Stereotypes. They used to be everywhere or at least I thought saw them everywhere. There are so many kinds out there that it is ridiculous. I will admit I used to believe in some of them when I was back in middle and high school. It is easiest to create stereotypes when there is a clearly visible and consistent attribute that can be easily recognized. I guess that is why people of color are easily stereotyped.
People do not always talk about their stereotypes, but that does not mean they are not there. It may seem offensive to see them written down, but that does not mean people do not believe them. I will throw in a few stereotype examples to make things clear for later.
African Americans are more likely to be criminals.
White Americans are judgmental towards other races.
Italians are supposedly connected to a mob.
Hispanics are likely to be illegal aliens.
Jewish People are usually greedy.
Muslim People hate the United States.
Tell...do you believe any of those? Do not give the "right" answer. Look deep inside yourself to see whether you make a snap judgments about people as soon as you see their color or find out about their religion. I admit that I used to do that, but not anymore. Now I actually know people in those groups and they are nowhere close to the stereotype. Every single person is different and has different lives. I have been thinking a lot about stereotypes because they are not limited to race and religion. Other people face them too.
People with disability. I am one of them. I know that for a first look at me, you probably would not notice anything wrong with me. But I am deaf and there are stereotypes about deaf people as well as for other types of disabilities. Again, you probably would not say these things out loud, but do you think them?
Deaf People are mute and dumb.
Physically Disabled People are pitiable.
Mentally Disabled People do not notice if you make fun of them.
Blind People are helpless.
These horrible stereotypes are possible only when you do not know people who are disabled.
Take me. I am deaf, but I am not dumb; I am in college right now working on my degree. I am not mute; I can speak just fine. Many people have told me that when they heard me for the first time, they did not know I was deaf. Some people have had an entire conversation with me before they noticed my hearing aids.
I also have a job where I work with people with disability. Through my job, I have met many people who are in a wheel chair, blind, or mentally disabled. I can tell you the one thing they all have in common: None of the stereotypes are spot on.
I have to admit that I used to be afraid of people with disability when I was younger and did not understand my own disability. I tended to stay away from them partly because I rely greatly on my lip-reading skills and I was not sure if I would be able to understand them.
I stepped out of my comfort zone when I took a job at Adapted Recreation. I have learned that everybody who is in chair does not have the same disability. Some can dive, some can play quad rugby. I have learned that some blind people can see a little, some can see certain colors and most can get around without extra help. I have learned that Mentally Disabled People are not helpless, and they feel pride about what they can do.
Through my work, I have become comfortable with new friends. Some happen to be in a chair. Some happen to be blind. Some happen to be mentally disabled. All are individuals. The stereotypes made me afraid -- for no reason. If I had stuck with the stereotypes, I would have missed out on relationships with some very cool people.
I wish I could say forget the stereotypes, but it is not that easy. Generalizations about groups of people show up in movies, televisions, music, advertising, and everyday conversation. Maybe what we can do is challenge the stereotypes. When you meet someone who is different from you, a little voice in your head may try to label them. Tell that little voice to "Shut up!" Get to know the person. Draw your own conclusions. If you experience is like mine, your life will be a lot better if you ignore the stereotypes and get to know people as individuals.