A college campus is often associated with political correctness and liberalism. We are told that prejudging people based on their ethnicity, gender, socio-economic class or other categories is immoral, narrow-minded and ignorant. When you need help with a math problem, is it your first instinct to go to the sorority girl or the football player for help? Probably not, even though many sorority girls and football players are quite capable in math. You’ll go to the kid that’s always with a calculator and raises his hand in class. Does that make you immoral, narrow-minded and ignorant? Absolutely not. With the limited amount of time we have and the immense number of people there are, stereotyping is an efficient way to categorize crowds of people. Ideally, it would be nice to get to know everyone as individuals, but that’s just not feasible.
We resort to stereotypes because it’s the next best thing. You sort of know every person based on their race or occupation or the kind of clothes they wear by the preconceived notions that are thrown at us by the media and what we acknowledge as the generalized truth. It might sound awful at first glance, but there’s some merit to such generalizations. Isn’t it better to sort of know a person than to not know them at all?
Stereotypes are a bit of an equalizer. No matter who you are, everyone is always being generalized, in both negative and positive ways. It’s something everyone in the entire world has in common. Akin to most things in life, it does impact some more harmfully than others, which is a shame but inevitable due to our hierarchal nature. Additionally, stereotyping allows us to face issues as opposed to ignoring them. If a certain demographic group maintains a dire stereotype, there evidently is some truth to it that needs to be addressed. Stereotypes can be a call to action. Furthermore, they are often funny and entertaining and jokes tend to decrease the worth of a topic. The more of a joke a stereotype is, the more clich it becomes, and we all get bored with clichs eventually. That boredom makes us look for originality and give credit to people that defy the stereotypes that are placed on them. Alternatively, there are also a lot of positive stereotypes that encourage people to fit into them and that, in turn, work constructively for that person. You can hardly call that immoral.
Conversely, discriminating against people based on their demographic group is all of those adjectives and then some. If an employer doesn’t hire someone because their name is DeAndre or Mohammed, that is clearly racist. However, if DeAndre didn’t get the job because he arrived to the job interview dressed as a stereotypical black man, DeAndre’s deficiency of sense is at fault. When people fit many of the stereotypes their demographic group is linked with, their lack of individuality deserves the stereotyping they are bound to receive from others. For instance, if you dress like a stereotypical hippie, act like a hippie and talk like one, people will call you a hippie. Criticize it all you want, but you made it that much easier for people to stereotype you. Stereotyping isn’t as evil as it’s portrayed to be. As long as it doesn’t close your mind to other dimensions and possibilities, it’s a useful organizational tool.
And of course, there are always those people who can’t look past stereotypes, but don’t fret those people aren’t ever worth your breath complaining about.
Kernogitski is a member of
the class of 2013.