By Olivia Montes
Elm Staff Writer
Humans have consistently turned to the antiquated tradition of stereotypes to assess quick and unstructured judgements on those they have not interacted with before.
From assuming one’s abilities based on the shade of their skin to surmising one’s experience based on their supposed socioeconomic background, humans have based entire belief systems into thinking that all people — especially those that have non-traditional identities — are based off of a body of misconceptions and misinformation about who they are, as both a member of their culture and an individual.
With humankind in another decade in which divisions between different ethnicities, races, religions still continues to be a serious threat to our world — and it is due to the unfiltered biases we make throughout our lives.
“The renewed embrace of the concept has aggravated some who think ‘microaggressions’ simply describes situations in which people are being much too sensitive,” Jenee Desmond-Harris of VOX Media said in 2015.
“And in a society in which explicit racism is frowned upon — and thus, not a daily problem for most people — but implicit biases are going strong, there’s probably more use for it now than ever before,” she said.
These seemingly-innocent biases lead to irreversible consequences. In 2019 alone, 53% of white, Latino, and black-identifying citizens state that relations between different races within the United States are worse off than ever before, with minority groups consistently feeling threatened by the majority.
With bigot-based views continuing to spread across the nation since the mid-2010s, these instances set by that example continue bringing about the idea that expressing one’s internally homophobic, racist, sexist, or xenophobic views is now acceptable — and it is becoming increasingly dangerous and threatening for all those involved.
“The assumption is that when people realize that biases are widespread, they will be more likely to overcome them,” Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandburg wrote for The New York Times in 2014.
“But new research suggests that if we’re not careful, making people aware of bias can backfire, leading them to discriminate more rather than less,” they said.
Because of the stereotypes, removed, reinstated, and then reinforced in the same outdated pattern, the lines between what we can and cannot do or say in an inclusive environment of people are continuously blurred, providing excuses for those who will not take the time to actually learn from their mistakes, thus allowing their harsh judgements to take root and continue hurting others around them.
But when humans continue to group individuals together based on one common trait they appear to all share — whether it be race, gender, or a mix of both and more — they are not only ignoring the other aspects of each person’s own identity, but also making the inaccurate assumption that each member of that group is exactly the same.
It is this regardlessness of individuality that allows this blind, toxic belief to further infect personal and societal views.
And this must be halted before any more damage is done.
“In other words…you can still fight against those instincts by challenging your thinking and getting to know people who aren’t like you,” Olga Khazan of The Atlantic said in 2017.
“[This] new information may very well undo the stereotypes you’re prone to forming in the first place,” she said.
And the first step is acknowledging that these assumptions exist within others; the more that humans can bring forth questions concerning which actions or statements are or are not allowed, the more that people can apply that understanding in their every day lives.
“We need to communicate that these biases are undesirable and unacceptable,” Grant and Sandburg said. “By reinforcing the idea that people want to conquer their biases and that there are benefits to doing so, we send a more effective message: most people don’t want to discriminate, and you shouldn’t either.”
To fully progress as a society into a desired era of acceptance and understanding, there is no other alternative than to acknowledge a vast amount of different kinds of people — both with different identities and different dispositions than what we originally thought — within humanity, and leave it at that.
“Once you hear about how they affect people, chances are, you will be more aware of what they look like, and suddenly much less likely to repeat them,” Desmond-Harris said.
“If we don’t reinforce that people need — and want — to overcome their biases, we end up silently condoning the status quo,” Grant and Sandburg said. “We want to see these biases vanish, and we know you do, too.