A stereotype is a preconceived idea of another, usually based on specific biases. A man who believes women are unintelligent, for example, creates this as a stereotype and perceives women in this way. Similarly, a racist will hold to the stereotype that blacks are inferior. The stereotype in general is a result of prejudice, which literally translates to “pre-judging” others. Prejudice is in place when anyone assumes that others will inevitably act in certain ways, and because their age, race, gender, or other aspect of them dictates who they are. Prejudice and stereotyping are then manifested in discrimination. This is exclusion of others from any form of opportunity because they are seen as a threat or inferior.

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I witnessed a case of stereotyping in a high school setting. Several students were in a hallway between classes and were commenting on a new student, who was Japanese. They had only seen this student once, in an earlier class, and the Japanese person said very little in that time. The others I overheard, however, made it clear that they assumed this new student would get excellent grades and be a teacher favorite because Asians, they said, are always smart. One boy then said that Asians are especially good at math, while another joked that they still cannot drive. Others hearing this were amused and no one objected, and I believe this was because the stereotype was mostly flattering.

While at a restaurant, I observed an elderly person being discriminated against. He was applying for a job and the manager spoke to him at a table near me. The applicant was perhaps seventy years old and the manager was middle-aged, and what I overheard was the manager’s repeated references to how the job demanded physical effort, and he made it clear that he assumed an older man could not perform the work. The applicant consistently asserted that he was very physically strong, but this made no impression on the manager. Later, in fact, I heard another employee telling the manager that he should be more careful because he invited a lawsuit by being so openly discriminatory.

One explanation for stereotyping and discrimination is nothing more than ignorance. People will often decide on what others are because, when they have little experience with different cultures or other populations, they fail to realize that all people are individuals. There is no excuse for such ignorance, but it may well be a reason behind the bias. Then, another explanation is that discriminating protects what those doing it want to protect. When social systems are unequal and those holding power wish to maintain this, viewing certain people as innately inferior supports the system (Dovidio et al 40). Creating stereotypes then allows for the discrimination that works in favor of those holding power, and I believe both ignorance and the social system factor greatly promote the problems.

In my view, the increase in hate crimes reflects a kind of anger growing in the country, and particularly in the Midwest. Some sociologists believe that a general resentment is behind the rise in hate crimes; economic downturns, for example, lead people to hold minorities and other populations perceived as “privileged” as responsible (Jacobs, Potter 53). However, I think there is more to this. I suspect that the media emphasis in recent decades on diversity and tolerance angers certain people because they feel they are being “told” what to think, and they then take out their resentment on minorities, gays, and other marginalized groups. Ironically, I think hate crimes would decrease if there were not so much a demand from the media on equality.

Lastly, I think society’s responding to stereotyping and discrimination in a positive way depends on only individual actions. A society cannot be biased unless a significant number of individuals within it are biased, so change must occur in this way. People, in plain terms, need to take responsibility for being informed, and for accepting that stereotyping is lazy and always unjust. The restaurant manager, for example, was unable to hear what the elderly applicant was saying because it did not meet his need to stereotype. Similarly, the high school students were relying on the comfort of assumptions. If they and the manager only made the small effort to listen, and truly interact with the older man and the Asian student, they would easily understand that stereotypes simply do not apply to human beings.