Tuesday, January 31, 2017

A Stereotype Or Just A Category?

Please answer the following questions about Joel Charon's "Should We Generalize About People?"
1. Does Charon believe that categories and generalizations are useful? Why/Why not?

2.What is the difference between a generalization and a stereotype?

3.  What are some groups that you belong to that have been stereotyped?  Have you ever experienced that?

After reading Joel Charon's "Should We Generalize..." hopefully, you realize that yes we must generalize because it is what makes us intelligent human beings. But our great strength as humans can also be a horrible flaw. If we do not generalize and categorize accurately then we run the risk of stereotyping. We must realize that although individuals can be categorized into certain groups, it doesn't mean that all individuals fit that group's generalization. Toward the end of the reading, Charon says,
"If we are open-minded and reflective, we can even evaluate how good or how poor our generalizations are, and we can alter what we know as we move from situation to situation."
This is both the task and the promise of sociology. Sociology challenges us to think about our generalizations and assumptions about what we know and it promises us that with proper thought and care we can understand people better. There is a poem I like that illustrates Charon's point. The poem called "The Cookie Thief" by Valerie Cox. We are all cookie thieves sometimes in how we erroneously use the categories that Charon talks about. When was the last time you were too quick to categorize or judge someone? Have you ever been stereotyped or judged wrongly?

Here is a link to a video called I am an American that shows the dangerous power that extreme stereotypes can lead to.
In this case, Islam is the example, but it could be any religion or ethnicity or whatever group. United States' history is littered with examples of groups that have been scapegoated and vilified. This is how Muslims have been treated in many cases in post 911 America. But I have had so many Muslim students who prove that this is just a stereotype. And that is what this video is showing. There are caring, loving, neighborly Muslims all around us but extreme stereotypes lead us to only see the stereotype and ignore the reality.  Here is a link to a page hoping to end stereotypes about Muslims.

One example of people stereotyping quickly might be this Washington Post experiment in which Joshua Bell, violin virtuoso, played some of the greatest classical pieces ever written on one of the most expensive violins ever made. And yet few people noticed because he was dressed like an average guy and he was playing in the subway. Maybe people assumed he was a homeless streetperformer, so why stop and listen?

Some other examples of people shattering stereotypes are:

Here is an article in the Daily Herald about a motivational speaker who was born with no arms and no legs. We might categorize him as disabled, but we should be careful about the assumptions and stereotypes that go along with that category.

Likewise, here is a link to Nick Vujicic's website. He is a motivational speaker who also has no limbs.

Here is a video about Aaron Fotheringham, an "extreme sitter." Aaron has been in a wheel chair his whole life, but he sees it as an opportunity. Again, we should be careful of our stereotypes. Aaron is way more rad than I will ever be, but he is in a wheel chair and I am not. If you search youtube, you can see Aaron doing a double back flip! But there are also lots of videoes of him crashing over and over again and again. It takes hard work and lots of effort to become good at what you do.  Hard work was a theme in all of the above videoes.  And if you read the rest of Outliers, Gladwell makes the case that the most successful people spend ten thousand hours developing their skills.  The other theme that comes out in all of these videoes from Brett Eastburn to Aaron Fotheringham is that in order to find meaning in your life you must find a way to serve others.  Find a way to help other people.  You have talents.  Develop them and find a way to use them to help others.  That is your purpose.
And here is Aaron "wheels" Fotheringham at the 2016 Paralympics.

Another great source about stereotypes is episode 362 from This American Life. Click here to listen to the episode where 5 people tell stories about stereotyping. Listen to the prologue about people with disabilities, and Act One about NY cops stereotyping people coming from Brooklyn.

Finally, when you feel like you have been stereotyped, how do you react? What do you do? Anis Mojgani suggests that you shake the dust. Checkout his slam poem. Here is a link to his poem in writing.

Here is a video about a different type of street performer that also challenges your assumptions about the category "disabled".  I love how these "disabled" people see their opportunity to teach others.  Their lessons seem to be similar:  The world doesn't owe you anything.  You owe yourself hard work and dedication to become what you want.  Find a way to help others/teach others.  Don't stereotype and keep an open mind.

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