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Thursday, February 15, 2024

How can we dismantle prejudice and stereotyping?

At present, the single most menacing non-traditional security threat rampant worldwide probably stems from the propensity of the human mind to discriminate based on stereotypes. The maiden step towards disrupting stereotypes is, to doubt objectivity and increase self-awareness concerning them. Cognitive restructuring techniques involving self-reflection can lead to people discovering inconsistencies in their behavior that is the need of the hour as well.

Social neuroscience, today, provides evidence of the neurological basis of stereotyping or generalizing beliefs about certain groups of people. Human brains are predisposed to categorize the vast array of information entering every second and seek patterns and associations, to oversimplify the world. Whilst compartmentalization of incoming information may facilitate memory retrieval and data management, it unfortunately also elicits prejudice and discrimination.

Eventually, the expectations about specific groups engraved in our minds culminate into us ignoring individual attributes in lei of evaluating in terms of the entire group. Negative stereotypes have also been shown to plant self-doubt in the victims of stereotyped sections, which conduce to stereotype threat, whereby people internalize negative stereotypes about themselves; in some cases, bringing about behaviors that ultimately reflect the original stereotype through a process recognized as the self-fulfilling prophecy.

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What causes these kinds of discrimination and prejudice?

At present, the single most menacing non-traditional security threat rampant worldwide probably stems from the propensity of the human mind to discriminate based on stereotypes. Whether it exhibits as anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in Europe, or racism and xenophobia in North America, or manifests as classism and sectarianism in the Arabian Peninsula, or casteism and ethnic division in South Asia, or all of them all over the world; the tendency to segregate people as ingroups and outgroups have time and time again evinced to easily transcend to violent levels.

Regardless of whether our brains may be prone to seek group membership to formulate a social identity or if this phenomenon merely springs from cultural conditioning; with an eye towards global concord, justice and amity, there is a cardinal exigency to learn to dissociate individuals from the stereotypes in our minds and view them apropos of their personal characteristics. Although current scenarios everywhere on the planet paint a bleak picture for the future of our civilization, research suggests, human minds are capable of reversing implicit negative prejudice by dint of cognitive restructuring, metacognition and education.

Planet Earth is home to nearly 7.9 billion people, affiliated to almost 5000 ethnic groups finding solace in 4300 discrete religions and speaking some 6500 different languages. Though there may be a concept of definite races, their boundaries are largely obscured, and most people as a result of migration and integration are amalgams of several races and endow our world with their unique presence. The vastly varied genotypes engendering equally diverse phenotypes in tandem with distinctive cultures and historical identifications not only bring a billion stories about the history of our civilization to light but also augment our prospects of survival and ensure continuity as a species. Obliteration of a peril that symbolizes intellectual regression and vilifies a concept that contributed to our triumph in the evolutionary arms race, is ergo incumbent upon us.

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How can we squash these stereotypes?

The maiden step towards disrupting stereotypes is, to doubt objectivity and increase self-awareness concerning them. Cognitive restructuring techniques involving self-reflection can lead to people discovering inconsistencies in their behavior under cognitive dissonance; triggering discomfort and anxiety that can then constitute motivation for the development of rational attitudes. Once stereotypes are cognized, one can actively try and substitute the original stereotype with a non-stereotypical thought using a stereotype replacement strategy.

Another technique to combat implicit negative bias is counter- stereotypic imaging, where one harnesses his sense of imagination to visualize in detail a person or situation that counters the original stereotype. Alternatively, one can avail examples from his life that represent the opposite of that stereotype. A step further would be to practice perspective taking where you empathize what it would be like to walk in the shoes of a stereotyped group. Or devise respectful ways to experience albeit briefly the life of someone belonging to a marginalized community.

Since new studies indicate that both implicit and explicit bias is in place by the time children are three, and early childhood is formative in the development of bias; efforts should ideally be implemented earlier to be more effective and yield long-term effects. Evidence suggests children that undergo a training method called perceptual individuation which is designed to offer children experiences that boost their expertise in processing individual other-race faces, display significantly curtailed implicit racial bias relative to pre-exercise levels. This technique can also be utilized by adults to produce more individualized perceptions of members of other groups and avoid generalizations to make judgments.

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Time-tested interventions geared towards battling prejudice are positive contact

Expanding opportunities that merely accentuate cross-group interactions have been demonstrated to undo stereotypical associations and decrease bias. On a larger scale, in addition to taking steps to make norms against prejudice conventional; amplifying representation and visibility of people from minority groups and creating a critical mass in various departments serve to redefine group boundaries and consolidate a multicultural ethos that unequivocally values diversity.

Human beings can indubitably be classified into disparate categories like race, gender, religion and ethnicity. While scrutiny of these categories from a sociological and anthropological viewpoint can educate us regarding the science of evolution in relevance to climate and assimilation, and supplement historical research among others, perhaps the most enrichening takeaway that can impact all of us is the hypnotizing beauty all this diversity brings into our lives.

A homogenous world; where everyone looked similar, donned comparable style of clothing, conversed in the same dialect, and practiced identical beliefs and traditions would certainly lack much of its current aesthetic appeal. The same variations among humankind that humans have exploited to justify violence and discrimination for centuries, make our otherwise mundane presence intriguing and fascinating. A paradigm shift in perspective, aiming for moral ascent complementary to the millenniums of cognitive evolution our species has undergone; is thus imperative to see beauty where we discern eccentricity worthy of discrimination and outcast.

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After all, amidst all the insanity that the vacillating world of politics and science encapsulates, one of the most conspicuous constant sources of beauty is the charm of diversity; whether it is derived from the 369,000 different species of flowering plants or the idiosyncratic mosaic patterns on certain feline coats or the characteristic forms, attributes and practices of Homo Sapiens, each inspiring awe and wonder in their peculiar fashion.

The writer is a student of Biomedicine, with a passion for social justice and equality. She can be reached at biya1994@hotmail.com. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space