I recently returned home after years abroad, to find my country beset by stereotype. It’s time we question the truth – and our own thoughts – before lasting damage is done.
Stereotypes. They go something like this:
Liberals: Latte swillin’, skinny jean wearing, safe space having, stupid, whiny liberals. Sitting in their glasshouses, in their big-city bubble, never having done a day of real work in their entire lives. With their hypocritical, all-inclusive bullshit, when really all they do is gentrify. If there was a goddamn war anywhere, they’d hide in their parents’ basements sucking on their thumbs forever.
Conservatives: Wearing their flag underwear, watching their Fox news, talking bout ‘Merica, screaming about everybody that’s different than them. Ignorant conservatives. Spreading racism and fear whereever they go. Biggest bunch of “snowflakes” around. It’s like I’m gonna hate on everybody else but don’t call me hateful, that hurts my feelings, I need a safe space.
Muslims: Goddamn terror flag-waving, Sharia law imposing, throwing all the gays off the buildings, and subjugating the women everywhere. All 1.6 billion of ’em, all over the world, they’re coming to indoctrinate us with their falafel-eating, freedom-hating ways.
Christians: Life is sacred. Until that life pops out of their momma. Then we can bomb the shit out of ’em. Don’t you remember what Jesus said? Save the fetuses but bomb the shit out of everyone else. We’re just trying to bring you to the one true God. Except if you’re gay. To hell with gay people.
Trying to destroy our freedom. All 10,000 or so of them. Out of 4.8 million or so who fled that country. They’re flooding our borders! Thanks Facebook and our lovely politicians for identifying that threat and correcting all those things I had seen with my own eyes and heard with my own ears.
I got back last year from spending six years overseas as an aid worker in the Mideast and Africa. I opened up my Facebook and people started throwing around memes and such. They’ve been teaching me things.
Apparently, during the time I was living in the Mideast for three and a half years around predominantly Muslim populations in Jordan and Lebanon, I didn’t realise the danger I was in. Silly me. I remember one of my best friends for two years; she was Palestinian and Muslim. We used to have coffee together in the morning. She’d smile. Little did I know it was all part of an Anti-Zionist indoctrination plot. Or maybe we were just friends.
Nah, that couldn’t have been it.
It was like when I arrived in Portland, Oregon (hipster, liberal capital of the West), back in ’04, after growing up in Wyoming and then serving in the 82nd Airborne. I met a few people who corrected my thinking. I was in a class one day and I was informed that the people from the red states were ignorant (Wyoming’s pretty red). I got a little pissed and asked how many people in that class had lived in a red state. I was the only one who raised their hand.
It’s like when you get out of the army, and to some people you’re a hero who just walked on water (until you started speaking), yet to other people you are a vile, brainwashed murderer who was a government tool to either be feared or pitied. Good lord.
2015. There were all those people from Syria I worked with. At the time I thought they were just normal people who had to flee one of the worst wars of our time – people who astounded me with their bravery and toughness and humbled me with their friendship. But thanks to Facebook and our lovely media I have been informed that they really staged that war so there’d be a bunch of 5-year-old kids who’d seen nothing but trauma their whole lives and then they’d flood into America. With their falafel. Trying to destroy our freedom. All 10,000 or so of them. Out of 4.8 million or so who fled that country. They’re flooding our borders! Thanks, Facebook and our lovely politicians for identifying that threat and correcting all those things I had seen with my own eyes and heard with my own ears.
It’s not that I’m any better. After the army, I sat in a room for five years (I occasionally left the room and got food and went to college) cussing about American civilians. I thought they were all stupid, spoiled and ignorant (even though I was one!), and had allowed the country to engage in wars in the name of righteousness that we shouldn’t have been engaged in. They didn’t even realise the country was in a war. I really hated “them.”
There is no “them.” Not really. There are only people. My Syrian friends are good people who lost their country. My military friends, many of whom are very conservative, are good people who believe in their country. People are people. We’ve all got good and bad in us.
What I don’t find useful anymore is these stereotypes. When we say that it’s those people over there that are the problem, we have failed. We have failed to correctly identify the problem. The problem is our hate, our fear, our ignorance, and the fear and hate and ignorance that exist in others. The problem is not a religious group or a political group. If things turn violent, it’s usually fear or hate or greed or ignorance or desperation that drives that violence (on all sides). You can’t fight hate with hate. You can’t fight ignorance with more ignorance. It doesn’t work; it just breeds more of the same. That should be obvious. But it doesn’t seem to be.
I’m scared for our country. I really am. It is not what might happen in the economy, the environment or wherever that scares me. Whatever happens in those areas, while it will certainly affect and drive things, it’s not my primary concern. It’s the rhetoric, both the angry rhetoric and the more quiet kind. The rhetoric on all sides that stereotypes people and starts to classify them as “the problem” or “the enemy.” It doesn’t listen. It doesn’t hear. It just attacks. That is what scares me.
At the time I thought they were just normal people who had to flee one of the worst wars of our time – people who astounded me with their bravery and toughness and humbled me with their friendship.
We all have guilt on this. How much do we actually have conversations with people of different opinions or cultures or backgrounds and try to understand where they are coming from? How much do we perpetuate stereotypes on our social media feeds when we ourselves don’t know many or any people from the group we stereotype?
I’m guilty. Hell, this article is an admission of my own guilt. Also guilty are many of the people I know, on the Left and the Right.
If this country ever goes down, it won’t be because of a President or an administration or some foreign power. It won’t be because of the conservatives or the liberals. It will be because we, we the people, failed to listen to each other. We stereotyped each other. We didn’t look inside our own brains and question the truth of our own thoughts.
It’s not on somebody else. It’s on us. We have to find a new way of thinking because, the old way, it’s not working anymore. I only need to open up my Facebook feed or read the news in order to see that.
Hopefully, we can learn. I certainly don’t have answers to all our problems. I know where the beginning of the solution is: our own brains. We should question our own thoughts or they will lead us to ruin.
Or we could just keep on hating and stereotyping each other. Because that’s been working out well so far.