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Humanizing the stereotype

Decades have passed since that peculiar day, but I still remember it as if it were only yesterday. Our neighbor, Uncle Jeremy, was so enraged by the fact that his third baby was yet another girl that he stormed out of his house and shouted loud enough for the entire world to hear: “My God, what did I do wrong to deserve another girl? Why?” And, as the numbers of the spectators in the street became a sizable crowd, he continued to burst out with his insane outrage.

“I would have much rather had a son without a head than another silly girl.”

Ironically, yet sadly predictably in that time and place, the people who witnessed this, yes, including the women, sympathized and felt sorry for him. After all, they agreed, who needs another girl whose sole duty in life will be nothing but to become a servant to her husband, bear his children, cook and take care of the laundry?

Remarkably, this ancient tendency of glorifying a certain type of human being and nullifying another, it seems, has not gone through enough transformation through the years. Only a few months ago, for instance, during the Senate election in Alabama, many electors decided they would much rather vote for a “child molester than a Democrat.” Which brings to mind, quoting the great Yogi Berra, that after all these years… “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

I have always been mystified by the mental process that happens in our minds in shaping who “the desired ones” are against those who are undesired. And I wondered how we formulate that image of certain people who are adored to the level of worshiping them, in contrast to the ones who are rejected and humiliated. Who knows, we might have inherited this from our tribal ancestors whose main objective was to protect lands and family against total strangers. But in this age, when we are protected and equal under the law, dividing people between simply those who are desirable and undesirable still baffles me.

This unfair view, the simplification, defining an entire group of people under one blanket statement, nullifies the underlying human element of any being. It is not uncommon that we all have our own preconception of people, including me, who will create a mental picture composed only by assumed characteristics. Just imagine the associations your mind will trigger when encountered with stereotypical groups of people, such as, but not limited to, the following: black, white, liberal, conservative, deplorable, Muslim, lesbian, transgender, Asian, redneck, evangelist, atheist, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

Amazingly, these stereotypical views of people undermine the uniqueness and the originality of each and every human being. We forget sometimes that same  “deplorable” or “liberal” or whatever is just an ordinary human who makes a living, getting there  by driving or taking the train, takes care of his or her family and has a unique temperament, individual passions and dreams. 

Admitting my naiveté, I always imagined that with the advance of information technology, which provides through just a mere click access to multitudes of people, we would finally understand others beyond the generalized image we carry in our minds. I thought as we got to know other people and their behaviors, we would become less judgmental and critical toward those who don’t necessarily think like us. 

But unfortunately, the current wave is going in the opposite direction. Information technology is becoming a tool to further isolate, separate and stereotype those who are living just a click away from us. In fact, this categorization and stereotyping works perfectly well for the special interest groups that are abusing this information to benefit themselves both in political and economic terms. 

Fortunately for Uncle Jeremy, he was pleasantly surprised when his “unwanted baby girl” turned him into a proud father. His baby girl achieved much more, both academically and socially, than some of the boys in the neighborhood. Many times, at public events where his daughter was recognized, he was actually moved to tears, and as his eyes filled up, he embraced and congratulated her, saying, “That’s my boy!”

I guess some things will never change. But I haven’t lost my hope.

 

Varoujan Froundjian is a graphic designer, Photoshop artist, writer, cartoonist, information technology and wine expert who also drives a limousine for local livery. He can be reached at varoujanfroundjian@gmail.com.