Inflammatory rhetoric, unfounded stereotypes and a culture of fear have come together to create a perfect storm of racism and prejudice in society.
The recent terror attacks in France, which we now know were plotted months in advance by Jihad ringleader Abdelhamid Abaaoud sent shock waves throughout the world. Vigils were held. World leaders and politicians across the political spectrum denounced the incident as a classic example of raw and abominable evil.
Immediately after the tragedy, journalists and pundits aggressively weighed in with intense op-ed pieces and round the clock television commentary. Private citizens kept the Internet and bloggosphere in overdrive with reams of passionate comments about the event. Such a blatant act of violence galvanized millions of people across religions, continents, and ethnic groups. A number of world leaders issued supportive statements demonstrating unalloyed solidarity with French President Francois Hollande and the French people. The french government made its position known by targeting and bombing ISIS targets in Syria.
While no rational person can deny the fact that these mass murderers were two evil human beings and should be denounced for such sadistic acts, one problematic result that has emerged from this event is that a number of people have begin reverting to long-held stereotypes as they relate to Muslims. Violent, evil, callous and sinister are just a few of the hostile labels that have been hurled toward people of Islamic faith.
Most reasonable people are aware of the fact that the vast majority of Muslims, like individuals of all religions, are decent, peaceful and law-abiding human beings. Nonetheless, this has not stopped more than a few misguided, impassioned souls from engaging in retrograde stereotyping. Such misguided labeling is insulting to Muslims and those who practice Islam.
To be sure, Muslims are not the only group of people who have been pegged with various stigmas. Such preconceived notions have been applied to many other racial, religious and other groups. Blacks have depicted as violent, oversexed, elemental and athletic. Latinos/Latinas are frequently depicted as swarthy, exotic, erotic and family oriented. Asians have cornered the nerdy, disciplined, hardworking, extremely motivated label. Sassy, flamboyant, fashion conscious are associated with gay men. Lesbian women have often been depicted as athletic, confrontational and rough around the edges. Men are frequently viewed as assertive, strong, have sex on the brain, confident and independent. Often, on the contrary, women are seen as high strung emotional, dependent and unpredictable. Rich people are snooty. Poor people are lazy. Athletes are dumb. These are just a few myths that have become urban legend. Better known as stereotypes.
Stereotyping is the act of making judgments and assumptions about people without knowing them. Moreover, they are generalizations about a type of person or groups of people. While some stereotypes can be seen as relatively positive, more often not, the majority of them are negative and far too many are offensive. It is a direct opportunity for an individual to project his or her discomfort, dislikes and biases. It is often the worst form of patronizing behavior.
The fact is that all, some, few or none of those views may be true depending on individual(s) in question. Most of you reading this piece are likely aware of the fact that I have described generalizations, not realities. No stereotype is absolutely true nor are they entirely false. Nonetheless, such perceptions have been deeply embedded in the fabric and mindset of our culture. In several of my undergraduate courses, I discuss and have my students engage in discussions on racial, gender, cultural and regional stereotypes. For the most part, college students tend to list traditional long-held stereotypes. Every now and then they surprise me with new ones.
The undeniable fact is that all of us have been guilty of ascribing stereotypes to different groups of people at one time or another. You could not be over 30 years old, be an American citizen and not have internalized some degree of assumptions about others who are different or even similar to you on some level.
Old habits are hard to break and people do not change overnight. Nonetheless, it is still better for all of us to make every earnest effort to dispel stereotyping others. No group of individuals should be targeted with baseless assumptions or pegged with myopic labels due to the discomfort, fear and ignorance based on the insecurities of others. After all, do we want the same sort of misguided perverse, sort of labeling being directed toward us? I think not. In an increasingly racially, ethnically diverse nation/society such as ours it will become paramount that we turn the page on largely reckless assumptions and do so.
Photo Credit: Peter K. Levy/flickr