We live in a world where everyone is challenged and encouraged to “be different”. This movement to stand out from the crowd is often admirable, but the reality of being diverse isn’t always rewarding. Often times, stepping outside the boundaries of what is portrayed as normal can lead to controversy and discrimination. When we look at the surface of human variation, variables like skin color, body image, or disabilities are typically what come to mind. However, diversity has many dimensions such as religious beliefs, political views, sexuality, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, etc. Diversity is much more than recognizing the differences of individuals, but understanding, appreciating, and accepting that each individual is unique. Even though human variation is due to biological makeup and our individual right to self-identify, many cultures attempt to minimize diversity throughout their communities and encourage conformity. Unfortunately, not being able to understand everyone’s differences leads to bigotry and oppression from individuals who believe they are of higher privilege. These oppressive opinions can lead outsiders to indulge in dangerous alterations to their appearance and personalities in order to fit in.
One thing we as humans often fail to realize is that every individual has faced discrimination in one form or another. I personally have had experiences that taught me the negative effects of being different and how discrimination tears someone apart. As a white man, I have faced being stereotyped as self-involved, racist, and partaking in bigotry. People have assumed that because I have certain traits, that I fit the mold and characteristics of negative white stereotypes. I understand that the wrath I feel from race is nothing compared to what someone of color experiences every day, but these few incidences exposed me to the adverse effects racial stereotyping can have. During these few experiences I felt angry for not being understood, I knew I was being put into a category where I didn’t belong. I’m not mean or racist, how can they just assume those were my thought process? In my specific situation, the issue was eventually put to rest because we slowly had the chance to get to know one another and finally understand each other. This experience really taught me to take a step back when I make snap judgments about people, because you can never judge a book by its cover. Unfortunately, many groups of individuals like LGBT, special education students, people of color, and so many more are stereotyped every day without the issue ever being resolved.
Over the past century, stereotypes about racial groups have lead to discrimination, oppression, and bigotry. Many of these stereotypical beliefs began long before the days of segregation and have continued to evolve within each generation. These stereotypes have lead 60 percent of African Americans to make up the state prison population. The war on drugs weighed heavily against people of color due to racial discrimination by law enforcement and produced an epidemic of higher arrest and incarceration rates for minorities. Many of these arrests were a result of law enforcement targeting low-income communities and charging people of color more harshly when it came to sentencing. This is all a result of people who assume their privilege in the criminal justice system and are stereotyping the African Americans. This has created a great loss for people of color, because when a child grows up in a family with incarcerated families, they are more likely to follow in their parent’s footsteps and repeat the cycle. This is a prime example of how diversity can create controversy throughout a nation, and have negative long lasting effects.