Opinion

Stereotyping, no matter the target, is not the path to unity

First, let me say that I am an avid Independent. I often feel misplaced and mystified by how polarized our two major parties are, and find myself at a loss without a party that satisfies my beliefs. By November 8, my heart and soul were rooting for Hillary. I wanted to make history, to shut down Mr. Trump’s hateful speech and chant a nation-wide “no thank you” to his seeming lack of intelligence, experience and respect for human kind. I felt myself identifying with liberal ideology more than ever. I had set my beliefs of fiscal conservatism and smaller government aside because I believed that, this time, the stakes were too high.

The morning of November 9, I cried. But by 6 p.m. that night, I was horrified with myself and many of my fellow Clinton supporters. Bigot. Sexist. Islamaphobic. Racist. On November 9, these words were not being directed at Mr. Trump, who has given us ample evidence to prove that these labels are true, but at every single one of his supporters. These posts and conversations began with “If you voted for Trump…” and “To people who supported Trump…” Blanket statements that address an entire group of people, and project onto this group a hateful, divisive, and pretentious vision: that every individual in this mass of voters is all of these things. The last 18 months have been an awakening to the vast, deep roots of Republican ideology, and yes, they have reinvigorated and given a voice to people in this country who cling to classism, racism, islamophobia, and sexism. I am just as horrified as you that the people who voted for Mr. Trump were able to bite their tongues, stomach his faults, and vote for him. However, does this entitle us to blanket half of the country with one unthinkable image of an uneducated bigot? Many people (myself included) feel that even if people do not hold innately harmful prejudiced beliefs, choosing complacency and voting for Mr. Trump, despite his rhetoric, is a form of prejudice in itself. In spite of this, we must ask ourselves: will our angered messages create a conversation, or are they alienating? Do they create a safe space for dialogue, or push us further away from the reality we someday hope to achieve?

There are two results of this narrative that we have perpetrated: first, we are hypocrites. As liberals, and as educated people, we often preach about the danger and unequivocal harm of stereotypes. They force a large group of diverse people into a small, restrictive box. Not only this, but we often ignorantly project these stereotypes onto the people whom we feel fall into this category, and reduce them, so that they fit into this box. We often talk of negative stereotyping as a vehicle for police violence, sexism and other prejudices. But I urge you to think about how the above description differs from what we are doing when we call all Trump supporters uneducated bigots. You and I live in the Mac bubble, where we go unpunished when we joke about the small intellect, ignorance, and prejudice of Trump supporters. Notice that there are many bubbles throughout America, where similar insults are made about the very racial, cultural and political groups that you and I identify with or support. We must practice what we preach. Stereotyping is the fundamental building block of racism, sexism, and islamophobia. We cannot let ourselves turn around and stereotype half of the country when it becomes an emotionally convenient mechanism for dealing with our loss. Alternatively, if you believe that complacency is equivalent to holding prejudiced views, or normalizes Mr. Trump’s rhetoric, you may not consider your criticism stereotyping. However, is disqualifying a person’s opinion and shaming them because they do not share your beliefs the correct thing to do instead? Is it the most effective way to change their opinion? While shaming someone for misbehavior may work well on a 2-year-old who stole from a cookie jar, will it work on an adult, who is within their right to vote according to their beliefs, and who can choose to laugh it off and walk the other way? On November 9 we woke up to a country that did not care as much about protecting our rights and liberties as we thought. Will we ever create a majority if we don’t change the way we defend and fight for our beliefs?

Second, we are allowing ourselves to belittle the multitude of problems that exist in our country today. This not only prevents us from moving forward in an effective way, but allows us to claim ignorance in the face of a complex period of history, filled with monumental discrepancies in policy, ideology, religious opinions, and scientific convictions. The problems in the United States are intricate and complicated. We are ignorant if we think the problem is as simple as half the country being socially and ethically backwards, or at least willing to enable those that are. While this may well be a valid commentary, it is not the only obstacle we face in achieving our goals for this country. Each individual has a unique hierarchy for what we feel is most important. It is wrong for us to be self-righteous in our own beliefs, and tear down those who have a different perspective. Rather, if we want someone’s opinion to change, we must engage in conversation and healthy debate, not write them off as an unworthy voice. As we have seen, that voice will eventually be given a chance to fight back. We cry for, complain about, and are in disbelief of our divided country, and all I see us doing is pushing one another farther apart. Stop stereotyping. Stop spouting hate. Stop pretending like Trump voters’ opinions didn’t matter or shouldn’t have been given a voice. Start educating. Have conversations. Ask people about why they ignored Mr. Trump’s hateful and divisive rhetoric. Ask them what would have swayed their vote. Respectfully and passionately share your opinion. Work to change their perspective. It will not be easy, but where will we be in four years if we don’t try?

Today is the day we stop being hateful towards one another. Today is the day we start having more peaceful conversations and start respecting the other side. Prove the people who call us “whiny liberals” wrong. Prove that we are intelligent and capable of having civil conversations with people of differing opinions. Do not be self-righteous, do not stereotype. Acknowledge that voicing disagreements is a part of democracy. Do this so that when we do encounter someone who truly holds a harmful belief rooted in stereotypes, we can work to change it knowing that we do not take part in such primitive behavior. Do this so that we can support those who feel threatened, betrayed, and unsafe with the knowledge that we do not partake in this harmful practice of stripping people of their individuality and judging them by their demographic.

We will keep fighting for what we believe in. We will fight for a better future. But, I beg you, let us fight the right way.

November 18, 2016

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