Have you ever looked at someone you've never met before and immediately began to categorize them in your mind? Thinking that they're probably uneducated or weak, or maybe you just outright dismiss them as a person despite never even saying a word to them? Every day, we use stereotypes to make quick judgments about those around us, but these assumptions leave us with racist and bigoted remarks that we don't truly believe.
As human beings, we are constantly analyzing our surroundings and remembering these events without even realizing it. Research in cognitive neuroscience finds that as we grow up we are exposed to the stereotypes and prejudices of those around us, and we respond more frequently when we are constantly shown a certain group in a negative light. Over time this leads to the creation of our "unconscious bias."
Despite the fact that normally we would never refer to someone we don't know as dumb or weak, our minds are continuously inspecting those around us and labeling them due to our previous experiences. It's even been theorized that this negative information was essential to survival in ancient times, but the key here is that it's an ANCIENT thinking process.
While stereotypes are prevalent in today's society, it is important to remember what they are at their core. As defined by the Oxford Dictionary, a stereotype is a widely held but "fixed" and oversimplified image of a particular type of person or thing. However, many people take these stereotypes at face value while they're supposed to be "oversimplified" versions of reality.
Another study had found that people were quicker to press the "agree" button when given a generic "black" name and a negative adjective or when given a generic "white" name and a positive adjective. As these associations are shown so quickly on the screen, it allows for their inherent beliefs to shine through and provide accurate data for analysts. This study was done with people of various backgrounds and yet their reactions were similar across the board. These "oversimplifications" have left imprints in our mind, leading us to believe that black equals bad, and white equals good.
Over the years, the society around us has imposed these beliefs upon us that have made these stereotypes the norm, and it leaves these generalizations engrained within us despite them not being our conscious beliefs.
Although these stereotypes seem to be almost hardwired into our brains, it is still up to us as to how we utilize them.
It's up to us to be better than the society before us.
It's up to us to try to lessen these stereotypes and lessen these bigoted thoughts throughout our lives.
It's up to us to stop looking at others through this lens that's been clouded with generations of prejudice and stereotyping.
It's up to us, but don't forget that "us" starts with "U."