April 26, 2010

Thinking About Stereotypes

todd_S_2010a By Todd Schoepflin

Do you know what the following have in common?

  • Conan O’Brien
  • Camping
  • Bob Marley
  • Mad Men
      • Funny or ironic tattoos
      • 80s Night
      • Not Having a TV

Did you know they all are things that white people like? Well, at least that’s the case according to the website stuffwhitepeoplelike.com. For the record, I am a white person. I do think Conan O’Brien is funny. I used to enjoy camping when I was in my 20s. And I like Bob Marley. (Is there anyone who doesn’t like Bob Marley?) I’ve never seen an clip_image002episode of Mad Men and I don’t have any tattoos. You couldn’t pay me to go to an 80s night at a club or bar, and you couldn’t pay me to get rid of my television.

But I’m just one white person, and obviously my experiences and tastes don’t speak for all white people. There are approximately 200 million whites in the United States alone, and you couldn’t reduce them to a list of stereotypes, could you? I guess if you’re Christian Lander, you could. He created the website stuffwhitepeoplelike.com and was awarded a book deal based on the website’s popularity. One article I read estimated that his book deal was worth $300,000. Not bad for compiling a list of stereotypes.

He also is on the lecture circuit. The website lists his upcoming speaking events at colleges around the country. Lander, who is white and grew up in Canada, has talked about how he started the blog as a joke. If you listen to Lander talk about his website, it’s apparent that his purpose is not to disparage whites. Rather, he’s just satirizing them and indulging in some good-natured mockery.

This led me to wonder, when it comes to stereotyping, how much does intent matter? Is stereotyping acceptable if the purpose isn’t to insult the group being stereotyped? And does it matter who is doing the stereotyping? How would people respond if a white person blogged about things that black people supposedly like?

Oh wait, that’s happening on a website called Stuff Black People Like. The author explains that the blog is meant to be funny and satirical and that he is not a racist. He says: “But sadly where I live it is not very diverse. Many many white people. Stupid ignorant ones at that.” Some of the posts are about being good at sports, making fashion statements, and liking soul food.

There is also a website called Stuff Asian People Like. There are posts about ramen noodles, techno music, and karaoke. According to the website, the entries are “written by Asians, about Asians” and the goal “is to simply point out cultural and social truths over light-hearted humor in order to build up the Asian community and not tear it down.”

We can define stereotypes as assumptions about what people are like. They are generalizations about a group that are simplified and do not acknowledge differences between members of that group. I am torn about how I feel about the websites I have mentioned. On the one hand, I don’t like them because they promote stereotypes. Nor do I find them to be funny or insightful, but that is my subjective opinion. On the other hand, I enjoy other forms of media that use stereotypes in satirical ways (The Simpsons and Family Guy are two examples).

I don’t like when people are reduced to stereotypes, but satire can be an effective means of challenging our notions about people who belong to a particular group. Do you think that stereotyping is harmless (or at least not harmful) if the intent is not to insult, or degrade, the group being stereotyped? Or, do you think all stereotyping is harmful to some extent?

Whatever your view about stereotypes happens to be, I think it’s important that we examine our own assumptions about groups that differ from our own, and that we reflect honestly about how we stereotype in the course of our lives. I take pride in having an open-mind and resisting generalized views of groups, but upon reflection I recall a specific time in my life when I was operating with a stereotype.

Several years ago, a student was struggling in one of my courses. He rarely attended class, did poorly on exams, and wouldn’t come to office hours to discuss his performance in my class. He wasn’t the first student to earn low grades in my course and he won’t be the last. But for some reason I devoted a lot of energy trying to determine why this particular student wasn’t succeeding in my class. The course ended without him changing his habits or exhibiting more effort. All signs seemed to indicate he didn’t care about succeeding in my course.

So why was this surprising to me? Upon serious reflection, I realized the source of my bewilderment: the student was Asian-American. I had fallen prey to a stereotype that all Asian-Americans are academically gifted and earn high grades. Had it been a student of any other racial or ethnic background, I sincerely believe I wouldn’t have thought so much or so long about why he was blowing off my course. But by virtue of his membership in a specific racial group, I assumed he should do well in my class.

I didn’t see him as a student, I saw him as an Asian-American student. It’s okay to recognize differences between students, but difference shouldn’t translate to inequality. In this case, I wasn’t treating all students equally. Assuming that a particular student is “better” than the others is both unfair to the student and to the students’ peers. As a teacher I cannot and must not assume that a student should perform in a certain way because of their race. Students must be treated fairly based on their individual ability and work ethic, not based on their group membership.

Does this story leave you wondering if I carry assumptions about white students and African-American students? I can understand if it does, but I am sure that my stereotyping was limited to Asian-American students. Most of the students I have taught in my career have been white and African-American, and students from both groups have occupied the entire spectrum of academic ability and effort. Students from both groups have been spectacular, and students from both groups have been less than spectacular.

However, I haven’t taught a lot of Asian-American students because enrollment of Asian-Americans at the university where I teach is very low. My story about the young man I stereotyped is, in a sense, also a story about the first time I noticed that an Asian-American student hadn’t done well in one of my classes.

Reflecting further back in my life, my peers in elementary school, middle school and high school were, for the most part, white and African-American. So my exposure to those racial groups has always been high. In contrast, I haven’t known nearly as many Asian-Americans and Latinos as classmates and students. Perhaps my limited exposure to Asian-Americans in educational settings left me susceptible to a stereotype about their academic ability. In the case of Latinos, I can honestly say I’ve never held preconceptions about their academic ability. Maybe it’s because there’s a stereotype that “all Asians are smart” but that stereotype doesn’t seem to exist for whites, African-Americans, and Latinos.

I learned a lot from the time I stereotyped a particular Asian-American student. And since that time, my expectations have been the same for all students, with no assumption that some students will perform better than others based on which racial or ethnic group they belong. For me it was a case of “live and learn,” and an important reminder that all students are on par with each other, with no group expected to do better or worse than another.

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Comments

It's interesting topic. I just became wondering whether such stereotype held by teachers negatively affects academic performance of Asian-American students(or loosely speaking Asian international students), when students find it. Stereotype may make Asian-American students get nervous, exhausted, etc., because expectation based on stereotype seems too much for them. I'm not sure if I, as an international student from Japan, have ever felt such expectation but I believe some students have felt.

I agree with this post, you can't stereotype people because there are just way too many things to do that. You can't stereotype a certain group of people because every individual can be different in some way, shape, or form. People that are being stereotyped can be affected because they think they have to act like they are being categorized. We are usually told not to judge a book by its cover, so why are we making assumptions about a particular group?

Stereotypes are very typical among any kind of person(s). I am sure that everyone has been stereotypical towards others whether that be subconsciously or consciously, even if they meant no harm towards that person. Overall, i think that stereotyping is wrong and very hurtful even if it is meant as a joke. Not everyone will take it as a joke and that could lead to bigger problems than just joking around. If all teachers had certain expectations for certain students of a certain race then it would overload a student. Because all students are capable of different things and just because you are Asian- American doesn't mean that you automatically get good grades in school. Stereotypes are always going to be around no matter what people say or do because as humans its almost a self-defense mechanism.

Me and my friend were once listening to some instrumental jazz music and we both didn't know who the artist or the players were, and I said "Well I'm sure the saxophone player is black..." and he said "Oh come on... that's stereotyping..." I have no doubt it is but I just don't think I said anything bad. If you look at jazz saxophone players in the John Coltrain and Miles Davis era, you'll see they mostly consisted of blacks.

So to answer your question, I think stereotyping has a bad sound to it. When you call things like "Asians are smart" or "most jazz saxophone players are black" stereotypes, it makes it sound as if the speaker has something against them. I don't think it is stereotyping if you are pointing out a statistically proven fact, and you're not discriminating.

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For this post I agree with stereotypes in relation to your opinion, we can not generalize, but often we do it unconsciously. Only by training and an open mind, we can avoid stereotypes.

Victor Simões ( Portugal )

I completely agree with this blog about stereotyping. I have noticed it among my peers and with myself as well that we tend to stereotype people with out even thinking about it. And by the time we have realized what it is that we did about it the action was already done. I think that the only thing we can do is learn by it and try to take people as they are.

I also agree with your post. I have done my fare share of stero typing people. Many people don't stop to think how that could hurt someone else. Everyone is different in different ways. Then by the time we relize are actions are done. It's to late. Everyone needs to learn to think before speaking or acting. It's a good life lession once something like that happens to you.

I thought Stuff White People Like was such a hilarious read. I even bought a copy for the whitest friend I have, and he thought it was “so funny because it’s so true.” It’s thought-provoking how it’s not taboo if white people point out stereotypes in other white people, yet if a white person pokes fun at blacks, it’s proclaimed as racist. There is a novel written by a white woman about the stereotypes of blacks, titled I’m Down by Mishna Wolff. Because it’s an autobiography of her growing up in a black neighborhood with a white father convinced he was himself black, it is understood that she has earned the right to write such a book. Her personal experiences have entitled her to stereotype with the ability to escape unscathed. So perhaps if one can identify personally with the stereotype (that is, be made fun of themselves because of it), only those have the right to poke fun at others while remaining “politically correct.”

I guess to challenge the traditional thought in many of the responses, I have seen stereotypes used in a satirical manner, even across racial lines that was acceptable. As a black male myself, I mostly see this in comedians. Stand up comedy is usually a mockery of the social stereotypes that are maintained. Carlos Mencia makes fun of stereotypes that hispanics receive, Steve Harvey does the same in the black community. I guess I would explain it like this, it is okay for family to pick on each other, but when someone outside of the family comes along their motives are inherently questioned. It is not necessarily an act of disrespect toward the outsider, just skepticism I guess.

I defy many stereotypes that black males receive. I grew up in Alaska, around many different cultures but mainly white. I now live in the south and I have received grief from both sides. I remember when I bought my house (young guy at the time) I went furniture shopping, the sales clerk asks me a few questions including how I will be financing, I reply to him that I will not be financing and he comes close to me and genuinely asks if I am some kind of athlete. Alternatively I work in a predominantly black neighborhood and I often get the comment that I "sound like a white boy," or when black people hear the music I listen to they give me a look like I am from another country.

I say this to say, that in my own world the way to defeat stereotypes is defy them. If you do not like them, do not be a part of them. If I have changed at least what 2 people think of blacks I feel like I have made some progress.

The positive and negative aspects of stereotyping is very contingent on the context in which it is said. Sometimes, I find it enjoyable to talk about stereotypical white behavior, such as "whites can't dance" and "whites can't rap." My boyfriend and I joke about these stereotypes, saying that I am totally white, because I can neither dance well or rap. It is meant to be humorous, not degrading to any group of people. Sometimes, people will joke about black people liking fried chicken and Asians being good at math. Neither of these stereotypes indicate something bad; in fact they are either neutral or positive. If a stereotype is used, such as "black people are too emotional," then people have the right to take full offense. It is certainly the context and the specific stereotype used that determines whether it is humorous or rude.

I agree with your post. It is hard to stereotype someone because there are so many things that you can stereotype about them...if they are pretty, if they are skinny, if their funny etc. You cant stereotype a group of people together becasue they are all different. They may have the same racial ancestories but no two people are alike therefore you cannot stereotype them. I think it would be nice to live in a place where there is not stereotyping but i know that will never happen.

I think that stereotypes do affect students because they know the expectations they are "expected" to hold. It isn't right and it isn't fair, but they know it. As an international student, I would feel pressured to uphold the standings that people expect of me, and I wouldn't want to let anyone down.

I believe that stereotyping is evident in schools and affects the progress of the student and the teacher-student relationship. It is very easy for a teacher to grade more harshly on a student of a different race or expect certain things from their student due to the stereotypes placed on them.

C) I feel the stereotypes that we form are because of the environment around us. If a black person was born and raised in a white community, his views about other white people would be different than if he were living in a black community. The same can be said about a white person born and raised in a black community. I think we have to experience other peoples culture first hand rather than reading about it or watching it on television because then we can see what shapes their certain behaviors.

I feel that stereotypes are useless and overall a negative thing. They are useless because everybody had something unique and different about them and no two people are the same. They are also negative and push negative expectations onto people. A simple statement such as "Asians are smart" might cause Asians to feel as if they have to be smart, and causes them unneeded pressure and stress.

This was a very insightful blog on how our preconceived notions dictate how we act towards each other. Despite being well intentioned by helping the student, eventually there was that realization that our stereotypes make us treat people differently. When it comes to Asian Americans, we often attribute good stereotypes but we fail to realize how that can be detrimental to the self-esteem of those Asian Americans that don’t meet the “standard.” This also reminds me of micro-aggression, something I know that many students of color face in the classroom. When well intentioned compliments end up being backhanded.

This article seemed very interesting to me and caught my attention because as I was reading it I thought of the sociological term, beginners mind. The way that the author, Todd Schoepflin, realized he was stereotyping and was determined to change his views, reflected beginners mind because in order to see society in a new way one must clear their mind of any previous norms, rules, ect. I appreciated what the author had to say about stereotyping and admired his view on how it is not a positive thing to do. I agree with him that is it seen in ones everyday life and hope society could clear their mind and view everyone as equal. While attending SBCC I came across many incidents where students stereotype amongst each other including me. I conducted an experiment by stepping out of the social norm of society by standing on the bridge doing absolutely nothing. Many students thought I was weird and I knew they were stereotyping me due to my race. I heard one girl say, “I bet she doesn’t know English and she’s lost.” This is an example of someone stereotyping me by my looking Mexican/Latina so they assumed that I did not speak their language. Being stereotypical can be very hurtful towards others and I chose this article because it relates to my personal life.
In my opinion, I thought this article was very beneficial because it showed that stereotyping is useless and a negative thing. I believe everyone is beautiful in there own way and should not be degraded because they are different from others. I feel that I have stereotyped before and am now going to be aware of my thoughts and actions because it can be very harmful to others. We should all view each other as one and never judge or jump to conclusions. This article relates to sociology in countless ways with the approach of different cultures and how people interact and function with one another.

Stereotypes exist and I do not think it is possible to live without them. In some cases they keep us safe. In others they simply help us identify with groups of people we desire to associate with.

To better understand how stereotypes effect others we have to look at any preconceived notions and how they equate to inequalities and ultimately, "isms." As Cooley pointed out, we learn the world around us through face-to-face interaction and through other mediums such as popular culture. Once we derive our views, we generalize individuals or groups in the way that we have become accustomed to through our interactions.

This tends to lead to historical legacies in the way we view others and groups as a whole. It is not that we can separate ourselves from stereotyping, it's that we cannot not allow it to become discriminatory in nature. However, with that being said, individual micro prejudices are a necessity if we are to understand the larger macro constructs of inequality.

thank you. i love to read this type of information posts. again thank you....

I,m Asian American and I don't know Kung fu or am good at math. I'm not saying I'm dumb I'm saying I am bad at math. When I do something smart they would say of course she is asian. But the thing is that I worked hard for the thing that I got correctly like getting a trophy for reading the most books or getting the best grade on my writing test. It's not because I'm Asian but it's because I worked hard. She doesn't have to work hard because she is asian. I have to work as hard as anyone else. I wasn't born knowing what pi is. I,m just like anyone so I am born with an empty brain. I was ready to absorb anything possible because I tried hard.

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