These past two weeks have been absolutely incredible for me. All of the classes I am taking are so interesting and I find myself learning something completely new every day. As a sustainability major, I am learning lots of great things about our earth, the impact of humans, and achievable solutions. One of the best things about college is that you are able to take an array of courses in many different topic areas. This semester, I was able to sign up for a class called Exceptional People, a look at people with disabilities. As a person who is classified as “disabled”, I thought it would be very interesting but never did I think it would be so eye-opening.
Today, we talked about stereotypes in our world. I thought for sure that I was an expert on this, seeing as I am associated with a group that battles with this every single day. I want to share with you what I learned. Lecture mode: ON.
There are key differences between stereotyping, discrimination, and prejudice. Prejudice is an attitude with an emotional response. In the english language, this usually equates to a hostile or negative response toward a particular group of people based solely on their membership in a certain group. Instead of their individual traits being recognized, they are dismissed. On the other hand, stereotyping is a cognitive function, meaning our brain categorizes the information that comes in about people around us in order to simplify the complex world we live in. It’s not necessarily a bad thing or a good thing; it just is what it is. However, the point at which stereotyping turns bad happens when the stereotype becomes so strong that the members of the group begin to accept and perpetuate it.
Wow, right? After processing the information and taking a moment to soak it in, I came to the realization that humans actually do this. We push our own thoughts on other people so much that is actually changes how they feel about themselves. I kept replaying in my head the multiple occasions when people told me how I SHOULD feel or what I SHOULD be. After some more thought, I realized that it is up to me, and all of us really, to change this.
When people say “arthritis”, some of the words that come to mind first are “old”, “bones”, and “weak”. You don’t think “kid”, “immune disorder”, or “number one cause of disability in the United States”. Is this because we, as a society, have pushed the stereotype too far? Have we created this misunderstanding of a major disease? The answer is yes. But what if, instead of accepting the stereotype, whatever it may be, we challenge it. Why can’t the word arthritis be associated with “brave”, “strong”, and “timeless”. Why can’t “pageant girl” be associated with “intelligent”, “caring”, and “selfless”. Whether you’re black, white, gay, straight, woman, man, disabled, or beauty queen, we all have some sort of stereotype working against us. But it is also all of our responsibility to have the courage to reverse them and break them all together.
Peace and love, Sami