Friday, February 22, 2013

Letter from the Editor: Stereotyping is an inevitable practice for all

by Kelsey Mejlaender, Copy Editor  
     In a country suffocated by political correctness and extreme sensitivity, every student of our generation has been warned about the danger of stereotypes. Whether it’s from school, parents or even us here at The Mooring Mast, strict orders blare to avoid stereotyping at all costs. 
    While the advice is not out of place, it can suffer from what the very definition of a stereotype embodies — oversimplification. The sheer number of stereotypes guarantees that no matter how you try and characterize someone as a unique individual, that person will fit in with at least part of a standard image. 
    All stereotypes have a source, though only some find that origin in an honest case. It might have been born of an example that is simply the easiest to see when one doesn’t try and examine too deeply — like the idea Asian American kids have strict parents. 
    It might be a complete fabrication to validate evil — like the illusion of the angry, sexually depraved black man, which partially owes its creation in America to those who struggled to explain the existence of relationships between black men and white women.   
    Stereotypes are for the first impression. They are how we organize people in our heads and sort them as we, for some reason, feel the need to do. Once you come to know a person, stereotypes rarely have any further practical application. 
    Until that point, however, stereotypes flourish. A diverse and extremely varied population necessitates a wide range of stereotypes, which, cut and pasted together, form a collective patchwork of humanity. 
    Even people who try and defy norms have their own set of stereotypes: the rebel, the outcast, the hipster. 
    Take, for instance, this fictional character Alex. Alex is an incredibly strong bodybuilder with huge muscles who is always in the gym. Right now, you might be envisioning Alex as your standard muscle-headed giant who doesn’t have enough brains to fill a teaspoon. 
    Actually, Alex is incredibly ambitious, and uses that unique muscle mass to stand out and try and achieve national fame, perhaps through one of many available reality television shows. Now you’re envisioning professional wrestling and a sweaty man thumping his chest, roaring at the crowd. Except Alex is a woman. 
    At once the image changes, and it can go two main ways. One, she’s a hungry-for-fame, conniving woman who only differs from the stars of “The Real Housewives of Miami” in her method of achieving national prominence. Or she’s a lesbian, because she’s female but also extremely muscular.
    For every unique trait, for every unexpected twist in a person’s story or character, there seems to be a stereotype laid out ready to entrap them. 
    The success lies in the ability of stereotypes to be both vague and specific. There is the nerd with glasses and pimples and the bad boy with a leather jacket and motorcycle — both can also fit in the outcast category. There’s a stereotype for everyone.  
    I can now give the same tried and true and tired advice: stereotyping is a problem that lessens our ability to see each other as individuals. 
    But perhaps we can take this one step further. 
    Don’t try and simply avoid stereotyping — that is impossible. Instead, recognize that one stereotype cannot contain every aspect of one human. Stereotypes splinter — they shatter when they encounter the human identity. Bits and pieces of several stereotypes may stick, but rarely will you find a person with whom one stereotype blended perfectly and enveloped seamlessly.  
    But if you catch yourself thinking how your best friend fits the mold, how your parents are so typical, how you yourself seem to conform to one of our many stereotypes, don’t despair. 
            Recall that we do not change to fit stereotypes — they multiply in the attempt to encompass us.