Labels and Stereotypes

Everyone has  been labeled before, and then associated with a stereotype. Of course, most stereotypes are far from correct, and they're too often negative. So, why do we label people, and why do we expect people to match certain stereotypes? And if almost everyone supposedly hates these labels and stereotypes, why do they still exist?

Well, people label and stereotype to categorize and organize people just as they do for everything else. Labeling simply makes things easier for people to understand. People also use labels to "fit in" or figure out where they belong. On the other hand, labels are often unwanted, and stereotypes not only incorrect but hurtful as well.

I'll even give you an example from my own life (lucky you!): Since I was a kid, people have labeled me as a "good student" and maybe even as a "nerd." Therefore, they'd assume that I must want to be a doctor or a lawyer (because those are obviously the only career options for a "good student" right?) and that I must like schoolwork (a logical explanation for my high grades, no doubt.) The latter assumption was most often made during my middle school years. You'd probably agree that these are quite common assumptions about people who perform well in school. However, these assumptions are, of course, wrong. Frankly, I'm not the biggest fan of studying law and I definitely do not enjoy being around sick people (I'm a bit of a germaphobe). And to be honest I hate most schoolwork, especially homework. I've always thought that this assumption was particularly dumb; who actually enjoys doing homework? Although, I'll have to admit that these assumptions are at worst annoying, and people don't think of me as a nerd by my appearance and most don't exactly treat me like one. I could go on and on with this list of stereotypes and labels people have given me, as I'm sure almost anyone could, but I'd rather not right now.

You'd think that after meeting someone who obviously does not fit a stereotype, you would stop associating that person with the stereotype. That this would be especially true after numerous people explained that their stereotypes are wrong. That would be logical, right? Unfortunately, people don't change stereotypes very often. If they do, they either adjust the stereotype to fit, create a sub-stereotype or, as a final resort, discard of the old stereotype and start a new one (if the old stereotype was extremely wrong). As you can see, it's very difficult to get rid of a stereotype. The somewhat good news is if you constantly act differently from a stereotype, people will eventually stop associating you with it, or at least change it. But even if you just can't seem to get rid of a stereotype, try not to let it bother you too much. That stereotype about you isn't going to last forever, and chances are there are plenty of people who know it isn't true.

It's not like everyone purposely labels and stereotypes you, though admittedly some people purposely do. It can be a subconscious action, even if you strive not to label people or expect them to act a certain way. The worst part is, while it seems that almost everyone is constantly complaining about labeling and stereotyping, many of them hypocritically do it too (even if they don't realize it).

If you're going to label people, at least use positive labels. If you catch yourself thinking negatively about someone because of a stereotype, try to disregard it. Everyone is sick of the negative labels and stereotypes, and I'm sure you are too. Stop assuming negative things about people, it's not making anything better for anyone. In fact, you probably don't like being stereotyped or labeled anymore than anyone else. Seriously, think about all the labels and stereotypes you've been given, especially the hurtful ones, and ask yourself if anyone really deserves that. I'd like to think no one does, and I really, really try not label or stereotype anyone, especially if I don't know them. (Did I mention I've been labeled as "too nice"?) If everyone would try to be just a little more open-minded, maybe everyone would have more friends, and less enemies. I'd like to think I do. It's perfectly fine to label objects, just don't categorize people.
I'd really like to hear you opinion on this article, and labels and stereotypes. Maybe you could share some of the ways people have stereotyped or labeled you? After all, other people might read about it and stop stereotyping people like you. Who knows?


  1. Very interesting article. I've explored your blog a bit and I like how you tackle big issues.

    You state that if we are going to label, we should at least label positively. But keep in mind that what some people take as positive, others would take as negative.

    An off-topic critique: your labeled sections to the right of the blog postings are in the "glowing" formatting and its really hard to read like that.

    Also, it doesn't apply to this post, but in other posts I really think you should cite your sources for statistics and stuff. It would mean a lot to me, as a reader, but also to the person who originally came up with that stuff.

  2. Thanks for the great advice. By saying that people should label positively, I meant that they should try to focus on the positive attributes of someone rather than the negative, since most people label others without even meaning to. You're right though, even positive labels could be taken as negative ones by some people.

    I changed the color of the text, thanks for pointing it out. I haven't put too much time into the design of the blog yet. I hope it's easier to read now.

    Good point. I realized that I should be including links to sources a few days ago. I'm a beginning blogger, so I hadn't really thought about it until recently.


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