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By Janice S. Ellis, Ph.D., Kansas City, MO –

Use of racial stereotypes is very costly for all. There indiscriminate use is rampant, whether it’s our thoughts about black teens wearing hoodies or baggie pants, or white kids wearing punk hairdos and mystic tattoos; whether it’s affluent children driving Corvettes and BMWs to high schools; or Hispanic youngsters driving decorated low-riders.

All of us have and use stereotypes that wield lots of power that is persuasive, intentional or unintentional. The influence they have on our understandings and actions toward each other too often is just not accurate, and does little to improve our comprehension of and relations with one another.

We tend to see stereotypes not only playing out in the law enforcement and criminal justice arenas, but we see it playing out in schools that educate or don’t teach children of color. We see it play out in how and whether firms hire people of color and/or encourage them, or not encourage them. When people of color go to buy a house, get fair, and market rate mortgages even when they’re well educated with great jobs that make them very creditworthy we see stereotypes at play. Stereotypes and labels, what power they wield often more defining and harmful, than not.

Most people are frequently not in tune, sometime entirely oblivious, to other sociological, economic, political, racial, religious labels and how they affect the way we go about our business on a day-to- day basis. Assigning and using labels within itself isn’t the issue. This occurrence is perfectly normal according to sociologists. Labels, symbols, rituals, like laws and rules, provide order. Such practices determine the nature and quality of any culture. The dearth of norms causes the fall of a culture. So, labels and symbols, in and of themselves, are not bad.

Use of stereotypes can be detrimental. Photo Credit:

Use of stereotypes can be detrimental. Photo Credit:

How labels are used becomes the issue when they evolve into negative stereotypes. Wrongly or rightly, they determine many other choices we make, and we put people and things in boxes or groups to handle and guide our actions toward them.

Many minority groups (and minority is a label) could testify about the impact labels have had on their ability, or lack thereof, to totally assimilate in society and enjoy the opportunities and privileges afforded to non-minorities. The minority designation isn’t just confined to racial or ethnic groups. Minorities can also pertain to beliefs, religious affiliations, political individuality, i.e. conservative vs. liberal vs. independent, socio-economic standing, etc.

Categorical and stereotypical labels can be harmful, quite harmful. While they often provide a degree of comfort and ease as one interacts in his/her environment, they often serve as blinders to the discovery of truth and determining reality.

Are you going to continue to allow labels and stereotypes passed down or perpetuated by family to determine how you act or what you believe? Or are you going to bother to examine and check? While you may owe having an open mind to those you encounter, more importantly, you owe it to yourself.  The prices, limits, and hurtfulness abound.

We don’t have to wait to have a conversation about the harmful effects of stereotypes when we enable them to blindly govern our ideas about and conduct toward others who do not share our skin color, tend not to live in our neighborhood, who enjoy different kinds of foods, or who prefer and wear different kinds of garments.

We’ve become too accustomed on relying on labels and attitudes passed from one generation to another, without ever taking time to analyze them or bother to learn first-hand whether such labels and stereotypes are true. We let presuppositions and these notions to govern our lives frequently irrespective of the settings.

The indiscriminate use of a stereotype is costly not only to the person it’s being used against, but also to the person who is using it.

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Use Of Racial Stereotypes

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Janice Ellis
Janice Ellis
Janice S. Ellis, PhD, is an award-winning author. Her book, From Liberty to Magnolia: In Search of the American Dream is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other major book sellers. She has written a column for newspapers, radio, and now online, where she analyzes educational, political, social and economic issues across race, ethnicity, age and socio-economic status. You can see her writings on this website.


  1. Mark says:

    I think racial stereotyping is a society’s way of determining which ones are the same and which are different. I am studying ASEAN studies and I have learned that even within the Asian region, there are racial stereotypes as well. It’s not just in the US.

  2. AJ says:

    This is something that we as humans should stop doing. We are not here to be known by our own “branded labels” and be mocked, hated, and for others have a right to be angry at us because of those same “branded labels”. Sadly, it is very difficult to shake off. Children from a very young age are already taught to love and hate things based on the parents’ belief systems, the culture/society that they grew up in, and sometimes what the teachers teach them at school. If only people teach others to learn to respect one another, to understand one another, to be kind to one another despite these “labels” which tear us all apart, the world would be a far better place.

  3. Maureen says:

    I will have to agree with you that teachers have a big role to play since they are the role of molding the children under their care.Racial Stereotypes have to be put to rest.

  4. Tom Esthber says:

    I understand the problems that this can cause, but what about during comedy related topics? Can the use of racial stereotypes cause problems then even if it is a joke? Just curious.

  5. Sindey Moreno says:

    Stereotypes are one of the worst ways to treat, and to think about people. Now that I’m an adult I have started to delete from my brain all those tags that I learned when I was a Little girl because they generalize and make people feel like things, and most of the time they are not even real.

  6. Angela Rose says:

    Racial Stereotypes should be destroyed. We are humans, not labels. We are unique and beautiful as we are. No one needs to conform to what the society dictates to him/her.

  7. David Mureithi says:

    It’s what happens in our society. However, it’s not as straightforward as it was in the past. This is worry and we need to change for the better.

  8. Enyi says:

    This was an insightful piece and I think we should stop all racial stereotypes. All we need is seeing everyone as one despite skin color or way of life.

  9. cess garate says:

    It’s really sad that people go to lengths just to discriminate others. I can’t really understand why can’t we just get along.

  10. Vikram Parmar says:

    We possess a lot of power and energy. We have to make an effort to improve relations with each other.

  11. Kuttan says:

    These stereotypes are formed right from our childhood.Teachers ,elders ,TV;s AD’s and society creates several models of stereotypes in the mind of a person in due course of his growth.once it is formulated it is difficult to change and also the person is unaware that the stereotype is a wrong formulation

  12. Henry Albert says:

    I strongly agree with everything you said. Racial stereotyping, somehow, causes a lot of distress and untoward incidents. I think it is through racial stereotyping that we come up with these notions of negativity against some innocent person, and tend to influence other people about. This is also something that we cannot deny that we sometimes have. So let us try our best to get rid of our stereotypical thoughts, and learn to appreciate every individual regardless of race and culture.

  13. Scott Summers says:

    I hate it when people do this and yet it is part of society admit it or not. I think the problem is the people themselves. I mean it is a fact that no two people will and be born the same but, do not take it too far. Respect!!!

  14. Rae says:

    Thank you very much for the in-depth analysis and informative article. In my whole life, I haven’t had any encounters with racial stereotypes which made me very thankful. I just can’t imagine that their are people that would go out of there way to tell you these horrible stuff.

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