In the past few years, I have been subjected to many comments about being Asian, being Jewish, and being a girl. These comments, though typically offhanded and seemingly not ill intentioned (such as: “Asian in the library, so typical”; “Not bad for a girl”; or “Oh, the Jew won’t give me a pencil”), can not only leave a person questioning their identity, self-confidence, and individuality, but also create unreachable expectations of what a person should embody. When you tell a person that they are a criminal, a terrorist, a nerd, or categorize them into any other narrow box, there are three typical responses: A person can just brush it off, an extremely challenging feat, especially when these comments are being thrown around constantly; a person can try their very best to become the exact opposite of the labels imposed upon them; or a person can begin to encompass everything—the characteristics, the qualities—that is being said of them. These latter two reactions are dangerous and problematic for our society. If we, with our biases and stereotypes, are limiting and restricting individuality, self-confidence, and respect, even without intending to, than we are weakening every single community, workplace, and school.
As a person I have accepted that I have my own personal biases, as does everyone else, and that I am not unaffected by the stereotypes around me, but I have also realized the importance of exposing myself to new experiences, trying to educate myself before pre-judging, and giving each individual person a chance. Our attitudes towards stereotypes are malleable, but in order to shift our attitudes, we have to have a desire to make change.
I believe that the idea of stereotypes stretches beyond the typical references to gender, race, and religion; the definition of stereotypes should extend beyond this. There are stereotypes about socioeconomic class, mental illness, physical disabilities, an individual’s actions, and more. When a person dyes their hair, many respond that this person “must” be looking for attention. If a person is living paycheck to paycheck or receives no paycheck at all, they “must” be unhappy. If a person has a mental illness, they “must” be incapable of supporting themselves, morality, and making intelligent decisions. If a person has a physical disability, they “must” not be able to function without aid, and their disability is something that “must” be fixed. These stereotypes, not often at the forefront of a person’s mind, are not only hurtful but also untrue; and other stereotypes, stereotypes in general, are no different.