I find it so interesting that, as much as we liberal-minded people like to think people are unique and don’t fit into the categories we put them in, dating site data shows that people actually do fit relatively neatly into categories. White men seem to love fishing and NASCAR and black women tend to like soul food and Tupac. So the question is, after we’ve seen how so many people don’t fit the mold, why do others fit it a little too well.
While I was discussing this in a science course, I chose to pull on my communication background to try to explain this. When we create categories, we inadvertently create communities of people who seek refuge with others “like them” who are also placed in the same category. When these people interact, they create their own “organizations” with their own cultures. Because of this, we can apply some organizational communication theory to examine them. People create cultures to make sense of the world. We affiliate with people who support our existing opinions and provide their own opinions that fall within our personal range of acceptability.
As people communicate, they shape each other’s realities while themselves being shaped. So, when like-minded people get together, they become more like-minded.Therefore, it is not surprising that people who are strongly connected to and affiliated with each other, they subscribe to many of the same beliefs, practices, and preferences. If a group of NASCAR-loving fishermen all hang out together, it is likely they will all like NASCAR and fishing that much more because it is something that bonds them to each other and gives them a sense of belonging.
Now, this sense of belonging does have more of a biological tie. Humans are social creatures. We seek community to survive and meet our psychological needs. Creating a culture is one way we do this. We seek out people who will accept and “protect” us. So, it makes sense that we would seek out and become like the people around us. The question is, though, is this wrong? Just because a group of women all happen to like soul food and Tupac, should they be stereotyped? Are they just this description?
Stereotypes are just descriptions of a group of people. Objectively, they are not the evil fate we often make them out to be. The problem arises when we say that this description, this stereotype, is the only description for these people. I am a white young adult female who likes Starbucks and has a serious Pinterest addiction. Based on these interests, I am the stereotypical “white chick,” but, I can also work on an engine, cut down a tree, and cheer on the Pittsburgh Steelers. Yes, I am a stereotypical white girl, but I am more than that. I have many of the same interests as people around me, but I have many more interests, too.
The same goes for any other social category. Yes, they will have things in common with other members of the same category, but I would argue that’s a good thing. It means they have a steady culture to identify with. The important thing, though, is that they are more than that. They share things with their culture, but they have their own interests. They have something that makes them more than their category, more than their stereotype.