Friday, October 30, 2009

Stereotypes - good or bad?

According to Representation, "Stereotyping reduces people to a few simple, essential characteristics, which are represented as fixed by Nature." We apparently make sense of our world by classifying and categorizing everything, including people. Stereotyping, I feel, is a huge factor that leads into racism. When we stereotype people based on their race, it leads to prejudices, and that opens the door to a racial society. If we were to live in a post-racial society, do you think stereotypes would still exist, and to what degree? How can we prevent the linking of stereotypes with race, ethnicity, and gender in a negative sense? Will our society ever develop that far?

I feel the way we stereotype people is influenced by how and where we were brought up. For example, for someone who has lived in a majority Caucasian society their entire lives, and then if they were brought to my home town of Fairfax, VA, I'm sure they would be in for a huge shock because of the cultural diversity. The way they would respond to it, however, could be in one of two ways: 1) embracing the change and accepting others, or 2) decide how to approach different people while subconsciously thinking about the stereotypes they have for different people in their minds. As our country diversifies, I hope more people will be leaning towards the first scenario, and hopefully we can get future generations' minds to think not in color, but in character.


  1. You don't need racism to make up stereotypes. However, every stereotype I can think of is based on physical attributes or the way a person presents herself. Would there still be stereotypes if we lived solely in the mind? Probably.

    I think that our likelihood to stereotype people is directly related to how bitter we feel about life.

    And the way we grow up has everything to do with how we stereotype people. For example, when we were discussing Fisher's outfit, I didn't read much more from it than a sports fan in casual wear. A Yankee sports fan in casual wear, that is.

  2. I definitely agree with the potential danger of stereotypign but at the same time I think that stereotyping in many ways is a defense mechanism that, as they said in representation, allows us to simplify and demistify a complicated world and make everything a little less intimidating. For example, I stereotype seafood to mean bad food (sorry y'all) and mexican to mean good food. While there are many different versions of both restaurants everywhere, my stereotype allows me to simplify where I eat. Instead of having to process it every time, I just go back to the basic signifier and signified in my head: seafood/nasty bad food and mexican/really good food.

    Having said that, when you try to apply such a simple formula to something as complicated as people is a recipe for disaster which, as we have seen in Representation, is incredibly hard to reverse. Just like how I am probably never going to like seafood the image of a black man as as "Boy!" will most likely not be reversed in our lifetime.

  3. Its interesting that in today's common vernacular "stereotype" has come to mean a bad word. A stereotype in the most purest of definitions is simply, a standardized mental picture that represents an oversimplified opinion or uncritical judgment. It is human nature to form stereotypes. Some argue that it is essential for survival but in the most basic sense. If you looked at a room of 100 people you will start putting people into categories based on their looks. It would not be humanly possible to recognize and categorize them as individuals. To take it one step further I pose a test, try to remember every single person you have seen in the past month, not just those that you have interacted with, but physically seen. Can you remember all of them? Or do you remember that while walking to class 2 weeks ago you saw a kid that looked preppy. You can not physically remember every single detail of every single person. The brain can't handle that much random data so it puts everything into categories to simplify things.

    So where does the racism and ill tempered feelings towards a group of people come from if not stereotypes... prejudice. Its the prejudice that a person links to a particular stereotype that leads them to be racist. For example, a person may have a stereotype for business men that they wear suits, have short styled hair, walk with purpose, and always act busy. Then because of your prejudice towards businessmen you may feel that every person that fits this category is soulless, money hungry, and does not care about anyone but him.

    So why are there so may negative feelings toward the term stereotype? Are we the only culture that feels so negatively towards stereotypes? To be honest I do not know, but I do suggest one reason why we as a culture are so opposed to stereotypes goes towards the belief that everyone is an individual. The mentality that "I am my own person, and no one can define me, but me."

    So i propose, in opposition to most of what the authors are writing, that we do not (and can not) change our stereotypes but change the prejudice that we attach to them.

  4. The way I see it, in Representation Hall and the work of theorists that he puts forth contend that stereotyping differs from typing, the solution that you are proposing Aaron (not to get into semantics), in that the prejudice that the former produces leads to further harmful action against another. I add on to Aaron's proposal, and what Representation presents, that we type objectively; so Nick doesn't like seaweed (perfectly fine with me as a vegetarian :D) and prefers Mexican. The objective typing of this classification would be just that, that he eats Mexican instead of seafood without disparaging seafood to those who might like it or taking action such as drawing up a petition for a Mexican restaurant to replace the local seafood one (an extreme, somewhat silly example, but with its model having historical racist precedent). I agree that typing serves to simplify the world, ensure survival and best quality of life, so let's keep it at that, leaving the feelings and sometimes resulting harmful action aside.

  5. There's also that moment of anxiety, right? That moment when we look at the other and say, like Jim Carrey to Kate Winslet--"ew." If we look at all of this psychoanalytically, that moment of anxiety is natural, but is ultimately one that we would need to get past (repress?) in order to avoid negative sterotyping.

    To push things into a more literary realm, I suppose we should also think about the narratives that we attach to others when we first encounter them. Arguably, the circulation of--and manifestation of--negative stereotypes is based on stock derogatory narratives that we accept unquestionably: "Republicans are stupid;" "African Americans are criminals;" "Women are mysterious;" "All illegal immigrants take jobs away from 'real Americans.'" Arguably, it is the moment when we attach these pre-constructed/socially-constructed narratives to other people, perhaps as a means to assuage our anxiety, when the stereotypes take hold and have a really drastic impact on lived experience.

    Also, perhaps there is a difference between categorization, typing, and stereotyping? I dunno, but it's worth thinking about.

  6. This makes me think if there were no stereotypes if we really would be better off? I'm really not sure we would be. In Representation, he argues that the way we make sense of things or find out the meaning of things is through categorizing things. Isn't that true for people as well? We make meaning of cultures and nationalities from their so-called "stereotypes." And also, what constitutes as a stereotype anyways? Is it just stereotyping how people act/dress or what kind of jobs they take? Or what kind of rituals they perform and/or traditions....?

  7. I think that it is really hard to imagine a world without stereotyping. There will always be stereotypes whether it's criticizing someone's race, wealth, appearance, etc. I also agree with Angela, I don't think all stereotypes are bad. We sometimes need stereotypes to identify differences in people. Living in a country like America only makes it harder to think of life without stereotyping. There is so much diversity all around us it is hard to not pass judgements (good or bad) on others. Also, I'm sure that people who live in countries with a majority population of the same race still experience stereotyping and judgements. I almost would like to argue that stereotyping is an innate component of our everyday lives.