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Ragsdale: Words — a force for harm or good in the world

Chloe Ragsdale

Our words have the power to shape people’s lives, whether it’s through the pounding of white supremacists’ marches or our president’s hateful tweets.

Stereotyping has become a dangerous force in our world today, leading to the innocent deaths of thousands of individuals just because of their race, religion, gender or sexuality. The bias behind stereotypes unconsciously stems from our childhoods, morphs into the monster of racism that it is today, and needs to be controlled.

On Feb. 5, many people around the U.S. commemorated the 23rd birthday of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African-American boy who was wrongly shot and killed by George Zimmerman on Feb. 26, 2012. His death sparked the Black Lives Matter movement, an organization focused on defeating police brutality against innocent African-American people today.

Stereotypes not only affect our youths, but our justice system. Police officers are proved to search three times as many people of color as they do white people because of the stereotypes that we have turned into bias, racism and violence.

Police stop twice as many African-Americans as they do white people, and are much more likely to use methods such as tasers, dogs, pepper spray and physical force against them. Out of all those arrested and sentenced to life without parole for nonviolent offenses, over 65 percent of them are African-Americans. The origin of these predisposed thoughts that cause police brutality, innocent deaths and unequal sentencing against people of color are stereotypes.

Our words double the chances that an African-American will be arrested as compared to their Caucasian counterparts, and double the chances of devastating their futures. We are controlling the lives of African-American youths with these stereotypes, making them fear for their lives while simply listening to music, wearing a sweatshirt or even just driving. That’s setting 13.3 percent of Americans up for failure and a life of uncertainty.

According to the American Psychological Association, African-American children are viewed as older and less innocent than white children, and African-American men are seen as larger and more threatening than similarly-sized white men. This has led to violent action by police officers, who have this stereotype in their head when they interact with African-Americans.

In 2017 alone, 1,129 people were killed by police in acts of brutality, and 37 percent of those were unarmed African-Americans. Stereotypes have led to innocent people being murdered and are triggers waiting to be pulled before a situation is even examined.

To add to the growing presence of stereotypes in the U.S., President Donald Trump has instilled an atmosphere where stereotypes poison the minds of our law enforcement officials:

“America must fix its lax immigration system, which allows far too many dangerous, inadequately vetted people to access our country,” Trump commented after a Manhattan bombing committed by an immigrant, where several people were injured. By stereotyping all immigrants as dangerous and untrustworthy people, Trump has threatened the “land of the free” rhetoric of the U.S., where people from all over the world are welcome and celebrated.

Frustratingly enough, Trump has yet to discuss the major factor of white mass shooters and criminals in the U.S., but instead decides to focus on the presence of illegal immigrants, who are not responsible for the deadliest mass shooting in our history.

Stereotyping has divided our country and our world, and has escalated to a point of calling white suspects of crime “troubled, yet brilliant” and black suspects as “troubled, and nothing more.”

The Las Vegas shooting on Oct. 1, 2017, is a prime example of how the media generates stereotypes by labeling criminals based upon their ethnicity.

“This was a sick person ... ” said Trump about Stephen Paddock, the man who shot and killed 58 people and injured over 500 at a concert in Las Vegas. Just like most white mass shooters in the U.S., the media and our president have portrayed them as “mentally ill” or “lone wolves,” instead of calling them terrorists, which they truly are.

Our words are the most powerful thing that we can control in our society today, and we are using them in the wrong way and for the wrong reasons. It’s vital to remember that stereotypes should not define what we think about someone before even meeting them; they should not dictate our beliefs, actions and labels.

After all, we are all human beings who should have equal rights to be treated as individuals, no matter our race, gender, religion or sexual orientation. We must be aware of how commanding our words can be, and how they can penetrate with the force of a gunshot, or create a change to better the future.

Chloe Ragsdale is a freshman at Durango High School and a reporter at El Diablo, the DHS student newspaper. Her parents are Parker and Heidi Ragsdale of Durango.

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