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.
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.
Feature Photo Credit: xtreamaclc.com
Edited and Reprinted with Permission of USAonRace.com