What role do stereotypes play in our lives? I've been thinking on this lately, the way we sometimes use our own preconceived notions of people to categorize them into something we understand. I feel that we often fall back on stereotypes as a way of "understanding" what Other people are like (e.g. through the way they look, behave, talk), without taking the time to actually find out if our perceptions are even remotely accurate.

I feel we do this as a way of dealing with someone (or a group), that is on some level new or different to ourselves. For example, these Other people might seem so different from our regular circle that finding out what they're actually about might be something we don't feel we have or even want to do. That Black woman at the office you see daily might seem abrupt and somewhat standoffish. And if getting to actually know her isn't something you're ready to do (for whatever reason), that image can be a big part of how you define her, regardless of whether any of that image is actually true.

So why do we do it? Behind this (or a part of it at least), may be a need to categorize people in ways that make sense to us. Once they've been put into a category that we hold, we may feel more at ease - we've put the person into a role that we can understand because we've heard/read it before (i.e. the stereotype). It's not new, it's been reinforced elsewhere such as through friends or pop culture. Regardless of whether it's true or not, it's familiar and there's some comfort in that.

The alternative to this can be foreign and scary, and understandably something a person would rather avoid (me included). But honestly, I feel that doing the uncomfortable is necessary if we're to make any headway on fighting stereotypes as the default that many of us fall prey to using. The challenge to all of us is to resist seeing Others in blanket terms and educating ourselves on the uniqueness that is human diversity. Try it.

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