Stereotypes, prejudice and racism: How can we deal with them?
1. Introduction “All Americans are Patriotic”, “Blonds are Dumb”, “Russians love Vodka”, “Smoking weed is legal in the Netherlands”, “Women are the worst drivers”, “All African-American males are thugs”. All of the above mentioned statements, that are known and believed by a gigantic amount of people, are entirely false. Presumably started at a very small level, stereotypes, prejudice and racism have now become a very major and annoying part of our lives. Stereotypical, prejudicial and racist comments are widely used by stand-up comedians and social media as content for their acts or online pages. No matter where you choose to go, there will always be someone judging you and discriminating you for some entirely unknown reason.
2. Stereotypes Cambridge dictionary defines Stereotypes as a set idea that people have about what someone or something is like, especially an idea that is wrong.1
It all begins in an individual’s brain, where the individual draws conclusions and forms stereotypes based on tiny bits of information. Consider the following example: Amazon has a product rating and a customer reviews section for all its products to help other potential customers to determine the goodness of the product. After reading five or six good reviews and keeping the four-star rating in the mind, the customer categorizes the product as a good one and decides to buy the product without testing it first. That single product might have ten thousand customer reviews, but potential customers draw conclusions based on the product rating and only five or six customer reviews. Ten thousand reviews will take a lot of time to process, so the customer reads any six reviews and makes a decision because it saves a lot of time and energy from the customer’s side. The customer could still get a very bad product because of wrongly categorizing and promptly deciding that the product was a good one.
Similarly, our brains not only categorize inanimate objects, but also categorize individuals. Suppose you want to study the people from Kenya decently. There are about 50 million of them, so a minimum 50 million sets of information. This would be impossible to carry out and process. What can be done here? Don’t worry, stereotypes can do the job for you. Talk to some Kenyans, watch tv shows about them, watch them in sports, read the news about them, make categories based on characteristics, put Kenyans into those categories and suddenly, all Kenyans are long-distance runners. The next time you see a Kenyan, you will keep your small experiment in the back of your mind and assume that he/she is a runner.
“Looking from the cognitive function of stereotyping, there is nothing wrong with the act of categorizing. Our mind has evolved to conduct this vital process so we as humans can effectively manage our life, develop our skills, and conquer the world that is otherwise too big, too complicated, and impossible to know in all its details. We all create stereotypes as it is a universal process at both the collective and individual level.2” The problem here is that the method of categorizing is deeply flawed. Categorizing works very well on objects, but we run into trouble when it comes to people, because people are way more complicated than objects. Although they may have similar characteristics, have quite a lot of things
in common and can be put into groups, they are not the same. If this is understood and acknowledged by the world, it would be a much better place.
2.1 Influence on people Stereotypes have a big hand in manipulating the performances of individual people. “If you bring members of a stereotyped group into an achievement situation where the stereotype could be applied, they often dramatically underperform if they believe their ability in that particular domain is measured.3” There were a series of tests conducted by Seibt and Förster, in which they tested their prediction that regulatory focus influences task performance when self-stereotypes are activated. The test results concluded that positive and negative stereotypes have a high influence on the performance of people. For some people the stereotype could make them perform even better than expected and for some it may do the exact opposite. Basically, your performance will be influenced by what people think about your group and therefore, indirectly about you.
3. Prejudice Cambridge dictionary defines Prejudice as an unfair and unreasonable opinion or feeling, especially when formed without enough thought or knowledge.4 Prejudice can also be termed as negative emotions associated with a particular group. Here the individual thinks that his group is the best when compared to others.
Again, categorization comes into the play to form groups of categories for the individual to compare. Generally, in this case there are two groups. The ingroup, the group that we are part of and the outgroup, the other group that we compare ourselves with. Our minds automatically place people into the ingroup and outgroup based on the categories we put the people in. Race, gender, religion and age could be some categories for instance. “The attachment that we naturally have towards our ingroup is so strong that we not only favor our own group based on skin color, ethnicity, class, age, religion or gender, but we are capable to feel attached even to a group that is randomly formed and based on something very trivial. Divide any number of people into two different camps and after no time, participants will exhibit ingroup favoritism, giving preferential treatment to their own members.5”
3.1 Impact on Society Having negative emotions about the outgroup can affect the members we may have put in the outgroup in a very harmful manner. For example, “The employment rate gap between black Americans and white Americans has remained persistently high over the past 30 years. Looking at 2014 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, white Americans were 10% more likely to be employed than African-Americans were.6” Now there can be two reasons for this: The first would be discrimination from the employer’s side- The employers themselves don’t want to work with members of the outgroup. Another reason could be discrimination from the customer’s side- The customers may not want to do business with people who work with members of the outgroup. As a result, some of the employers may reject applicants to satisfy the customer’s preferences. So even though employers may themselves be unprejudiced, their hiring behaviour may be driven by the fear of losing potential customers and diminishing profits.
An enormous amount of prejudice is also hardwired in the social systems of our society through various methods such as laws and regulations set by governments or targets or incentives set by corporations.
Consider the fact that Saudi Arabian women, by law, weren’t allowed to drive a car until a few months ago. This is prejudice at the institutional level. These institutions also have a large influence on the public, who make opinions based on what these institutions do. If these institutions stop acting in this prejudicial manner, the war against prejudice will be victorious.
4. Racism Cambridge dictionary defines racism as the belief that people’s qualities are influenced by their race and that the members of other races are not as good as the members of your own, or the resulting unfair treatment of members of other races.7
Racism can be simply called as a mixture of stereotypes and prejudice. “Racism is the idea that inherent superiority of a particular race will define success and failure of a group. While the negative feeling towards other groups is justified by diverse factors (resources, economic setbacks, failure, ego, etc.), with racism, this negative feeling is replaced by a belief, and the justification for this belief, based purely on genetic endowment.8”
Racism, since it is directly related to the term superiority, has boundlessly been used to achieve power. Hurting the sentiments of a person from the outgroup by passing comments based on history or negative feelings gives a sense of superiority to the members of the ingroup. That is why it is still used in today’s world.
4.1 Different levels of racism There are many levels of racism.
Racism can occur at an individual level, where the individual in question tailors his or her beliefs, attitude or actions premised on biases, stereotypes or prejudices against another race. Racism can turn into an interpersonal level when the individual uses this individual racism against another person. Interpersonal level racism occurs most often in today’s world.
Like prejudice at the institutional level, there is also racism at the institutional level, which functions in the same way. “Institutionalized racism is structural, having been codified in our institutions of custom, practice, and law, so there need not be an identifiable perpetrator. Indeed, institutionalized racism is often evident as inaction in the face of need.9” Jim Crow segregation laws can be considered as an example of institutional level racism.
Finally, there is internalized racism, which is defined as “acceptance by members of the stigmatized races of negative messages about their own abilities and intrinsic worth. It involves accepting limitations to one’s own full humanity, including one’s spectrum of dreams, one’s right to self-determination, and one’s range of allowable self-expression.11”
4.2 Impact on society Racism has a pathetic impact on the people who must deal with it. Saying bad things about people based on the group they have been categorized in, making people accept limitations about their life, dreams, goals and ultimately making them feel inferior is taking a toll on their health. People suffer from stress, anxiety, depression. Some even begin to show suicidal tendencies. People have been brutally murdered because of racism. Racism makes people question themselves about their truths and creates a society where individuals don’t respect and trust each other solely based on the categories they are put into.
5. Role of Media The media has an outrageous amount of influence on the general public. Abundance of attention by the media on certain topics often leads to false assumptions, for example, all Americans carry a gun or all Muslims are terrorists. As mentioned earlier, the media seems to be worsening the situation for the people suffering. It gives them content to keep them engaged with their audience. There is always a kind of snowball effect when it comes to these things, attracting more people to follow such topics and jokes. This gives the media an incentive to do it even more, hence making the problem unpleasant for the people who suffer.
6. Measures against the problem. No matter how big the problem has turned into, there are always various solutions to solve it. If implemented on a big scale, these solutions might change the world. The following are some solutions that can be implemented at a personal level to solve the issue:
• Do not make assumptions about people based on what you heard or read elsewhere. If you want to know something about a person, the best thing to do is to ask them directly. • Work together with members of groups that are different than your own. That way you will get to know them better and have a personal view about them. • Think of individuals as individuals and not as members of some different group. Although they might have similar characteristics to the people in their group, they are different in their own unique manner. • Do not acknowledge or laugh at racist, sexist, prejudicial and stereotypical jokes or assumptions. Acknowledging these things encourage it, which, in turn, increases it further. • Think before you speak. Words can hurt. It doesn’t matter whether you mean them or not. Who knows you might say something inappropriate to someone without even realizing it. • Exposing children to diversity since a very young age can do wonders. Nobody is born racist. It is the society that somehow manages to infuse these undignified beliefs into the innocent child’s mind. • Support by volunteering at organizations which fight against prejudice and racism. • Explore: Try doing things that are not usually done in your group. Getting a personal experience can be delightful and give you a new perspective about other groups.
7. Conclusion Some say that the best possible solution to all this is to expect stereotypes, prejudice and racism universally, to accept that you will always be judged based on your group, i.e. skin color, religion, height, nationality, etc., and not individually. It is very important to believe that the above statement is entirely false. Despite the fact that these things have a lot of history and it, at times, can be difficult to deal with it, it is not impossible to stop it from continuing. Change must start from within. Even a small change can make a big difference. We can look forward to an impartial and discrimination free world.
8. Summary In this paper the author aimed to provide a brief explanation on Stereotypes, prejudice and racism. There was also a discussion on what its impact on the people in today’s world is. In addition, what kind of a role the media plays in this situation and what can personally be done to change and eradicate the existing situation.
Jones, Camara P. 2000. Levels of Racism: A Theoretic Framework and a Gardener’s Tale. American Journal of Public Health 90 (8):1212–1215.
Laouenan, Morgane. 2018. Does Customer Prejudice Help Drive the Employment Gap Between White and Black Americans? Harvard Business Review.
Mai, Nguyen-Phuong. 2015. Potential problems in cross-cultural communications: Stereotypes, Prejudices, and Racism. CCA course (HvA) :1–19.
PREJUDICE | meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary. Available from https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/prejudice, accessed 08-Jan-19.
RACISM | meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary. Available from https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/racism, accessed 08-Jan-19.
Seibt, Beate, and Jens Förster. 2004. Stereotype threat and performance: how selfstereotypes influence processing by inducing regulatory foci. Journal of personality and social psychology 87 (1):38–56.
STEREOTYPE | meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary. Available from https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/stereotype, accessed 08-Jan-19.