when we don’t realize we are doing it. I know that people are worth more than their stereotypes, so why do I automatically label a person I don’t even know?

There isn’t a way to stop stereotyping, but I believe that we can reduce it. We can stop labelling strangers. We can start realizing that everyone has a story, one that you may never know about. Finally, we need to become aware of implicit stereotypes because these are the ones that aren’t noticed.