In psychology, when someone approaches a problem with only one solution in mind, or they can only think of using an object in it’s traditional ways, it is referred to as functional fixedness. All across the world, people fall victim to this bias, refusing to acknowledge all the other possibilities. In many ways, stereotypes are formed on the same premise. People judge others based on their race, gender, intellectual abilities, etc. and group them together based on how they fit into these categories. They let the stereotypes previously laid out by society define how they are going to interact with others, and don’t give them the chance to show that they are indeed their own being and not befitting of each and every stereotype.
Although I myself have not been harmed immensely by the discrimination caused by stereotyping, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s words still ring true. People do tend to hear one thing about a group of people, and then forever associate them with this attribute. We have all at some point in our lives made a judgement based on a single story.
One example that comes to mind, when I think of being the victim of a stereotype or a single story, is one directly related to my journalism career. During my junior high years, I attended a school that was infamous for drugs, gangs, and just an overall bad quality education. It was right next door to a juvie, and just so happened to be the only middle school in my district. After my time at this school, I moved on to a high school that was in a better area, and had another ‘feeder school’ that was a lot more protected in terms of violence and crime. I immediately joined the newspaper at this new school, and the teacher was astonished by my writing abilities. She had assumed that because I went to a school with such a bad reputation, that I wouldn’t be intelligent enough to write an article to be published in the newspaper. Because of that, I had to work harder than anyone in the class to make my way to the top.
Avoiding these stereotypes is important in every day life, but especially so when it comes to journalism. As journalists, it is our job to write or speak the truth, no matter our personal beliefs. Although it’d be much simpler to draw conclusions based on the single story, we must learn to gather information from all sides of the story, not just the one that most matches our own views. In order to guarantee that our work remains unbiased, we should approach every story with an open mind, investigate from all angles, and have someone who many have a different opinion than your own review the article.
Stereotypes are a difficult thing to overcome once they’ve laid their roots, but we are much better off living in a world without them.