What’s the Problem with Stereotypes?
I used to let out an indignant spirit broken cry of anguish at stereotypes. I mean, how could anyone be so hurtful and misguided to someone else? Stereotypes were the problem and the cause of all the mistrust and hatred people felt throughout the world. With time however, my spirit has mended and I have come to understand a simple truth. Stereotypes are used by every conscious being to categorize and understand the world. That is it. Stereotypes are not hatred and violence. Hatred and violence are not caused by a basic classification of any given race, religion, creed or ethnicity. Hatred and violence are born of apathy.
The fact that a person or group of persons would take the time to find out enough about a given grouping to form a stereotype should be encouraging. How else would the mask of apathy fall off so that emotions long hidden could be exposed?
Hatred and violence occur as a base emotion in one person, or grouping and then stereotypes are utilized to increase their political agenda. It is when others start to believe in stereotypes they are handed by another, having never experienced any of the observations themselves, that we run into problems. Let me explain by example. Hitler (everyone’s favorite nemesis) had a hatred for the Jews of Austria and Germany. Early in his life Hitler had attempted to be an artist, however the art circles at that time were heavily populated with Jewish scholars who believed that young Hitler had no talent. This caused a young Hitler to feel a strong, and obsessive, hatred towards other Jewish people.
Hitler refined his hatred and created a propagandist stereotype of the Jewish peoples within his mind. It is from this stereotype that Hitler preached to the masses after many years of political wrangling, and it is this stereotype that Hitlers’s followers believed defined the base Jew.
So the question arises, if there were so many Jews in the area why would no one speak up against a stereotype that lead to such hatred. Indeed. Hitler based his stereotype on what was visibly true. All stereotypes have elements of truth about them. This is what we, as conscious beings, use to categorize as I mentioned earlier. However, by using base truths to engage his audience with a stereotype they already possessed then adding to their basic schema of the Jewish people his own propaganda. Hitler’s followers believed based on apathy, never stopping to examine if what he stated was true.
Where is the harm in stereotypes? Not from a stereotype, but from the apathy of an audience that does not seek to refine a stereotype for themselves. Would anyone argue that Germans like sauerkraut, that Africans have different sexual morals, or that Americans take everything to excess? Probably not. This is the basis of categories that we create in out brains. We can see this visually in both everyday life and statistics, but when we add a blatant falsehood onto these basic concepts; Germans are all Nazis, Africans started the AIDS epidemic , Americans are warmongers, then apply a bit of laziness. We have started a slippery slope of apathy that could lead to genocide.