“A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it.”
“You know, comments like that are a big red flag to people in that community.” What? I would never mean it to be a negative, or to make someone think I’m not who I present myself to be. What do you mean? “Let me educate you…” My stomach grew a little uncomfortable as I realized my needing to be educated meant I still haven’t done a good job of educating myself. In my effort to learn more all the time, I’ve learned one thing that is certain – just because someone swears something is truth doesn’t mean it’s the truth. Or as Wilde aptly puts it, just because you or I are willing to die for it doesn’t make it true. There isn’t much I would be willing to die for, but there is an awful lot I want to be sure I represent correctly, especially for the sake of those who hear me speak.
The word that has come back to me over and over today is stereotype. I have a working knowledge of this word as a female who was born blonde, spoke with a thick southern accent, and giggled a lot. When I moved to the adult world, I took a speech class, died my hair darker, and worked hard to be someone people would take seriously. Today, I am darker blonde and a little gray, speaking with heavy hints of that southern accent, and laughter is part of who I am. The stereotypical southern blonde woman is someone else’s problem, not mine.
We all have biases based on stereotypes we’ve bought into or have simply never questioned. Here are a few:
Often, stereotypes exist for good reasons, and many stereotypes are positive, but that doesn’t mean what’s true for most is true for all. Not all blondes are dumb or have more fun, and many men are actually great at housework and should definitely share the load. You see where I’m going? What are some stereotypes you’ve believed? More importantly, what are some beliefs you’ve been holding that might not be true?
You can’t know what you don’t know, but you can educate yourself to change what you do know. Not everyone is exposed to the same circumstances or beliefs throughout life, but most of us have the opportunity to learn. While the internet is full of falsehoods, it is also filled with reputable sources for truth, and the more truth and knowledge you acquire, it stands to reason the less ignorance you’ll keep.
And it can be scary. For instance, I believed until just a few years ago that everyone’s mouth was built like mine. It wasn’t until the dentist mentioned my mandibular tori that I had to learn a new truth – a lot of you don’t have all this bone in your mouth. I’m special, after all, right? Have to laugh at such special additions sometimes.
As my friend explained how incorrect my assumptions were about a group of people, I felt a need to exclaim to no one in particular how sorry I was for not being more careful in my words and my effort to know the whole story. I had bought in to a narrative that wasn’t totally accurate. It all began with a stereotype. It rather reminds me of when we moved into our home as a very young couple and thought other people must have so much more wealth. Just because people drive a nicer car or live in a nicer home does not mean they have more wealth nor more happiness than you. Just because people post beautiful photos of their family on social media doesn’t mean they are gloriously happy — but who wants to see photos of the ugly moments?
Back to the choices you and I make in what we believe and the price both sides of those beliefs pay. What if you and I very simply dropped every belief about people in general and allowed into our thinking only those beliefs that we know firsthand to be true? While I work hard to check myself in all kinds of situations, I accept that I might hold beliefs I don’t even realize I hold. I’ve sat with a lot of people in my life, and when I read the story of Daryl Davis, I couldn’t imagine sitting at the table the way he did that first time with a member of a group who hated people like him.
You see, Mr. Davis is a Black musician. After a show, he was visiting with an audience member who remarked it was the first time they had ever shared a drink with a Black man. It turned out, the man was a member of the KKK, a group that is known for its mistreatment and hate of Black people. Fast forward several years, and you’ll learn that Davis began having more conversations. In all, he has gotten to know around 200 members of the KKK who have left that life after learning that their beliefs were unfairly founded.
We often learn, as in the case of Mr. Davis, that we have held views based on someone else’s painting with a broad brush, and it’s time to get closer. Sometimes, that means listening when a friend says, “… just so ya know.. please don’t apologize, you did nothing wrong, I just know you’d want to know.” We should want to know when we have misunderstood. Even when it means admitting we’ve had it all wrong, as many beliefs have held people for years. Yes, I think the beliefs actually hold us, and we have a choice to take away their power. Even if you’re willing to die for it, it doesn’t make it true.