Stereotypes are a sensitive topic. Why are they so commonly talked about in the United States? Obviously, anyone can make assumptions about different ethnic groups, but is there any validity to the statements? Is there any truth behind the stereotype?
JohnElla Holmes, instructor of American ethnic studies, said stereotypes are not myths. She said stereotypes could be classified broadly as either positive or negative – they are negative because they are framed that way and could be used against people to justify the discrimination imposed on them by a person or a group. There are countless examples, like women are not good at math and old people make for some lousy drivers.
But is there any scientific evidence supporting the stereotype that African-Americans are better athletes? Besides multiple unproven theories, research suggests the answer is no. Where or how this stereotype stemmed is unknown; however, it is rumored to be because of the number of successful African-American athletes on multiple team rosters.
Is there any truth behind the stereotype Asian-Americans are smarter? Po Sen Chu, professor of psychology, said that answer is complex. Asian-Americans are a diverse population, and Chu said it is difficult to see them as a whole.
“Many Far East Asians perform extremely well in some elite schools,” he said. However, Chu also said that is a small portion of the Asian-American population. All too often “the small number of super-good students out shadow this problem,” he said.
If it is only a small portion of the population, how did this stereotype come about?
Chu said it is in part related to the family and cultural traditions of Asian-American families.
“Education is the only responsibility a child should concentrate (on). They should do well academically to honor their families and themselves,” he said.
While being stereotyped as extremely intelligent seems like it would be a good category to be placed under, Chu said even the “positive” stereotypes can be quite dangerous in certain cases.
“Many Asian-Americans need help academically, but because of this ‘model minority’ myth, they don’t receive needed help. People tend to believe they’ll be OK,” Chu said.
When it comes to if there is any truth that genetic and racial differences could influence academic performance, Chu said he didn’t think there is.
But stereotypes do not just end with race. It could extend anywhere from sexual orientation to gender.
Spencer Wood, assistant professor of sociology, said people often do not realize their assumptions are actually stereotypes.
“People need to be very cautious on their assumptions,” Wood said.
Wood also said people often gravitate toward a social label that attaches to them, even if they don’t believe the stereotype about them is true. This, he explained, is called the “labeling theory.”
For example, Chu said research suggests that during a math test, a woman might give up or not do as well because of the stereotype women are not as competent at the subject as men. It is not because of a lack of ability, but because society plays a role in convincing people otherwise.
Many stereotypes “may be perpetuated by self-fulfilling prophecies,” Chu said.
Like Chu, Wood said there might be tiny elements of truth in each stereotype, but they get distorted over time and usually have anecdotal evidence but no systematic evidence.
“I see (stereotypes) as a way people categorizing different groups of people,” said Yebin Yoon, senior in psychology.
Yoon said she treats stereotypes as others’ opinions and not her own.
“I don’t stereotype and interact with them because that’s just a wrong way to get to know (people),” she said.
Yoon, who is Korean, also said she has been the victim of stereotyping.
“I think I’m stereotyped only because of my appearance, like how I look ‘Asian,'” she said. “We’re all the same, just different culture and background. So when they stereotyped me, I felt like they didn’t even consider to get to know me for who I am. I felt like they took me for what they know about my ethnicity, but not me. So that was kind of sad.”
Even though the basic roots may lie in truth, it is undeniable that today’s versions are far more complicated and distorted. It is best to treat one on his or her merit and not on that of his ancestry or ethnicity as in the present day competitive world, the best and the brightest get rewarded no matter where they are from.
The best approach to stereotypes is to not make them, Chu said.
“The rule of thumb is do not judge a person by any stereotype, even when you think the stereotype might have a kernel of truth,” Chu said. “For example, research suggests that little boys are more likely than little girls to engage in rough-and-tumble play. That doesn’t mean every boy we see should like to do that. Every individual is different.”