The Freedom In Defying Stereotypes

via The Daily Caller  by Ginni Thomas

via The Daily Caller
by Ginni Thomas

One thing that is a constant theme for me, something that is always just beneath the surface of my thinking, one that is continually rising to the top, is the truth that people are not stereotypes. I am probably as guilty as anyone of stereotyping. Sometimes stereotyping is useful, but we must never forget that people are not stereotypes.  Stereotyping people into groups, and stereotyping groups themselves, can be an impediment to truth, real dialogue and effective communication and understanding.

Sometimes, we even allow ourselves to fit into stereotypes by not thinking or acting independently apart from the collective.

It seems to me that some stereotypes are more “popular” than others at different times in our societal history, and that our history has been a series of societal movements to break those stereotypes. Race, gender, sexual orientation and many other categories of people and groups that have been stereotyped have gone through a collective metamorphosis. Currently popular stereotypes are of “homophobes”, Christians, conservatives, the news media and, yes, liberals too.

There was a time in our history in which African Americans were stereotyped and, therefore, categorized, segmented and dismissed by society as a whole. People thought ignorantly that blacks were inferior. Brave black men and women, who were highly intelligent and motivated, dared to show this stereotype was not true. The broke the stereotype by becoming educated and succeeding, in spite of all the obstacles.

The problem with stereotyping on a personal level is that it creates barriers between people. On a societal level, when stereotyping takes hold in popular culture, it creates barriers between people and people groups and segments of society. Those barriers have political, cultural, social and economic consequences. They feed and perpetuate biases and prejudices. We buy into to those thought patterns of others and even ourselves sometimes without realizing it.

Stereotypes can be insidious, and calling them out subjects them to scrutiny and diffuses them.  When stereotypes form unseen and prevail, they can be destructive. When stereotyping becomes so prevalent as to rise to the level of national (or popular) consciousness and begin to receive scrutiny, they inevitably begin to break down. When we become conscious of the stereotypes that inform modern, popular culture, we begin to see people stand out who do not fit the pattern. These are the brave pioneers who dare to be different, who purpose not to be defined by the categories others make for them. In this way, they and others who recognize them begin to break the patterns and encourage others to have the same freedom

This can be along, slow process when stereotypes become ingrained. Stereotyping of African Americans continued long after slaves were freed and civil rights passed and vestiges continue to persist today. I am struck, however, by the notion that stereotypes evolve. They come and go. In a weird way, “popular” stereotypes become opportunities for real change once they are recognized. .

In present culture, one of those stereotypes is that minorities are all liberals. Minorities who are not liberal are treated as rebels, outcasts, traitors. They are shunned by the “group” that claims them and demands they step in line. This is stereotyping. Stereotyping does not account for the fact that people are individuals and are not defined by the common expectations others have for them.

I was led there by a post on Facebook of a piece on a black, female professor taking issue with current Democratic politics. (Available here if you are curious.) It seems there is a rising tide of educated, black conservatives who are breaking down the stereotype that the Democratic party is the minority party. I think this is a good and healthy change. Racism is an extreme example of stereotyping. The very idea that all people of color should affiliate with one political party is stereotyping; in fact it is racism – it perpetuates the idea that all people of one race are the same, think the same, act the same and can be defined in the same way.

Stereotyping can be a way of categorizing and dismissing, but exposing stereotypes can be a catalyst for societal change. As people visibly break the stereotypical molds, change occurs. Real change does not come from legislation or demagoguery; real change comes from people stepping out boldly and daring to be different. Real changes comes from people who defy stereotypes and show the way for others to unchain themselves and embrace the freedom to define themselves.

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