Stereotypes are like myths. We use them to try to understand what we don’t, but the myth or stereotype seems to help us. The stereotype or myth is simple and easy. It is easy to accept or believe instead of wading in the murky waters of fear and human depravity.
The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie – deliberate, contrived and dishonest – but the myth – persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. – JFK
Like the myth, stereotypes are persistent, persuasive and unrealistic. Little effort is put into knowing people because we heard about their kind, even though we or the people who told us about them have most likely never interacted with them. I have heard people say things about my race only to have them later admit that I was the first person of my race that they ever befriended. I am amazed how they could open their mouths and utter things to me about my race knowing their own ignorance. My encounter with those individuals usually takes the following course. “You’ve never befriended a person of color yet you claim that we are all x.” The person nods in affirmation. I say, “I’ve heard stereotypes about people who come from your background. Would I be correct in assuming you are all ignorant and in-bred?” Response, “well no that would be stupid.” My response, “now you understand why I am looking at you the way I am because what you just said to me was stupid and offensive.” These people are not uneducated, most have college degrees. Yet things flow from their lips that would make any fool dumbfounded.
Ignorance is not knowing. Once a person has been enlightened and continue to persist in repeating stereotypes, then I categorize that person as a stupid fool because it is a choice to ignore truth and hold on to the stereotype. A friend said that I don’t suffer fools. However, I will be patient with an ignorant person that sincerely doesn’t know any better and is trying to better themselves. I don’t argue with a fool – that is a waste because they have chosen their state. They choose to take a stereotype and turn it into prejudice or racism or worse hatred. A stereotype makes it easy to dislike a person different from you and blame them for societal ills instead of analyzing the underbelly. The stereotype is the opium that makes humans depraved enough to harm other humans.
I read the news and I fear that we have regressed. The divisiveness is not merely political tiffs. It has become depraved. People throw around words like socialism, real Americans, bourgeois, elitism, city slicker, country bumpkin, heartland, concrete jungle, blue blood, blue collar, “those people.” I naively thought as a child that what my parents generation experienced in the 50s and 60s would never be repeated. Now immigrants are being used as the scapegoat to cure our problems. If we just rid ourselves of immigrants, things would be better – so they say. With exception of the native Americans and slaves, this country was started as a nation of immigrants. It is what makes us unique, different and envied by other nations. This miss-mash of cultures and people, even with all of our faults, makes us great. The confluence of the salad bowl/melting pot, is a sweet aroma when in spite of our differences we stand united – hence the United States of America. Yet, with the advancement in technology, it seems like Americans are regressing back to us versus them – we are turning on each other. In my first and second blogs posted, I addressed the “real American” epidemic we are facing (see Nov 18-19, 2010 blog posting). Separate but equal did not work then nor does it work in the political arena of “real Americans” versus the rest of the citizens of this country. A great nation will crumble as we slowly bite and devour each other along political, racial and economic lines. Have we learned nothing from history and the down fall of other once great nations?!
The past may not repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme. – Mark Twain
What history teaches is that men have never learned anything from it. – Hegel
As an aunt, I did all I could to shield my nieces and nephews innocence from racism. However, I knew exactly when my nephews first experienced racism. They were 7 and 6 and I was in law school. The church my sister and parents attended was multi-cultural, so they were used to socializing and befriending kids from different ethnicities and races. On the block they lived, there were Hispanics, whites and blacks. It wasn’t without tension but the kids managed to avoid the craziness the adults at times jumped into.
I came home for a weekend and all of a sudden, my nephew says your friend x is white and y is Hispanic. He never referred to my friends by their race or ethnicity and it was something he needed to point out. Something happened to make this an issue. I asked why he said that and what made him notice their color. He mentioned that while playing outside with kids on the block something happened – I can’t recall exactly it may have been as simple as a turn for bat. They couldn’t resolve it so the game was canceled but not without two children using the “n” word in reference to my nephew, his brother and our family. It hurt my nephew because the two boys (one white and Hispanic) had eaten at our house and played in our yard. My nephew said, “ I don’t like white people and Hispanics anymore.” I was livid. At church, his Sunday school teacher and some friends were Hispanics. Were the things people say about Hispanics true for them as well? He said no. For his white friends at church, were the stereotypes true for them? Again he said no. Likewise, I reminded him that people say stuff about our culture all the time but that is not true for every one of our race. I knew that had I not intervened, he would have made the terrible mistake of indicting a race of people due to the actions of two kids who were repeating the racism they heard at home and they knew it was meant to be offensive. I did not want my nephew to harbor hate in his heart. Hate is like an incurable cancer that kills all the good cells and slowly decimates life around it.
Bias and stereotypes must be checked, because unchecked they lead to prejudice, racism and hatred. Racism and hatred is a choice. Forgiveness and a willingness to be informed is key. You forgive the person the spews forth racism and hatred not for the person that harmed you, but for your sake. To not forgive requires the use of mental energy that eats away at the core of who I am. I refuse to give that power to another person who seeks to glorify the depravity of humanity. I forgive a person’s bigotry, racism and hatred for myself. That I don’t become the thing I abhor. There are times that I get angry, but it must be checked. I have learned to walk away from certain people because the things they say I shouldn’t dignify with a response. In time, they will be found out for what they really are.
Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. – Friedrich Nietzsche
Prejudice, racism and hatred is learned. What are our children learning from our actions, interactions and dealings with each other and other races?