Learn how to use your poetry to take a stand against stereotyping.
The term “stereotype” is defined as “an often unfair and untrue belief that many people have about all people or things with a particular characteristic (Merriam-Webster). Stereotypes are oversimplifications of groups circulated in certain societies. In the United States, for example, racial groups are often linked to stereotypes such as being good (or bad) at math, sports, driving, etc.
When you falsely assume that a person must have certain traits based simply on a few characteristics they possess, you contribute to social categorization and prejudice rather than seeing an individual for the unique person they truly are. Think about it. You wouldn’t want someone to automatically think you’re dumb just because you’re blonde, right? Right. Remember: when you ASSUME, you make an A$$ out of U and ME. Keep on reading to find out how you can take initiative to end stereotyping (and use your awesome writing skills to help):
- Identify. Stereotypes have the power to divide people and project harmful expectations on individuals based on race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, physical appearance, religion, etc. With this in mind, educate yourself on the preconceived attitudes towards certain groups of people that you may have developed over time. No one’s perfect. It’s okay to admit that you’ve held someone to a stereotype in the past as long as you become aware of this fact and take action to prevent yourself and others from doing the same in the future. Start small: An easy way to distance yourself from stereotyping is to not buy in to how certain groups are repeatedly portrayed in the media outlets you are exposed to every day like T.V. shows, movies, advertisements, and music videos. Let’s be real. The high school groups in movies are never an accurate representation of the people you actually know or hang out with.
- Judgment-Free Zone. Often, stereotypes form in your subconscious based on societal influences. When you first see someone, you create snap judgments without even realizing it. Seriously— it takes less than ten seconds for you to form an opinion of someone you’ve just met. Even before you speak to a person, your brain automatically goes back to anything you’ve learned about the visible characteristics that person may have— and more often than not, these assumptions do not work in their favor. Next time you see someone, take a step back (not literally, that might confuse them) and remind yourself to get to know them before you start making assumptions about the type of person they are. All stereotypes are limiting and leave little to no room for individuality. Bottom line: Stop the judgment before it starts.
- Question. The next time you’re tempted to stereotype an individual based on a group they are a part of, think about the groups to which you belong. Make a list of the stereotypes associated with these groups. Does every one of those stereotypes apply to you? You’ll most likely disagree that all of the qualities commonly attributed to those of your gender, racial, group, sexual orientation, etc. accurately describe you. Don’t rob others of the ability to define themselves in their own right.
- Learning. Stereotypes have the power to divide people and project harmful expectations on individuals based on characteristics they have. Remind yourself and others to treat people as just that: people. No one person is exactly the same as another. Everyone should be given a fair chance to express who they are rather than feel pressure to take on traits imposed on them by a specific group to which they may belong. Steer away from judging others by putting yourself in their shoes and becoming aware of the emotions they must feel when placed in that uncomfortable position. Better yet, if you see stereotyping in action, don’t be afraid to jump in. Communicate what you know about the false accusations linked to stereotyping to all parties involved. The person being stereotyped will thank you for your empathy and the person doing the stereotyping will be aware of how their actions can negatively affect others.
- Slam those Stereotypes! A great way to start the conversation about stereotypes is to host a stereotype-themed poetry slam. You might be surprised at the number of people who step up and claim they’ve been stereotyped in the past as well as the number of people who admit to carrying out the stereotyping. Together, you can create a safe space to openly speak about stereotypes and how to end them.
- PowerPoetry. Write a poem expressing your thoughts regarding all you’ve learned about stereotypes and your role in them. Also, write about the future. How will you use this knowledge to end the perpetuation of stereotypes? Share your experiences and help someone step out of their comfort zone to confront stereotypes and end them for good.