Stereotypes are convenient lenses in which people in our society view other people. Stereotypes are used to categorize people of all types of characteristics like race, gender, area of residence, profession, culture, and area of study. What makes stereotypes harmful is how they are taught within society.
People learn about stereotypes within the society they live in and through experiences with people of different characteristics. The problem is that if a society has a false depiction of people with a certain community, harmful stereotypes will be taught within the society. Another problem is if a person has only a few experiences with a person of a certain community, they might develop a false stereotype of that person that can also be harmful. This problem became very apparent when 9/11 happened and all people of the Muslim religion were stereotyped as terrorists.
Former President of the United States Barack Obama spoke,
“I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.”
False stereotypes are harmful not only to the community being stereotyped, but also to the people who use the stereotype. Harmful stereotypes can create a false image of the world and cause people of different communities to alienate themselves from one another. Stereotypes are double edge swords.
To make sure false stereotypes don’t become harmful, certain actions need to be taken. First off, be aware of the tendency of using false stereotypes instead of seeing how certain people with different characteristics really are. Get to know different communities the best way possible before making strong judgements on different communities.
Former South African President Nelson Mandela taught,
“We slaughter one another in our words and attitudes. We slaughter one another in the stereotypes and mistrust that linger in our heads, and the words of hate we spew from our lips.”