“Hold your purse tight, he might be up to something.” This is a common stereotype held against African Americans or black men who bypass Caucasians in the streets. How often have people heard or said something similar? The truth is judging people, is a very natural and common human aspect. We are all brought up to put certain things and people into different categories. However, just because a person is brought up a certain way doesn´t exactly mean they are bound to keep those ideologies. Once each individual gets older, he or she has a right to interpret what is right from wrong. Values and morals can often tend to be beneficial or harmful. However when it comes to stereotypes it has been proved to be more harmful than beneficial (Katz and Brady 1993). Stereotypes often create prejudice, violence, discrimination and racist practices. Stereotyping is by far much easier than actually getting to know a certain individual. However, let’s imagine a world without harmful stereotypes, wouldn´t it be easier to learn from each other and thrive due to our differences? As wise beings, we should begin to pave the right path for the younger generation.
Stereotypes are based on ignorance. It is equivalent to a person purposely locking themselves in a room and refusing to acknowledge that their missing out on beneficial events occurring outside. As human beings, the less contact we have with a particular group the more negative feelings and fears arise. Therefore stereotypes are equivalent to missing opportunities. For example, it has recently been proven that in some parts of the United States people who applied for jobs with names that sounded African American such as “Shaniqwa” or “Jamal” were immediately declined. This proves how stereotypes can affect people’s lives. Without the ruthless prejudice and discrimination, a particular individual could go from struggling to maintain himself and his family, to having a decent job and being able to handle those difficulties. People with a lot of potential are constantly being rejected and underestimated. Clearly, without stereotypes we would be able to learn and thrive due to our differences. Our social, political and economic development would be beyond what we face nowadays.
Damaging psychological effects are a common negative aspect triggered by stereotypes. Imagine not being able to accept oneself due to endless fear. The 9/11 incident in America greatly emphasized the common stereotypical belief that Arabs, Middle Easterners and Muslims are inclined to violence and are the “kings” of terrorism. In 2009 the Tyra Banks Show interviewed several people regarding racial perceptions. There was a particular case in which an Arabic man born in Syria was disgusted and afraid to reveal anything about his roots and culture after 9/11. His behavior was unique because; he would refuse to leave the house if his mother wore a scarf, he would refer to himself as Italian or Spanish due to fear of discrimination and he wouldn´t dare get on any kind of public transportation if he saw a man wearing a turban. Those examples reveal symptoms of posttraumatic stress. According to the University of Toronto Scarborough, prejudice has a long lasting impact on people. The university stated, “People are more likely to be aggressive after they’ve faced prejudice in a given situation. They are more likely to exhibit a lack of self-control. They have trouble making good, rational decisions. And they are more likely to over-indulge on unhealthy foods.” Stereotypes tend to ignore the uniqueness and humanity of people. People who are being treated in a negative manner eventually develop feelings of inferiority. Therefore stereotypes can lead to emotional drama.
Many will argue there is no physical harm when it comes to stereotyping. That is wrong, physical damage is a huge concern. It occurs when people take these stereotypes for granted. As a result people tend to lose their sense of self-esteem. The common stereotype stating that women are supposed to be thin and look like supermodels, greatly affects the female population. Because of this, many women are subject to self-destructive eating disorders such as Bulimia. When people impose stereotypes on the community, they do not seem to realize they go hand in hand with critical health consequences.
Others believe that our brains are wired to stereotype others, therefore it is impossible to prevent it. However there is a difference between stereotyping to protect oneself and stereotyping that purposely involves racist practices, prejudice and aggression. For instance, during hurricane Katrina the less wealthy African American neighborhoods were badly hit and affected by the storm. Members of the New Orleans community helped to save certain victims but purposely left others stranded. Likewise one taxi driver used his boat to pull people out of the water, they were all white. He purposely left many African Americans to drown, he was quoted saying “A nigger is a nigger is a nigger.” Our brains might be wired to stereotype others, nevertheless those stereotypes aren´t wired to control our actions.
In order to overcome and get rid of harmful stereotypes three things should be done. Firstly we should all become aware of our inner thoughts and feelings. Secondly, we should reflect on how they affect our beliefs and actions. Thirdly, we should leave our comfort zones and expose ourselves to people of different races. It will not only make us more aware but it will also educate us and challenge negative stereotypes. Those actions would create a peaceful society in which all races are embraced, appreciated and valued.