Patel: Don’t stereotype someone you don’t know

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Patel: Don’t stereotype someone you don’t know

Meera Patel, Columnist

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It can be easy to fall into the trap of making generalizations about a group of people based on the actions of one member.

For instance, last week, I went on a rant against all men after hearing about the actions of a few men. There is absolutely no way I know every single man on this planet; how can I pass judgment on people whom I’ve never met?

I’ve said before that your actions reflect on all the groups you are a part of; they reflect on your parents, any organizations you’re a part of, the people you hang out with and more. This is true simply because we tend to make these generalizations about groups based on the actions of individuals.

Here at Northwestern, I’ve heard so many people make statements that stereotype an entire group of people. These statements are about the “type” of people who do a certain activity, like Dance Marathon, or the “type” of people who belong to Greek organizations. How can you judge what an entire group of at least 100 people is like if you don’t know every single person who is a part of that organization? The chances of even two people being exactly alike is slim to none, so how can you say that such a large group of people all have the same characteristics?

You can’t judge someone based on the actions of someone else who you perceive to be similar to him or her. Every person is different.

Sure, it’s possible to guess what one person will do based on generalizations. But there is no guarantee that you’re right. Going back to my example of my generalization about men – there are countless articles online talking about the “typical guy,” but there’s no guarantee that every man that you meet will act the same way or have the same attitude.

Taking it a step further, what if I passed judgment on an organization based on the actions of only one member? What if I said that organization was composed solely of people who fit this mold?

There are websites that facilitate this type of stereotype. Whether it’s College Confidential or campus gossip websites like Yik Yak, much of the content is comprised of generalizations. If I went online and wrote a terrible review of one organization just because I didn’t like one member, I would be making a generalization, and someone out there would probably read it and believe it.

At this point, generalizations are a part of our society. There is no way for us to go through life without encountering them.

What we can do, however, is recognize when generalizations are being made, and know better than to put stock in them. Think about all the generalizations that could be made about the groups you belong to, and think about whether all of them are true about you. Chances are, some are accurate, but many are not. Think about this the next time you hear a statement that lumps a group of people into one category. And then stand up and say something about it.

Meera Patel is a McCormick junior. She can be reached at meera@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com.

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