Before the crackdown, you could get almost any stereotype you wanted – especially negative social ones – without going out of your way. Even though the bulk of them were already prohibited and much of the rest was on its way to the same classification, the trade and use of stereotypes was utterly rampant. Those were the days when it was not uncommon to encounter and even get hooked on stereotypes in your youth, a time when stereotypes changed hands on playgrounds at recess like collectible toys or candy and were passed around among adolescents loitering in empty school parking lots on weekend evenings.
I vividly remember the first ones given to me, obesity stereotypes pressed into my anxious hands by Riya, my best friend at the time, during a bus ride for a third-grade field trip. She had found them kept in the back of her parents’ pantry after catching occasional glimpses of her mother or father reaching deep into one of the upper shelves to get the then exotic item (her parents later explained that they used these stereotypes as motivation to regularly exercise and eat healthy as well as raise Riya with such practices, but Riya was sure she had noticed her parents grimacing at school events when glancing upon overweight parents of classmates). Lying low in our vinyl-covered seats, we experienced the pilfered stereotypes together, and immediately, I saw our pudgy classmate Dilx and our corpu- lent teacher Mr. Troznur in an entirely different—quite lurid—light. And suddenly I felt better than them, an exciting rush of visceral superiority and certainty surged through me.
Even then, in third grade, we were late to the party; our more mischievous classmates had been getting their hands on stereotypes since first grade. Even if you were living a sheltered childhood back then, you were probably getting stereotypes; most sheltered kids were just being fed a different set (probably even a specialized daily regimen) of stereotypes by their parents.
And as you got older, exposure to a wide variety of stereotypes was simply inevitable. There were times when it was difficult not to take or be in possession of the illicit stuff; not only were stereotypes freely given among friends and even colleagues (declining was often considered offensive), they were insistently offered to and even foisted upon you at social events like parties and galas, leaving you with little choice but acceptance – lest you spoil the heady (sometimes exuberantly rancorous) ambiance (of peers tipsily under the influence or in the ecstatic thrall of stereotypes, voicing facile assertions formed by wadings in the shallow logic of overgeneraliza- tions). And man would those stereotypes alter you psychologically and physiologically with their alluring simplicity in no time, causing surgings in mood and heart rate, coloring cognition with intense, provocative shades of bias that distort judgment spectacularly, unleashing wildly thrilling but possibly deeply destructive words and even actions. Despite their detri- ment to the health of individuals, communities and the whole of humanity with the empathy inhibition and divisive bitterness (among other things) stereotypes render upon us, indulging in these exhilarating, addictive and deleterious substances was habitual for many; almost no one I knew wasn’t a user.
Then enforcement of existing and new anti-stereotype legislation took the form of arrests, steep fines, court trials, internment in rehab centers and stigmatic marrings of people’s official records (basically outfitting the majority of the population with a criminal history). I soon found myself in midst of several busts. Shortly after the Zero Stereotype Tolerance declaration (the ZeST as it is usually called), I was at a barbeque enjoying a skewer of grilled veggies when the authorities quickly and quietly sur- rounded the host’s backyard and checked all of us for stereotype possession or use, then hauled away two of my college classmates. Plainclothes of- ficers discreetly searched my dorm building room by room. Some of my fellow residents who would have been in hot water were warned by calls from friends who had just been searched and were clean. A few escaped with their stash through first-floor lounge or bathroom windows, others put their stuff down the closest drain. The officers scrutinized cracks I didn’t know my room had, but fortunately, I had, for the time being, cold-turkey sworn off stereotypes after I read articles of similar searches on other campuses.
The severe penalties and ruthless countermeasures (like aggressive raids on suspected suppliers of misconceptions and prejudice – major components of stereotypes) drastically curbed availability. Now you have to go to great illegitimate lengths to get or make stereotypes that are even re- motely potent. The kind of stereotypes that could ferociously incense or deliriously delude you have been mercilessly purged from our society, transforming from the stuff that was in everyone’s mind and stashed in everyone’s closet into the stuff of reminiscings and urban mythologies. I thought I’d never again even be in proximity of stereotypes.
But somehow, my friend has managed to score some, a batch of compelling negative social stereotypes (a few involving academic diligence and income level!) once commonplace and essential to us. Despite the soaring value of the kind of stereotypes he’s acquired, he’s forked out the cash and exposed himself to significant risk. And now he wants to embrace them with me, for old times sake. Although I am fearful of the legal conse- quences of being caught having these substances in my system (recently, random psychological screens by the authorities have nabbed a number of abusers desperately still getting their fix) as well as the psychological consequences (the re-ignition of powerful habits), the residual etiquette of stereotype sharing and lingering emotional associations are stirred within me. And I experience them even more strongly now that stereotypes are all but impossible to obtain. I can’t bring myself to decline his offer, and admittedly the cravings still overwhelm my cognition at times – that powerful need for stereotypes to think in simplistic, irrational paradigms that are strangely empowering. Many of us do. The mandatory rehab that most of the population found itself in during the harsh period fol- lowing the ZeST failed to completely wean countless of us off our most heavily (ab)used stereotypes. Droves of stereotype junkies have been left hopelessly reliant upon “almost harmless” substitutes and are kept from spiraling back into stereotype dependency primarily by the scarcity and high cost of the genuine articles or by, in rare cases, will power.
My episodes of deliberation end with the same conclusion. I decide that I’ll join my friend in the use of these stereotypes, and that will be the end of it. One final taste of our old paradigm, the farewell act we never engaged in, giving us closure. And that seems to me the only way this can go. There’s no way he can afford to get more, and no way we can afford to take more; engendering dependency on negative social stereotypes would disrupt our lives and those around us irrevocably. Of course, they already have, but before the crackdown, we thought we could afford such destructive self-alteration because we didn’t know we were paying with our futures, the future of humanity.