I’ve always been warned against stereotyping. Constantly I’ve been told not to discriminate against people different from me. But I think this message has left something about. I believe that a lot of the time, we simply overlook the fact that every person is, in fact, a person.
The cobblestone streets were uneven under the thin soles of my Converse, and I tread lightly as I passed by rows of windows. It was the summer before my junior year, and I was walking through Amsterdam with my 17-year-old cousin. We were polar opposites; he the suave and experienced Dutch boy, and me the naïve suburban girl from California. Yet somehow over the course of the month, through bored afternoons and sibling-like rivalry, we’d learned from each other. We walked through the streets with familiarity. Just another neighborhood- it was neither the first nor the last time we’d pass through the Red Light District.
I still didn’t know exactly how I felt about the legal prostitution that went on there. Personally, it was something I would never engage in, but after a month in Amsterdam, I’d decided I believed in letting other people make their own choice. Thus, I walked through the alley unperturbed as girls in lingerie called out to my cousin and beckoned from behind glass windows. At the beginning of my trip I had been uncomfortable looking at these girls; I guess I had been embarrassed. Now, though, I searched their faces.
Down the alleyway, something caught my eye. One of the girls, tall and pretty, and, of course, scantily clad, leaned lazily against her door. Unlike the others, she didn’t pose or call out. She stood in the doorway half naked, cell phone in hand, texting.
The image of the girl has stuck with me, and I still can’t exactly explain why. Once home, I tried to put it into words: “My own friends text. If she’s texting, she can’t be all that different from me.” My view of the girl had changed. Before, she’d been just a prostitute to me. True to my word, I’d respected her choice, and in that regard, I’d done my duty. But that was it. I’d been viewing her as superficially as the glass wall separating us. Yet it had taken only the simple act of texting for her to shatter that wall. In sending that text, she’d become human to me. She had her own life outside of this job. She had the same ordinary problems that I had, and probably even worse ones. As my cousin said to me when I raised the subject with him, “well, duh. They’re people too, you know.”
And I had known it, but I had never thought about what it actually meant to recognize each person as a person. It’s easy to overlook the individual; to stereotype and move on. But I believe that we should take that time to remember that, in fact, ‘they’re people too.’ Forget the glass wall.