One of the tricks of race, an enemy of our authentic humanity and beloved community, is to convince us that if we’ve seen or had an experience with one person then we have seen and experienced all of them all, whoever “they” are. It is the promise of race and the superhuman ability of stereotypes that all we need is one: one bad or good experience, one look, one conversation. According to race’s stereotypes, one person can represent an entire community and can etch into the heart of American society how such persons will be experienced, which in turn, determines how we will treat them. The chant of stereotypes is “If you know one, you know them all!”
Race’s stereotypes say that we know all that there is to know about this culture or that one and most often, what we know about them is negative. They are viewed as the opposition and irredeemably different from us. There is no need for a second look, a second encounter or a second opinion because our stereotypes tell us that all we need is one. They are the opposite of us, from the “other” side of the tracks, the bad side of town, far removed from all that is good and true and right with the earth.
When we speak in terms of race, we speak generally. We “know how those people are.” We know “what they have done to us.” “We don’t want them in our neighborhood.” But, do we really? Where did we get our knowledge of cultures from? Race. And when asked why we treat persons harshly or shun their appearance, our answer is general. “They are thieves.” “They are bad people.” “They can’t be trusted.” We think that because we can point the finger that we have our finger on the problem. Race makes the problem “them” and so the solution is never specific.
We believe that our stereotypes do the work of seeing people and getting to know them for us. We need not see anyone; we need only turn to our stereotypes: “What do you know about them?” It is our social assistant and yet, we are its apprentice. Race, its prejudices and stereotypes claim to tell us all that there is to know about humanity. It is quite honestly “the blind leading the blind.” And the mathematical probability of our stereotypes being correct is impossible: One person, one million or even one billion people and related experiences ≠ (does not equal) all. Our ability to speak generally does not reveal our omniscience but instead, reveals how much we do not know or more disappointing, how much we do not want to know about others and ourselves.