7.16.2010

Why Do We Stereotype


The rational side of our brains can process the fact that the overwhelming majority of criminals and the overwhelming majority of crimes have absolutely no overlap with where and with whom we circulate. And yet, how often have we instinctively tensed up with fear when confronted with certain people and certain places, especially in the city? It is because it is human nature to stereotype, to disproportionately extrapolate and over-assign danger to a present situation from thin-sliced bits of information from our memories and from media. Time and brain space does not allow us to consider all of the variables in question when we walk down a certain street or pass by a certain group of people, so we make subconscious over-generalizations out of an innate sense of self-preservation.

One of the advantages of living in a city is that we are confronted with these kinds of situations all the time. We all have a lot of prejudice and ignorance that has built up inside of us, no matter how progressive we claim to be; and living in a city forces us to face up to these biases that we are not put together enough to explain away or stifle down. It is hoped that over time, as we keep an open mind and maintain vigilance against unhelpful feelings of mistrust and scorn, we will overcome these temptations to stereotype and replace them with more informed reactions to certain places and certain people.

I personally have a long way to go. But I am trying. And the city is helping me.

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