In social psychology, stereotyping means making over-generalized assumptions about a particular category of people, assuming every individual in that group is alike. Basically, by stereotyping we infer that a person has a whole range of characteristics that we assume all members of that group have.
It is nothing more than a preconceived notion and many stereotypes are racist, sexist, or homophobic. And we’re all both victims of it and guilty of it at the same time.
As a gay man, I’ve been the victim of stereotyping on more than one occasion, as a great home designer, floral designer and quite the fashionista. I am none of those. We all do not hang curtains or cut hair because we’re gay. We are all not fashionistos because we’re gay. Of course, there are also gay hunters, plumbers, professional athletes, carpenters and many other things we stereotype as a specific group or category of people.
I recently had a conversation with a great friend who is African American. By the end of the conversation, my heart was heavy and I was appalled. He said that anytime he walks into a bar or club, a white guy comes up to him asking if he has “party favors” for sale. These guys assume that because my friend is black, he is a drug dealer.
Have you ever seen a woman walking down the street with her head, face and entire body covered in clothing, and for just a second thought about terrorism? Have you ever seen anyone of Middle Eastern descent and just assumed that they were not good for our country? A lot of people in our country do, though the majority of the terrorist acts committed here are by white American men.
Has anyone ever mistaken you for a pervert just for being a member of the LGBTQ community? This stereotype was obvious during the initial AIDS crisis when the Christians were saying we were perverted and this was God’s punishment. The truth is there are gay people of God, preachers, gospel artists and more. Still, we continue to be stereotyped as all being the same with the same characteristics.
I’ve had several people ask me, “So who is the man and who is the woman in your relationship?” “Wow” is all I can say. No one is the woman. That’s the point.
Ever stereotyped or been stereotyped as someone who eats uncontrollably because of your weight? Ever assumed anything about someone based on their demographics? We all have. The trick is to stay aware of the falseness of this way of thinking, remember that it can cause a lot of hurt and pain, and nip it in the bud in ourselves and others if we witness it.
I believe that we are all humans and one with the creator regardless of our groups or categories. We are also each unique expressions of the creator. No two people are exactly alike or have exactly the same characteristics, and just because we belong to a particular group or identify with a particular group does not mean we are exactly like every person in that group.
There is both good and evil in every group and indeed in every person. It is impossible to just look at someone and assume they are a certain way, the way they are dressed, the way they worship, or the color of their skin.
My precious mother used to always say, “You can’t look at a book and tell what’s under the cover.” So true.
Let’s make a commitment to not judge, make assumptions, or stereotype others based on them being different from us or their membership in any group or category of people. Let’s spread love.
Stop the stereotyping and put on a new pair of glasses that allows you to see everyone as the beautiful creation of God that they are.
Vince Shifflett is a nurse practitioner and blogger in Atlanta. Read more of his work at vinceshifflett.com.
This column originally appeared in Q magazine. Read the full issue:
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