Well, the answer to the title is no, not always. Although stereotypes have been portrayed with a negative implication, I personally do not think stereotypes are a problem. In actual fact, stereotypes are crucial in building our cognitive abilities and allowing us to view and analyze the world as it is. It makes us think, understand and question why something is the way it is, why someone behaves the way they do.
Having grown up in the multi-racial country of Singapore, I have often been subject to casual stereotyping but I never took it personally or offensively. The average Indian of Singapore does not mirror the average Indian of India because the predominant Indians that reside in India are from South India. Hence, whenever I would tell someone that I’m Indian, more often than not, the first reaction I would get is “You don’t look Indian” or “You’re rather fair to be Indian”. And you know what, I don’t blame them for the reaction; they have a distinct image of what Indians look like based on what they have normally seen and that’s completely okay. I always took the opportunity to explain that India is a very diverse country and not all of us have similar outward appearances and almost always, the recipients were very pleased to know that.
Other instances of stereotyping include, “Why do you eat non-vegetarian food if you’re Gujarati?”, “Did you date a girl when you were in an all girls school?”, “Is your dad a businessman because your last name is Patel” and “Are you on a diet? You’re so skinny!” (Reality is that I eat like a pig).
It’s a part and parcel of life.
Having said that, I also do understand that this is not even close to the bad kind of stereotyping that exists in the world. But the point that I’m trying to make is that we can either be offended by the stereotyping we receive, try to correct someone’s misconception or accept and be content with the stereotype. I’m okay with being a stereotypical “girl” or a stereotypical “teenager” or a stereotypical “Gujarati”. Stereotypes are not a problem.
The problem lies with the people who refuse to look beyond stereotypes. It isn’t wrong to have assumptions about people but letting that assumption overpower the ability to look at a person in a different light is the problem. Using stereotypes to degrade people is the problem. Stereotypes that limit an individual are the problem.
‘Stereotype’ does not have to be a taboo word; we just need to work on making sure that we are not using them in the wrong way. It’s not a weapon but rather a tool to understand people. Constructive stereotyping should become a new thing. So the next time you see yourself generalizing something or someone, spare a second to recognize if it’s constructive or destructive.
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