Humans naturally have the inclination to categorize the world around us, whether we are determining shapes, sizes, colors, fruits or people. While it is a natural cognitive process, it becomes problematic when the classifications become stereotypes.
It is important to understand that humans are more complex than labels. At any given point in time, a plethora of adjectives can be applied to a person, and it is the overall sum of those labels that describes the person. Any one of those descriptors alone is worthless.
Think of the image that Buddhists bring to mind: peaceful, serene, calm. The stereotypes of Buddhists portray them as ethereal beings incapable of cruelty. However, the oppression and massacres of Muslims by Buddhists in Burma was, and is not widely emphasized.
In fact, when the situation is brought up in conversations, I’ve witnessed friends denying the possibility that Buddhists could be responsible for the deaths of more than 280 people, the cause of 250,000 fleeing their homes and the long-time persecution of the Rohingya Muslim population.
Not until I pull up a reliable news source, such as the Jan. 24, 2014 CBS article, do people believe it.
This is just one of many examples of blanket stereotyping in recent history.
The fear perpetuated by the media about African-American men in the ‘80s was very real. Even today, women clutch their purses and men check for their wallets when a black male passes by. It has become an ingrained response.
Newsweek’s infamous Sept. 24, 2012 “Muslim Rage” cover is another example of stereotyping.
Depicting red-faced, angry, bearded, shouting Arab men, Newsweek recycled the falsified image of
Muslim men that the media has been using for ages. This is not an informative news piece; it is an article which perpetuates mistrust, fear and hatred of whole groups of people: Arabs, Muslims, anyone who is brown and “looks Muslim,” for that matter, by repeatedly using these images.
This makes it extremely frustrating to listen to the news and hear words like “Islamist,” “jihadi,” “terrorist” and “Muslims,” used interchangeably. But over time, both Americans and the world at large have begun to string these words together and think of them as synonyms. Even if we know better, we begin to adopt these labels and stereotypes.
The time has come to address hatred for what it truly is, in all forms.
Horrendous acts committed are acts by individual people. These acts are not justified under any religion or moral code, so it does not make sense to apply labels to them. Stereotypes applied to individuals and groups of people are inaccurate and allow for huge misperceptions and miscommunications between humanity.
As one would never presume that a blonde they’ve met is a complete ditz based off of the blonde jokes they’ve heard, it is likewise equally ridiculous to determine the characters of complete strangers – or entire populations for that matter – based off of stereotypes. We must take care to think actively, because when prejudices based off of stereotypes are addressed logically, one realizes that it is not fair to judge millions of people based off generalizations.
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