Psychologists explain that stereotypes have an important role in how we process information quickly; and that this can lead both to the quick identification of danger but also to misconceptions. And sometimes it’s good to be reminded how badly those misconceptions can mislead us.
Near my house is a park. On a number of occasions, I have found stoned vagrants asleep on the jungle gym (which provides a shelter of sorts). In fact. I avoided the park for some time because of this. But today we “needed” to take our antisocial dog for a walk and I decided that the Park Of The Stoned Vagrants was also Park Of The Least Dogs.
We arrived at the park and in the shadows of the jungle gym I made out the figure of a black man wearing an ill-fitting beanie. “Aha,” I thought. “Stoned vagrant alert.” I gave him my best, “I am watching you, you stoned vagrant Look,” and herded my dog and children away from the close proximity of the jungle gym. As I sat down on a (suitably removed) bench, I noticed a small child on the Stoned Vagrant’s lap. This was confusing, because now my Dangerous Paedophile alarm was going off (it goes off VERY easily, I must add. It probably goes off when I see your grandmother.) But in my experience, Stoned Vagrants don’t have the organisational skills to pull off being Dangerous Paedophiles. So I dropped my stereotypes, that weren’t adding up, and I watched with an open mind.
And realised that what I was seeing was a loving, involved father who had taken his two young children, and one truculent teenager, to the park. And he pushed them on the swings, and played ball with them, and (I suspect having seen my Fearful Look) strolled over and greeted me politely.
Because sometimes a man in an ill-fitting beanie is just a man in an ill-fitting beanie. And we need to remember that.