If You Don’t Like Being Stereotyped, Don’t Stereotype Others

Twitter can be a really weird place sometimes.

We’ve had another mass shooting here in America. As is the case for every other shooting that’s gained national attention since the advent of popular online venues like Facebook and Twitter, many Americans turned to their social media accounts after the Orlando Massacre to express grief, find consolation within their networks, and express their political opinions about what problems need to be addressed to ensure a better future for the country. As much as some people would love for the country to come together in the wake of tragedy and put politics aside, the easiness with which social media allows us to amplify our views to a large audience is too tempting for many users. I am sympathetic to the idea of scaling back the personal opinions during trying times such as these, but I’m realistic enough to know that national tragedies often become politicized before the blood is dry.

And so it was no surprise to me when I came across this dumb meme on Twitter the other day. Of course someone had to turn this tragedy into a statement about the true victims in this country. Yes, those folks who like waving Confederate flags and celebrating the ideals of the Confederacy who face cultural persecution and impending death by a lethal dose of political correctness.

White Supremacists Lack Spelling Skills

The message seems clear enough. The perpetrator of last year’s Charleston Massacre, Dylan Roof, is a known white supremacist who proudly posed with Confederate flags in numerous pictures before the shooting. In response, there have been efforts throughout the country to reassess and in some cases take action to remove Confederate icons and symbols from public places of honor. We can see that whoever created this meme believes that as a supporter of Confederate heritage, he or she is being perceived as racist for waving the flag, and that the actions of one person are unfairly representing the views and values of an entire group of people. That’s actually a fair point to make. Self-identified interest groups, whether political, social, or cultural, often maintain a spectrum of views that are sometimes hard to generalize about. Certainly we can all agree that most Confederate heritage defenders are not bent on committing a mass shooting to incite a race war, as Roof hoped to do.

But then this person engages in the very same behavior he or she criticizes in others by complaining that they can’t make generalizations and demeaning comments about an entire religion and ethnic group without being called a racist! “You’re called racist if you speak out against Islam.” Well yes, that’s what happens when you make generalizations and stereotypes about an entire religion or ethnic group based on the actions of one person and deem them inferior to your own group. Apparently Dylan Roof’s actions do not speak for all Confederate Heritage advocates, but Omar Mateen’s actions speak for all Muslims around the world. Get the picture yet?

There are all different sorts of radical ideologies that worry me, not the least a group like ISIS. But I think there’s a lesson to be learned here. If you don’t like being stereotyped, then don’t stereotype others. If you take exception to being called a racist, then don’t engage in racist behavior. If you don’t like seeing a radical appropriate and define the message of your group, then take actions to change the perception and redefine the message. And please, for the love of God, check your spelling and grammar before sharing these silly memes.



9 thoughts on “If You Don’t Like Being Stereotyped, Don’t Stereotype Others

  1. We can have the discussion on racism (or some other topic), but we are forbidden to have any discussion about religion, especially Islam? Is that what is being said?

    1. No, that’s pretty much the opposite of what I said.

      We can and should have discussions about the role of religion in world affairs, but we should do so in a way that avoids making blanket generalizations about entire groups of people, especially if we base our judgements of these groups on the actions of one or a handful of radicals. I realize that Islam–like other major religions–is composed of many different denominations with a range of views towards the Islamic faith and how to interpret the message of the Qur’an. I would rather listen to someone of the Islamic faith explain their values than point a judgemental finger at them based on what I hear in the news about Muslims.

      As someone raised in the Catholic church on Christian principles, I am embarrassed by Christians like the Phelps family in Kansas who protest military funerals because of their opposition to homosexuality. I believe they don’t speak for me or a good number of Christians, and I would take exception to someone who would make blanket generalizations about the Christian faith based on the radical actions of one particular family’s interpretation of the Bible and the tactics they use to impose their values on others.

      Generalizations are necessary and part of human nature. They are based on observation of a large body of data, are culturally sensitive, and provide useful information for understanding a particular group’s values, culture, and lifestyle. Stereotypes are assumptions based on a crude sampling of a small number of people that are often used to highlight the worst traits of a particular group in a demeaning way. The distinction between the two is very fine, but it exists.

      I expect others to make generalizations about me based on my background and interests, but I resent efforts to make assumptions or crude stereotypes about who I am as a person based on the actions of other people. Hope that makes sense.

      1. I understand that and I agree with your comments regarding judgement of people and stereotyping (I am an old white male, I get my share). But I can make generalizations about religions and basic beliefs. If you were to decide to not be a Catholic, will some RC kill you and your family because it? We have to face the fact that Islam is a problem in the world today. Some (few) Muslims are trying to do something about it. But thanks for a well written and thought out post. And thank you for answering my question.

        1. I can’t speak to whether or not my family and I would be killed by a radical Christian if I decided to leave the Catholic faith, but numerous acts of terrorism have been committed by Christians in this country over the past 25 years, so you never know. These acts include the Oklahoma City Bombings, the Olympic Park Bombing in Atlanta, a massacre at a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin, a suicide attack on a IRS building in Texas, and numerous bombings and shootings at Planned Parenthood buildings. Does the fact that Christian terrorism exists in America make Christianity “a problem in the world today”? I would argue that a more holistic analysis of Christian thought within a theological, cultural, and political context is necessary before making such a blanket statement, and I would encourage you to consider such an analysis with regards to the Islamic faith before making such a judgement. I also take issue with your claim that “few” Muslims are doing anything to curb radicalism within the faith. Where is the evidence for that? Every time something like the Orlando Massacre happens, Muslims stand up and denounce the violence. Roughly 80,000-100,000 Muslims out of 1.6 billion around the world are believed to be affiliated with ISIS.

          I have already stated that I see ISIS and its hateful vision as a problem that we all must work towards solving. That does not mean that I see all of Islam as a problem.

          I appreciate your comment and subsequent discussion. Take care.

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