I am calling him a friend even though we haven’t talked in years. We attended the same schools and played sports together for most of our childhood and teenage years. After high school, we went to different colleges; now he lives in Atlanta.

He shared this and it’s worth repeating.

This would have required a different response at the time of his post. However, as time has passed, I want to rephrase the question.

Part of the issue is specific people being labeled as generic. Rather than considering the event with particularities, the result is considered typical and the process to be common.

Whenever there is a school shooting, the popular response is to call for legislative action against all current and potential gun owners. We scream about guns rather than condemn the shooter.

Karen Straughan frames this point regarding feminism and language. We can’t say fireman and policeman because that will discourage women from joining these groups. But we can blame the patriarchy or men for all evil, because that use of gender has no implication.

I remember some years ago a big todo with a self-fulfilling prophecy. Meaning, if you always assume a certain group to be gang members, they will begin to act accordingly. After all, if they are going to be found guilty regardless, they might as well do the crime. Yet, this warning can be ignored when assuming racism among certain groups.

Being from the South, I am quite aware of negative stereotypes. There are ways to combat prejudice, and there are ways to reinforce it. Why are we constantly dividing ourselves if we want to unite with understanding and compassion? 

People can make distinctions without being hypocritical. The details do matter, but our obsession with emphasizing uniqueness has unintended consequences.

I’ve mentioned before that I live in a diverse neighborhood. I enjoy seeing neighbors walking freely, exchanging greetings, and waving at each other’s kids. This environment and interaction are worth preserving, but we have to have mutual trust.

This mutual trust is difficult to maintain if we consistently mischaracterize each other.

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