The Paralyzing Effects of Stereotypes

Kathryn - Charlotte, North Carolina
Entered on May 12, 2008
Age Group: Under 18
Themes: equality

“God’s pens paint my limbs and skin, with melanin.

And so begins my history,

But you curse me for his creativity:”

-an excerpt from Vejea Jennings

Everyday, people are being stereotyped because of their race, gender, school, and age. Although everyone is guilty of stereotyping, it is unjust in every way, shape, and form. This I believe: The negative effects of racial stereotyping paralyze most young people from achieving their true potential.

There can be both negative and seemingly positive labels. By positive, I mean stereotypes that do not directly offend people, generally. For instance, the stereotype is that all African Americans can dance and play basketball well. Often times, kids at my school would debate with me on why less that 4% of our high school is black, although at least 40% of our varsity basketball teams are black. Admittedly, sometimes it feels like a complement when people assume that you can do anything better than the next person, despite their reasoning.

But, I believe that the true problem lies when people live down to expectations. The negative stereotypes that I hear often imply that African Americans, especially males are illiterate. And that we are the first to rob, steal, and cheat, the stereotypes that are most times portrayed very clearly in our role models through media. Many of my friends, choosing not to strive for excellence, smoke pot and participate in gang activity because that is all society expects out of them.

The plague of stereotypes works in many young people’s lives as a force against achieving greatness. My close friend, Keenan, disappoints me because he has a very low opinion of himself and his ability to achieve great things. He believes that society does not expect much of him due mostly from his environment growing up. Keenan has a bad track record, having been incarcerated multiple times by the age of nineteen. As a close friend of his, I am able to see his potential. However, due to his lack of motivation, I am worried he will never be able to free himself from the path he has already set. Other people who aren’t familiar with Keenan are quick to negatively label him and assume the worst. Because of the negative stereotypes, the path to his becoming successful will be more of an uphill battle.

Society often defines us by our races. People should never be constrained to their race. Race is an external factor, not embedded within our genetics. Social differences exist between races, not to be confused with physical differences. I don’t believe there can be an end to prejudices. Each person must decide for themselves how they choose to view others. Vejae Jennings, an African American poet and songwriter, puts it best when he simply says,

“… The good of a people, created equal

Lies in their souls within,

And not in the hues,

God will choose to paint their skins.”