The topic inspired me to learn more about stereotyping, especially that I have been stereotyped as well. And share my experience with you.
Unknowingly, on a daily basis we stereotype everyone. On our way to work, at the coffee shop, at the shopping mall, at the hospital, etc. And funnily, others stereotype us as well.
So, why do people generalize? Apparently, our brain is programmed to generalize. Because the act of it reduces the amount of thinking and processing we have to do when we meet new people. Therefore, people feel either comfortable or powerful when they label others, whether it is because of the fear of unknown, lack of information, or the feel of superiority to others.
I found out that stereotyping could be positive as well. Then I thought, oh it can’t be all-bad then if we used the positive generalization. But actually, these can be as damaging as the negative ones. Why?
Well, positive stereotyping is when you have assumptions on people that are considered to be “good”. It is when you label others with good traits. For example, “all Indians are deeply spiritual”, “women always smell good” or “All Asians are geniuses”.
The problem is with positive stereotypes is that they tend to set the bar unrealistically high; prevent the individual’s ability to perform and put him/her under high pressure, and can be depressing to the individuals who are suppose to have them but don’t.
My experience with stereotype:
Coming from Dubai, a city with almost 200 different nationalities living at makes you an easy target to be stereotyped —and you stereotype others of course. I have been stereotyped many times, about my nationality (Oh! you don’t look like an Emirati. You are not dressed like them—or there was once when a woman told me that i’m too nice to be Emirati; apparently she had bad experiences with few), my English (how come your English is very good and you are an Arab), my gender (Oh poor thing, you must hate it being a woman and living here). But my favorite is when I get labeled by my age. I look very young and petite, people think I’m younger than my age —especially without makeup, I look almost 10 years younger. At first I didn’t mind it, I took it as a funny thing and used to joke about. But later on, I started feeling that people assuming my age think I’m very young to be taken seriously, immature and not knowledgeable. It was annoying! One might say it is affirmative, and I should not get annoyed or upset. But no, it put me under high pressure to prove to others that I’m mature regardless of size. Imagine you have to tell your age every time you meet a new person, or even worse show your driving license as a proof! Yes I have done that!
Stereotyping, whether positive or negative is an unfair act but unconsciously everyone does it anyway. Therefore, the key is to be objective and pass judgments, get to know more about the person by asking questions not making assumptions. And befriend with people because of who they are and not because of the traits you assumed they have.
Have you been in a situation where you have been stereotyped positively or negatively? And how did you react? Would love to hear your thoughts at the comments below.