Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Friday, April 20, 2018

Peter and I strolled into the bustling department store on a Friday evening. Racks of merchandise beckoned us to spend our money. To the right sat three older gentlemen in overstuffed chairs; they appeared to be waiting patiently.


One of the men glanced up from his newspaper and called to Peter, “Pull up a chair. If your wife is anything like mine, it’s going to be a long night.”


“Actually, I’m the one who’s here to shop,” Peter replied with a grin. “My wife hates it. I bet she’d love to join you.”


So much for the stereotype that women love to shop.


Over the years, my husband and I have defied a lot of stereotypes. He’s the one who’s always late; I am chronically on time. I always travel light, packing as little as possible. Peter packs enough clothes for a life in exile, plus the entire contents of the medicine cabinet, a box of rags (you never know when you might need one), and an emergency supply of caraway seeds. Don’t get me started.


As you can see, stereotypes are not always accurate.


A stereotype is a way of looking at people in a specific category as if they’re all the same. It is one step away from prejudice, which I discussed in a recent column.


Not long ago I began musing about stereotypes, courtesy of Harry Potter.


I had just finished the fourth Harry Potter book on tape. As I prepared to start the fifth book, it occurred to me that in nearly 2,000 pages thus far, not a single personality difference was portrayed – not even a subtle one – between identical twin characters, Fred and George Weasley. Despite a wide range of time, location and circumstance, Fred and George were absolutely indistinguishable, as if they existed as a single person in two bodies.


Have you noticed that books and movies nearly always portray twins in this manner? Many of us have come to believe this stereotype, despite the fact that it’s quite untrue. I call it a Socially Acceptable Stereotype, because we deem it relatively harmless. There are many such stereotypes that are widely accepted.


Do you think you don’t subscribe to stereotypes? Think again. Here are some Socially Acceptable Stereotypes:


• Politicians are corrupt.


• Irishmen are drunks.


• Teens are wild.


• Political conservatives lack compassion.


• Men are clueless.


• Engineers lack social skills.


• Italians make great lovers.


• Lawyers are crooks.


• Born-again Christians are judgmental and rigid.


• Women are high-maintenance.


• Gay men are stylish dressers.


• Southerners think slavery should still be legal.


• Homeless people are winos.


• White guys have no rhythm.


• Children without siblings are spoiled.


• Republicans are wealthy. Yankees are snobs. Republican Yankees are insufferable.


• Latin men are great dancers.


• California is populated by aging hippies.


• Married men are henpecked.


• Asians are math geniuses.


• If you have a handicapped child, it’s because you can handle it.


• College students are binge drinkers.


• People on public assistance are lazy.


• Muslims are terrorists.


This list raises a lot of questions. Is there such a thing as a harmless stereotype? Probably yes. If someone thinks white guys have no rhythm, it’s not likely to be a problem unless that person is a casting director for a musical. Then it leads to discrimination.


Does stereotyping always lead to discrimination? No, but it can. I know a white guy who marched for civil rights with Dr. Martin Luther King, but when his blond daughter wanted to date a black guy, he adamantly opposed it. Why? He believed a negative stereotype about black men, and that negative belief led to negative action.


What does being a Christian have to do with stereotypes?


A lot. When we view someone through the filter of a stereotype, we view him or her as the same as everyone else in that particular category. In contrast, God views each of us as a unique individual whom he loves with all his heart.


“For you formed my inward parts,” the psalmist sang to God. “You knit me together in my mother’s womb.” God formed a unique ME, not a generic married white woman of Scottish and Irish descent. God formed YOU. And God calls us each by name.


“I will never forget you,” says the Lord. “See? I have written your name on the palms of my hands.”


Since God has so loved us, do we not we owe it to our brethren to love each one as an individual?


Regina Cram lives in Glastonbury and is a freelance writer.