14 Days of Freedom: Day 3

Do stereotypes normally enter into a discussion of freedom? Certainly I haven't seen any discussions of it, and at least superficially that makes sense: stereotypes are social, freedom is political or socio-political. The two don't really seem like they would go together.

Thinking about something that happened yesterday jolted my mind. I love singing and I love Occupy, so once I heard about a mass sing-up at St Paul's my heart was set on it. After much wrangling, some guilt-tripping (not from me) and almost wrecking the delicate social structure (that was most definitely me), I went to the 3-hour rehearsal yesterday at the Bank of Ideas. OK, so I had a bit of trouble finding it due to being directed to the back entrance, but once I got there it was amazing! The atmosphere was absolutely wonderful - so full of hope - but I guess I should stop talking about singing and start talking about what this blog post is actually supposed to be about. (One last note: if you want to be there, 21 December, meet at 6.15 on the steps of St Paul's, wear as much red as you can and sing up!)

When I got back, I was asked if all the protesters were on benefits. That jarred me. I hadn't fully realised it, but the people around me were immersed in stereotypes - stereotypes that allowed them to think their fellow citizens were utterly inhuman.

Freedom and human rights for all is based on having respect for all. The notion is that every person is inherently deserving of compassion, respect and liberty.

That notion goes right out of the window when people start thinking of those not like them as stereotypes. Stereotypes are flat, pretty much wholly untrue unless you cherry-pick your evidence (in which case they're still untrue and you're being intellectually dishonest), and an excellent tool for being cruel to people. Stereotypes allow people to justify harming or neglecting others because "they deserved it" (this is victim blaming, something incredibly, depressingly common in today's society and also something barely noticeable until you're on the receiving end of it). Stereotypes destroy compassion and respect by their very nature - you cannot respect the liars, the cheats, the drunks, the druggies, the violent, the lazy, the selfish, that stereotypes are comprised of. And because stereotypes are spewed by the most upstanding and respectable sources, most people won't look beyond them - unless they don't care so much for the upstanding and respectable sources in the first place, in which case they're outcasts, pariahs, crazies, and polite society is slightly afraid of them (with good reason, may I add).

Stereotypes are why so many plagues on our society have existed and still exist: war, racism, sexism, slavery, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, you name it and stereotypes are probably involved. Stereotypes are why we blame the oppressed instead of standing against our oppressors. Stereotypes are a convenient excuse for not treating our fellow humans with respect and compassion, and stereotypes are why so much suffering in the world exists.

It would not have been possible to pass so many laws infringing on our civil liberties and on the liberties of others without stereotypes. It would not be possible to oppress others without stereotypes. It would not be possible to do injustice to others without stereotypes.

End stereotyping. Actually talk to the people you're stereotyping. They are human beings. You don't have to agree with them, just to know that they're people. Prick them and they bleed. Tickle them and they laugh. Poison them and they die. Wrong them and they shall revenge. They are you and you are them. We are all human and all deserving of basic human rights.

Until we end stereotyping - until we end the practice of seeing others as less human than us - we cannot move towards a free and humane society. Our progress will always be stopped by lies, by hysteria, until we show the lies for what they are and show that there is no reason to panic.

This post has not sounded very militant - not like the posts I was thinking of making, all calls to fight in the streets for our basic liberties. But I think in its own way it is just as important: if you can't see others as human, there's no reason to fight for them.