With the advent of the internet, there are more stereotypes than ever. Who doesn’t love a good stereotype? What’s not to like about making fun of someone or something that you don’t understand? But with all of these stereotypes comes an even bigger question. That question being whether or not our own stereotypes are actually true or if they’re just another thing we make fun of for no other reason than it’s different from us. So let’s explore what DEI has to say about stereotypes.
What are stereotypes?
Stereotypes are pictures or descriptions of people or things that are based on a general idea.
They’re often based on race, gender, age, and other characteristics.
For example, the stereotype of “the wise old man” is a description of an older male who has been around the block several times and has the wisdom to share with others. In this case, the stereotype is positive because it describes someone who has something valuable to offer others.
Another example: The stereotype of “the mean boss” describes someone who expects perfection from their employees and will do anything to get it—even yell at them if necessary. In this case, the stereotype is negative because it describes someone who may not be as understanding as they could be as a boss should be expected to be by their employees.
Even if you don’t believe in stereotypes, you have them.
The first step to overcoming stereotypes is to recognize that you have them. It might feel like a blow to your self-esteem, but it’s true: everyone carries around some form of stereotype baggage. It’s not something you can help exactly—we all develop them as children when we’re learning about the world and how things are supposed to work. We see someone doing something weird or wearing an outfit we think is strange (like a cowboy hat) and then decide that person must be just like their behavior or appearance suggests. This kind of generalization doesn’t necessarily mean anything bad; stereotyping can be useful at times—it’s probably why you were able to identify me as female without my having told you directly! But when used in an unthinking way with no regard for reality or context, stereotypes can lead us astray in more ways than one.
Stereotypes often encourage hate or violence.
Stereotypes can be harmful because they can lead to hate and violence. Stereotypes can cause people to feel like they are not accepted, which can lead to bullying. Stereotypes also discourage people from trying new things because they are afraid of being judged by others who have the same ideas about them.
When you stereotype someone, you’re making an assumption about them based on their race, gender identity, religion, or ethnicity. Stereotyping can lead to discrimination and racism. It also discourages people from trying new things because they are afraid of being judged by others who have the same ideas about them.
People can change their minds about stereotypes.
People can change their minds about stereotypes. And it’s not difficult to do so. It requires a willingness to consider new information and an openness to learn from others, but that is something everyone can do if they choose to.
That said, there are some things you can do if you want to change someone else’s mind about a stereotype. One thing that works well is getting the facts—that is, providing evidence of why the stereotype isn’t true or accurate. Another thing that could work well would be interacting with people from different groups and learning about them firsthand instead of relying solely on what others tell you about them (which may have been based on inaccurate stereotypes). Also important is learning about the history of your own group—your own personal history as well as cultural history; how did we get where we are today?
Rethink stereotypes intentionally.
The first step to understanding DEI is to recognize that stereotypes are learned and can be unlearned if you rethink them intentionally and make an effort to get the facts. Instead of assuming that a stereotype is true, ask yourself why you believe that it’s true. Then, research whether or not the stereotype holds up against facts.
If you discover that a stereotype isn’t based on fact or common sense, then consider challenging yourself with new information or ideas about people who have been stereotyped in your life. You may discover something surprising!
Continue to ask yourself questions like:
“What do I expect from people?”
“What do I know about the world based on my own experience?”
“How does what I know affect my daily interactions with others?”
DEI work provides a framework for understanding how stereotypes work and how we can be intentional in changing them. By interrupting our thought patterns, we can see others as individuals rather than representatives of group stereotypes.