We live in a world in which so much information is thrown at us with amazing speed and our brains must quickly process this information. Sometimes generalizations help organize this information and other times it does great harm. I have a problem with generalizations and with the people who use them. Generalizations are statements or concepts which make an inference from specific cases. In other words, it is a broad statement about a group based on one individual from that group. It irritates me when sometime makes a generalization statement especially when I know individuals who do not fit the statement. You can know when you use generalizations is when you use the word “all.” What are generalizations? What is the problem with generalizations? How can we avoid them?
Generalizations can be used like stereotypes. Stereotypes are widely held but fixed and oversimplified images or ideas about a person due to their inclusion in a group or category. Sometimes the stereotypes are valid and true for one individual, but they can be false for others. There are five types of generalizations. First, racial profiling in which an entire race has a specific skill, like all Blacks are great athletes, or all Asians are very smart. Second, gender profiling in which members of this group behave in a certain way. For example, since Valentine’s Day was a couple days ago, all women want jewelry and expensive gifts. While I do know some women, who do expect to be showered with expensive gifts, I know a lot of women, myself included, who do not. Third, cultural profiling is basing everyone together based on their cultural or national identity. For example, all Irish are drunks, or all Jews are greedy. Fourth, profiling based on group identity. For example, all goths are depressed, or all geeks are socially awkward. Lastly, sexual profiling in which assumptions are made based on someone’s sexual preferences. For examples, all feminine men are gay, all masculine women are lesbian.
The problem with generalization is that it lumps everyone who identify with a group with having a specific attribute. Stereotypes are quick tactics people use when talking about the problems of the world (Greene 2015). Some stereotypes seem harmless and even individuals in those groups make use of the generalizations for comic effect. Many comedians use stereotypes to make shed light on the stereotypes themselves. Humorist Mary Hirsch once said, “Humor is a rubber sword- it allows you to make a point without drawing blood.” Even positive stereotypes can be very hurtful and dangerous. People who don’t live up to positive stereotypes often feel like failures and those who do, don’t get the credit for the effort they put in (Devarajan 2018). A black athlete who is praised for his “natural talent” may feel his hours are practice are ignored. Even believing in the positive stereotypes, like a strong black woman, can lead to believing in the negative stereotypes, like all black men are deadbeat dads (Devarajan 2018). What stops us from believing negative stereotypes when we believe in positive ones? “Generalization is just another excuse to use stereotypes and it oversimplifies issues” (Greene 2015).
How do we avoid using generalizations? First, stop using the word “ALL.” Simple as that. When you use the word “all” you include everyone, and everyone may not fit. Not all Blacks are great athletes. Not all Asians are super smart. Not all Mexicans are here illegally. Not all whites are racists. Not all Muslims are terrorists and not all terrorists are Muslims. Second, pay attention to broad and generic statements. These statements tend to distort reality and often play on our emotions. I see these types of statements all the time in politics and religion especially in the media. It only takes a moment to stop and question the statement. Even if you ultimately believe it to be true, stop and analyze it first. Third, ask yourself for real life examples of those who fit the statement and those who do not. Challenge the statement. You may come up with more examples of those individuals who fit the statement because that is what you pay attention to; however, challenge yourself to find examples of those who don’t. You may find yourself seeing more and more examples of those who don’t fit the stereotypes.
In conclusion, generalizations are statements which are made about individuals within a group. Generalizations are made by race, gender, group identity, culture and sexuality. Negative and positive generalizations are hurt those who the statements are made, sometimes creating an image that individuals cannot escape or live up to. Avoiding generalizations is hard; but not impossible. It takes active awareness of when generalizations and stereotypes are used. I try my best to avoid thinking about people in terms of generalizations and I realize it is difficult. Sometimes the people who fit those generalizations are the ones we notice more but we might be surprised to find many individuals who don’t fit these statements. We need to be aware of these generalized statements.
Devarajan, Kumari (February 17, 2018). ’Strong’ Black Woman? ‘Smart’ Asian Man? The Downside to Positive Stereotypes.. Retrieved February 14, 2019.
Greene, Ava (November 30, 2015). The Problem with Generalization. Retrieved February 13, 2019.