Ethnic Stereotypes

Ethnic stereotypes are simplified and often misleading representations of the characteristics of members of a given ethnic group. These images of a particular group are used to communicate underlying messages about status, society and cultural norms. In many cases, music, movies, literature and the media promote the ideas of typical characteristics for an ethnic group. Originally, the term stereotype referred to a method of printing used in the 18th century. Gradually, the meaning of the word shifted and in the 20th century it was widely used to designate an oversimplified notion of a person or a group of people. Psychology describes stereotypes, or idee fixe (fixed idea), as a preoccupation of the mind, which sticks firmly to the established perceptions and refuses to modify them. Even positive stereotypes can be harmful. If the dominant culture emphasizes that men of African descent are good athletes, the young members of the group may strive to fulfill this stereotype rather than develop their own potential in other areas of achievement. Ethnic stereotypes are based on limited and inaccurate information and are reinforced and perpetuated through television, cartoons or even jokes. Cartoons have proved to be a powerful tool for shaping ethnic and national stereotypes. For instance, the image of the Irish in the United States has been considerably influenced by comic strip characters Jiggs and Maggie, Irish social climbers who made a fortune in America. Often vulgar generalizations describe the Irish as alcoholics with a short temper. Uncle Sam, the national personification of the United States, also played a role in the establishment of national stereotypes. Stereotyping is a way of delineating otherness.

Stereotypes about Jews have evolved over the centuries. Jews were often depicted as greedy and scheming merchants. They were subject to repeated persecution, including what were known in 19th century Russia as ?pogroms.? The anti-Semitic sentiments reached their peak with the genocide during World War II, known as the Holocaust, when an estimated 6 million were killed in Nazi-occupied Europe. Africans are typically depicted as undereducated and underfed barbaric people living in extreme poverty in tiny huts. Their society is believed to be infested with crime, rapes and diseases. In the United States, African Americans were stereotyped in the early 20th century as joyful, vibrant but ignorant folks. Native Americans are stereotyped as ardent nature lovers and hunters. They however have also a negative stereotypical image of being drunkards and gamblers. Research shows that stereotypes change in terms of content over time. Active anti-discrimination policy in the United States has been effective in getting people to be more aware of, and to reject, racial stereotypes. Stereotypes about African Americans appear to be changing faster than stereotypes about other ethnic and national groups in the country, research suggests.

However, a survey of the National Opinion Research Center (N.O.R.C.) at the University of Chicago showed that ethnic stereotypes are still deeply rooted in Americans' perceptions. The study gave evidence that respondents tend to evaluate minority groups more negatively than whites. Hence, African Americans and Latinos are labeled as less intelligent than whites. Furthermore, while stereotypes change, this trend does not necessarily improve the intergroup relations. Stereotypes evolve over time hand in hand with social changes. So does the theory about stereotyping. In early research, sociologists believed that stereotyping was the result of conflict, poor parenting and inadequate psychological and emotional development. However, recent studies suggest that stereotypes are commonplace. Some researchers even argue that stereotypes are an easy way to organize one's perceptions. The complex world may be difficult to grasp and simplistic images and ideas can help people understand and accept the more complicated thing. Stereotyping is also proved to boost self-esteem as it creates contradictions between the self and the others, which are for the benefit of the self. The stereotype content model and intergroup image theory also study the structural relationships among groups with the aim to analyze stereotypes and images about out-groups.

Ethnic Stereotypes: Selected full-text books and articles

The Psychology of Stereotyping By David J. Schneider Guilford Press, 2005
Changing Ethnic/racial Stereotypes: The Roles of Individuals and Groups By Izumi, Yutaka; Hammonds, Frank Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, Vol. 35, No. 6, July 1, 2007
Humor and Ethnic Stereotypes in Vaudeville and Burlesque By Mintz, Lawrence E MELUS, Vol. 21, No. 4, Winter 1996
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