On Stereotyping

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I wrote this in response to a topic in a class, so it’s lacking a little introduction is fairly bare bones. But the idea is something I had been trying to figure out how to say for a little while, and is somewhat tied in to some other things that are currently bothering me which I hope to write about soon. So to all three or four of you who will actually see this, please forgive the lacking format. I just wanted to go ahead and set this here to flesh out and instigate myself later.

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I have to admit that every now and then I have trouble with this topic. When you deliver pizza, you tend to come across a very wide spectrum of people in the course of a day. Unfortunately, not everyone seems to understand the concept of tipping. There are several people groups who tend to carry the stereotype of having this problem. Here’s looking at you college kids.

The problem with stereotyping is that it can often be rooted in factual, statistical evidence. I could track all of my tips for a month and show you the numbers that will back up the idea that college kids either don’t tip or don’t tip as well. This leads some people to conclude “It’s not stereotyping if it’s true”, and this is not the worst point in the world.

However, to me, it becomes stereotyping when you take it to the point where you assume it to be true about a person without any evidence but their appearance. Just because something is generally true or even often true does not mean that it is always true. It is not right to assume you’re going to get stiffed just because a college kid answers the door.

On the flip side, I can think of several instances where I could possibly be accused of stereotyping in which it proved beneficial. For example, one time a guy came in and ordered a pizza with some assortment of veggies and the marinara sauce. No big deal, right? Well, one look at the guy led me to conclude that there was a reasonable chance he was of a particular religion. Seeing this I asked him if he was sure he wanted the marinara sauce because, though not everyone realized it, there was actually meat in the sauce. He looked surprised to hear that, changed his order, and thanked me for catching the error.

Was I stereotyping him? I don’t know, but he was sure grateful either way. The further I get through life the harder it is to always see this as a singularly negative idea. I can’t prescribe to it being a black and white issue. At the very least I think I can say that there are much worse social sins to be concerned about.

Without trying to get into the the nitty gritty science and math of it (not that I’m capable anyway), to me it seems that stereotyping is simply a name we give to a phenomenon that happens naturally within the brain wherein the cumulative social data we’ve gathered through life is used to adjust our frame of reference and help predict outcomes. It’s a natural extension of our brain’s ongoing efforts to constantly intake, quantify, and correlate information in order to process the world around us.

I don’t know how we’re supposed to shut that off. Ultimately, I think it just comes down to choosing not to judge the people around us or accept presumptions off the cuff without any sort of specific evidence. We need to choose to remember that everyone is individual, and everyone deserves a fair shot. That’s what we can control, and that’s what matters.

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