A Wall of Words

New Yorkers have come a long way in accepting diversity, and essentially, each other. However, there will always be one thing that stands in the way of a purely harmonious coexistence: stereotypes.

About a year ago, my mother had an unsettling experience at her dental office.  One of the receptionists came to work utterly distraught. As her co-workers gathered around her, she told them about her son’s traumatizing experience of the previous day. A knife was found in his schoolbag and though he claimed that it was not his, he was harassed and punished by the police. The receptionist was certain of two things: her son’s innocence and the police officers’ discriminatory motives. Her son was African American and she was resolute on declaring the injustice that he had undergone.

Upon hearing the story, my mother offered her condolences, yet her sympathetic words were rebuked.

“This wouldn’t have happened if your daughter was in his place”, the receptionist spat.

Whether this comment was the result of her despairing situation or a sturdy belief, it wasn’t clear. It was apparent, however, that stereotypes played a big role in what she said.

She was confident that I, as a caucasian American, lived in a bubble that was fully secure from discrimination or false accusations.

It is always easier to make an assumption about a group of people than to evaluate their individual situations. She wasn’t the only one to take the easy rout.

Throughout high school, I was required to fulfill a community service requirement. The best option, it seemed, was to volunteer at a local park. Approaching one of the park workers, I asked if I could help with park cleanup. With his gloved hands clasping the top of a large garbage can, he bent down to stare into my face. His little eyes peered out from underneath his untamed gray hair. Before he could open his mouth, I sensed the cigarette smell oozing from his skin and clothes.

With a raspy voice, the old man replied, “What did you do? Graffiti or something?”

He thought that park cleanup was my punishment for vandalizing public property. The assumption that I was an unruly and rebellious child was reasonable, but it wasn’t correct. Slightly taken aback, I walked away from the strange man and the possibility of volunteering in that park.

It was natural for him to reach into his bag of stereotypes and pick one that might have applied to me. But what happens if you pick the wrong one? A seemingly innocent situation turns into a barrier between two forces. And as we know, a wall of words is harder to break than a wall of stone.






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One Response to A Wall of Words

  1. chriswoo says:

    I agree, I think that stereotypes are a big thing keeping people apart. But I think that misunderstanding is the root of all of it. If people were to just talk and understand one another, the idea of the stereotype would disappear. Even though some are said in a joking manner, most of the time they can be hurtful and cause problems between people of different races.

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