Issue Of The Week III: Labels And Stereotypes Are Worth Examining

October 6, 2010
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Man in box

Labels wield a lot of persuasive power — intentionally or unintentionally.

I am not speaking of labels on the commodities (clothes, foods, etc.) that we buy, although in light of being an informed consumer, we should read those labels too. However, my reference is broader.

Too often as we go about our business on a day-to-day basis, we are not always in tune to how other labels — sociological, economic, political, racial, religious — affect our well-being, positively and negatively. Rightly or wrongly, we place people and things in “boxes,” or categories to manage and guide our conduct toward them, and determine many other decisions we make.

This phenomenon is perfectly normal according to sociologists. Labels, symbols, rituals, like laws and rules, provide order to our society. Such practices determine the nature and quality of any civilization. The lack of norms causes the collapse of a civilization. History is replete with examples of the rise and fall of civilizations. Therefore, labels and symbols, in and of themselves, are not bad.

How they are used can often be a problem, especially when we apply the label to a group or individual.

Many minority groups (and minority is a label), could testify about the impact labels have had on their ability, or lack thereof, to fully assimilate into society, and enjoy the opportunities and privileges afforded “non-minorities.” The minority label is not just confined to racial or ethnic groups. Minority labels may also pertain to beliefs, religious affiliations, political identity, i.e. conservative vs. liberal vs. independent, socio-economic status, etc.

Categorical and stereotypical labels can be harmful – very harmful. While they often provide a level of comfort and ease as one interacts in his/her environment, they often serve as blinders to the discovery of truth, and determining reality. While it would take more space than is available here to cover the many examples that come to mind, I will deal with the ones of which I am most familiar.

altPerhaps one of the broad-sweeping impacts on African-Americans as a group has been the label that “Blacks don’t vote.” The perception is understandable based on the consistent low-voter turnout in many local and national elections. In addition, many candidates disregard the issues and concerns of African-Americans because of the perception that there will be low-voter turnout on Election Day. Consequently, what could be strong political leverage by one of the nation’s largest minority group is significantly minimized because both candidates, and African-American voters refuse to take the steps to change these limiting, even crippling, labels.

Whenever our heroes and leaders, whether athletes, politicians, business or religious leaders, fall from grace — because of illegal, and unethical behavior — there is a real danger that other labels may emerge. Hypocrite. Double Standard. We often see one set of rules applying to leaders, and another set of rules that applies to the rest of us. Turning a blind eye, meeting out justice to fit the crime is often not equally applied.

Labels affect our social standing, our economic and political power. If they are inaccurate, the affect is negative and long lasting. Many political and economic analysts argue that allowing certain stereotypical labels to go unchallenged often thwarts the efforts of many minorities to enter mainstream American politics and business.

Can you identify the labels assigned to you, your race, ethnic, or religious group? Are they accurate or inaccurate? If labels aren’t working for you, and having a positive impact, shouldn’t you take the steps to change them?

To ignore harmful labels is foolhardy.

What do you think?


People have been labeling each other since the beginning of our nation. All whites at one time put the African Americans in the category of only ever being good for a slave, and being stupid and uneducated. Some people still feel the same way, while others have definitely gone in the opposite direction. I'm a Caucasian blonde hair, blue-eyed woman. I often get labeled as well. "She's blonde, she must be stupid." Of course that's not true. Many people today have come to the conclusion of stereotyping people just because of the way they appear on the outside. We as a nation should learn to step away from those ideas and make moves toward a more connected, personable society.

I am an insulin dependent diabetic since the age of 18 months, which most people would classify as a minority group and associate many hurtful labels. To me diabetes is not at all a disability, but a lifestyle. There is not anything associated with this illness that makes me any different, or that holds me back from being any less successful or that keeps me from the life experiences that anyone may encounter. Unfortunately with the stereotype of "disabled" come labels. I have found myself taking on more responsibility at work in order to prove to upper management that I am capable of completely tasks in a timely manner. No matter how sick I might feel with sinus infections or the flu, I find myself struggling through the day just so that my diabetes is not blamed for any absences that might accrue. People tend to say she is "diabetic," "disabled," "sickly," all of which are hurtful labels that in no means portray who I really am. In order to avoid these labels and stereotypes from being cast, I find myself achieving at higher levels just to prove everyone wrong and sometimes even hiding my diabetes so that I don't have to hear these things.

I had never thought about it until I read your post that we not only labeled people by their race, ethnicity, gender, looks, etc. But we do labeled them once we know if they have an illness. We do treat individuals who are “sick” differently. I like how you stated that having diabetes is a lifestyle not a disability.

As a sociological minor, I feel that labels are the one flaw in sociological thinking. In fact, it made me choose psychology as my major. By labeling groups of people we give them an excuse to be a self-fulfilling prophecy; that is, they become what they are being labeled. I think anyone has the power to change--whether it be their socioeconomic status, religious/political affiliation, or etc..--so, what is the point of labeling? I think labeling is a useless concept that should be abolished as soon as possible.

I'm a Hispanic 19 year old female and many times I've come across people labeling me as a "beaner." Obviously this is racial profiling and categorizing me as an immigrant, something that I definitely am not. Yes, I come from a full on Hispanic family, but to label me as a "beaner" is crucial. It not only disappoints me that our society is so judgmental about things, but behind every label that someone gets categorized in there's harm going along with it. I personally think all these labels are stereotypical and in no way or form relevant to what rights we as people should have in our society. Whether we're from a minority group or not we are all the same people, we may look different, have better skills than others but in the end we are all human beings and deserve equal rights.

It’s weird, but as a Mexican woman I want to take ownership of the word beaner. It has negative connotations, of course, because society wanted to put us in our place. But I feel if we take charge of the word, and try to make it have better meaning then the labeling wouldn’t affect us as much. I am not going to lie, I even sometimes myself call myself a beaner, and guess what I don’t have a problem with it. However, it does matter when it is someone who means it in the derogatory way.

It is said that when people meet one another for the first time they judge them within a minute. Labeling and/or stereotyping them without really knowing who they are. I think this problem isn't only with Americans, I feel that the whole world has this problem, we are too quick to judge one another. People need to stop trying to figure out what someone has done or what they are all about and just get to know them instead. I am a white woman and I went to a pretty ethnic high school where I was just considered "the little white girl" without people really getting to know me. It was frustrating thatjust based on how I looked other people only focused on that part of myself and there is so much more to me. I just think we all need to get to know each other before we start labeling one another because, we are all equal.

Sterotypes are everywhere... im active person who works out and tries to eat healty; but im overweight. I keep getting sterotyped that im lazy and all i do is eat cookies and sit on my butt. For me its genetic, i have my dads body type which is broader shoulder and a smaller waist, and a slower metabolism. Not so good because im a girl. In addition i was premie at birth so that gave me poor muscle tone. So when people see me and judge me based on my weight they dont get to know the real person.

When it comes to stereotypes and my life there are only a couple that really get to me. First one is that I am Italian, and everyone knows the stereotype about Italians. We are hot blooded, sexually promiscuous, and cold blooded killers in the mob. Then there is another stereotype that goes with being Italian, they eat a lot, mostly pasta.So that makes me a fat Italian.
And I feel that when people look at me they see someone who does nothing but eat pasta and scream and yell about everything that goes on in my life. But the hardest one for me is the fact that I am overweight. I feel that because of my extra weight people see me as lazy and a loner. But in reality I am losing weight, I work out 5 days a week. And I am very friendly and social. When people get to know me they drop all of the stereotypes about me, I always get the "I never knew you could talk this much" after people know me for a while. I hope that one day we won't use stereotypes in everyday life and we will be more open about getting to know people.

Stereotyping/labeling has became an activity that our society is still clinging to it though not as it use to be. Being from Africa more often when i talk with people they will automatically know i am not from here due to my British accent, and the first question that comes out of their mouth is where are you from? as a proud African i don't
shy off and i will say Africa, disappointing enough people will start talking about discovery channels, this is what i saw, this is what i heard this is what what what..... People should stop stereotyping people based on color, accent, body structure etc instead we need to learn more about them, appreciate what they have and challenge those who still value this vice that we are all Gods children made not created by Gods hand and we all have a purpose and that is to make earth a better home for all of us.

I know that that self-concept and self-esteem are essential to ones well being. And, feel that negative labels and perceptions of particular persons or groups can have devastating effects on lives. People need to step back and realize how labeling can affect an individuals strengths and weaknesses.

I agree that using negative labels can be harmful to our society in the past, present, and future.

Labeling helps us make sense of the world. It is essential and innate for humans to label and classify the things that surround us. However, sterteotyping is the dark side of labeling. It takes an individual and robs them of their uniqueness, their story, and their value. Stereotyping is a lazy cognitive miser that every human being is guilty of practicing. We do it to consolidate our time; we do it to simplify our world and make us feel safe. We love to make mental shortcuts so that we can say we are knowledgable about the things which surround us.

Stereotypes hardly ever benefit the one being sterotyped. They transform people into classified objects of predictable behavior. And maybe that is exactly what we are but, regardless is separates people groups. It distances me from you, it puts a harsh barrier of assumed beliefs in between individuals. Stereotypes demotes blondes into dumbos, muslims into terrorists. We become limited by our cognitive choices and, therefore, blind our eyes from seeing people as a collective group of individuals.

Let us refuse the mental shortcuts, and engage one another with love. Without skeptism, let's give each other the same label we all long for.

Whether anyone wants to believe it or not, stereotyping and labeling are EVERYWHERE. Everyone does it. And sometimes, we do it naturally without even thinking about it. Society puts norms into everyone's head everyday about how you should be this way, or that these certain people do these types of things, or that those people are criminals, etc. We might thing that those things are morally wrong, but sometimes we go through situations were we, indeed, judge or prejudge someone. It is very unfortunate and wrong to do, but we do it anyways (in some instances.) The only way we can all put an end to these types of things is by getting EVERYONE to believe that everyone is different, and that just because you are a certain race, doesn't prove that you are a criminal, or that you are a bad person, smart, rich, etc. Time's are definitely changing, and there has been a lot of change within the last couple years. We have a multi-racial president, for the first time. And to think in history, African Americans were slaves, and weren't treated like regular people.

I believe this is true. Many minorities are labeled in categories and are being stereotyped everyday. I mean I'm Asian, so being in school, it was like that a lot. A lot of my classmates would always say to me and tell me that I'm so smart and that i always get good grades. And they always come to the conclusion the reason is that because I'm Asian. When in reality, I'm not that smart and when i do well, its because i study and work hard for that grade. So when i hear this kind of stuff it does irritate me because just of who you are and your skin people identify you as this and that. Like oh those blacks and Mexicans are gangsters, oh those Asians are smart, and the whites are mostly at times successful business people.

The idea of labeling certain groups is a practice that we’re unwillingly taught at a very young age. Stereotypes of groups are the most common that I see on a daily basis. The label that all Asians are good at math is a compliment as well as a deterrent for the Asian children that aren’t good at math. It was reported that a high school teacher in my area was not applying much help for the Asian students because he assumed that they already knew the material. Other examples that labeling is a deterrent for individuals are the way that minorities had a terrible experience throughout the 90s while purchasing a home. The practice of redlining was very popular and the easiest way to label a person or family was by last name or the color of one’s skin. Labeling I believe is a form of white privilege that can admit actions and stereotypes of racism that can hide behind so called “labels”.

Labeling requires one to categorize; Categorization leads to judgment. When one labels another they judge what category that person should be in, or what stereotypes distinguish how that person should be. I think that labeling causes expecation. When people label someone, they assusme that they meet the stereotypes associated who that person should be. Labeling also focuses on the stereotypes associated with a group, not the individual. I definitely agree with statement about the impact that labeling has with an individual's performance and ability. Individuals may feel pressured to fit the mold of what kind of person they would be labeled have, to meet the expectations of that mold. Others may feel discouraged with their ability and performance because their mold was associated with negative labels. Labels cause people to judge others before they meet them. I am Asian, and the label associated with my culture assumes that I am a bookwork genius. This pressures me because I am expected to do well in school, to understand my studies with ease. This association that I am tied with shows me the importance of knowing the individual separate from the group. We all need to truly recognize that not everyone is the same and that labeling causes us to categorize and judge.

Stereotyping is a huge part of many conflicts when it comes to differencces in race and gender and etc. The problem is that our minds already stereotype people the moment we see them. Our first judgement of someone comes entirely from what we have seen people "like them" doing. No matter if we dont want to stereotype someone, when we just glance at them we have already stereotyped them in our mind. The fact is that that is just how our mind works. It seems like it is some sort of safety mechanism. It is a way for our mind to let us know that the odds of that person being unsafe is far greater because they are depicting themselves as more unsafe than other people. There will always be stereotypes because people arent going to go and introduce themself to everyone. They are going to pick and choose who they want to meet by first stereotyping them on whether they seem nice or safe or whatever.

I believe that labeling is a problem in our society. We label people on stereotypes that society has developed overtime. This is unfair and it is obvious how this can be a problem. People make judgements on people because of how they look and they don't really know that person. To put the label on blacks that they do not vote is really just being ignorant. I believe that our minds work like this because society has developed these labels and it sticks with people. I see a lot of times at college where athletes who are enrolled in phyical education classes and they are labeled as stupid and that they must only be pursuing that major so they can play a sport. This is not true at all, maybe that person likes physical education because they are an athletic person and find a field like that to be interesting and something they can enjoy. This is not an example involving race or gender, but it is an example of how labels can be applied to any group of people with negative effects.

Society places labels on just about everything. Why is that? What are we so set in categorizing people, places, things, objects, and sexualities? This has been going on for years now; all whites put African Americans in one category. They called them slaves, uneducated, and stupid. Some people still feel the same way about them; however some people do not feel that way so that is good. Furthermore, society places stereotypes on blondes i feel. Personally I am not a blonde, however i do have some girlfriends that are blondes and they always tell me that they are constantly being stereotyped as dumb. Where have we picked up this stereotype that blondes are dumb? What does the color of your hair have to do with your level of intelligence, or what does the color of your skin have to do with your level of intelligence. We live in a very twisted society, that feels that they need to label people to make themselves feel better. I say we ditch the label and stereotypes and treat people as individuals because that is what they are!

Submitted by gates010 on

Reading this, I feel like there is so much truth to it. I am an African American woman and just being black and female come with enough stereotypes alone it’s not even funny. One thing that popped into my brain when reading this article was the UCSD’s “Compton Cookout” last year that made everyone come and act “ghetto” like how African Americans are suppose to act. I feel that our society encourages these labels and stereotypes. Society especially encourages these by using the media. So if people didn’t know about the labels, the media will catch them up. I feel that if we were to stop the society from encouraging the stereotypes we have a long way to go. There is nothing wrong with the people taking responsibility for their own words and actions though during the meantime. If one person starts the trend of not labeling, maybe others will catch on.

Labels in a way are helpful to help us know how to interact with individuals. How to treat them, how to approach them in a social setting, how to talk with them and what's appropriate and what's not. Labels become harmful and detrimental when they start becoming associated with racism, negative stereotypes such as white people with shaved heads are often thought of as skin heads and affiliated with white power gangs. Every middle eastern is a Muslim and therefore a terrorist, like in the article Blacks don't vote, Mexicans are all illegal. These are all examples of groups of people having labels turned bad on them. There are also labels that don't seem bad on the surface but a closer look reveals they can be just as harmful. Asian's are put in this box that they are all smart which on the surface isn't a bad thing, but we all know that's unfair and untrue because what happens when a person of oriental ethnicity is in a class and having a hard time with the material but the teacher doesn't spend time with him/her or passes over them when a hand is raised and the student never learns the material. Personally I am a white, 23 year old female and there are many labels that I've given myself or have been given to me, not all have been good but I have always done something about it. If we don't take action starting with ourselves how can we hope and ask other's to take action for us.

I agree that labels could be helpfull to guide our conduct and also help us make decisions on many things that we engage in everyday, whether it is sociological, political, religious or racially related. Having labels will help people determine if their demeanor is appropriate in a certain social settings. But far to often people build negative labels and stereotypes of different ethnic groups. Im a male Latino that has been effected by these social labels. I often get labeled as being lazy, poor, and uneducated. In my current job i have been trying to get a management position job after being with the company for 10 years. I havent been able to get this position because of my corporate manager. Although with recommendations of my general manager, the district corporate manager refuses to give me an opportunity because he claims that im not educated or compotent enough to the job. The thing that got me mad about his decision was that the corporate manager doesnt even know me. If he only knew that i know how to do every single job position offered in the company.

Submitted by gates010 on

Labels and Stereotypes need to be challenged in today’s society in order for our society to come united. I believe that most of us learn these labels and stereotypes when we are very young depending on the different factors that shape and mold our minds. I feel that the first step is to unlearn these biases. Many people believe that it is very hard to unlearn their biases, whether they are hidden are not, is a hard task that won’t get accomplished. After acknowledging that we have these hidden biases and want to change them, we have to unlearn them so that we won’t be able to teach them to the next generation. Once we acknowledge the biases we will slowly start to challenge the biases, in which we would have bring all of them to the light. We would have to deal with them one at a time, no excuses, then we can begin to change the labels and stereotypes. Also I think that sterotypes are enocouraged through storylines and narratives because that's the standard we're using now a days to set up sterotypes and labels. I just think we know what the goal is, now let’s just get the plan on the ball and going

I think that all people label and make stereotypes about each other. Its wrong but its a way for people that get picked on to fight back towards others. Its like an instinct that we have. You might think what you are saying no will hear you, but, the fact remains that you are doing the exact thing that was done to you. It needs to stop but its just the way we live and i think that it can be controlled but, something like this is one thing that will never go away.

I feel that the media plays a major role for these stereotypes that affect our everyday life. I recently saw an episode of South Park that portrayed blacks and Hispanics as menaces to society. South Park a nationally broadcasted show that millions of people watch daily, and with this type of broadcasting, many individuals including children will start believing this stereotype or any other stereotypes that the television displays. Then we ultimately ask the question “where are our children learning these type of things at?” Then we blame it on the school system. If the school so happens to be in a bad community, (schools are part of the community) then whites and Asians will not want to live there nor have their children attend that school. I’m being very blunt, but it’s the way I feel and my perspective. My question is why does society develop these labels toward different groups? Is this a way for whites to maintain power? It seems all the good stereotypes are taken already, and blacks and Mexicans are viewed in a negative connotation. Honestly, I believe some children will grow up and face these labels and stereotypes and have serious consequences because of them. Either they will end up in the prison system, or have some irrational way of thinking and approaching individuals. Or one might believe the labels and might never want to amount to anything.

From reading this article, particularly the sixth paragraph/section down about not just racial groups being
minorities, I began thinking of the various other "minorities" that are mentioned in this article and tried
to connect them to things in my life and the lives of people around me. Various other differences with people
can also be seen as minority traits and then label them as minorities, and although they aren't in the more
common racial minority, they are still being placed in this "box" that the article speaks of, being labeled
something different. By saying this, I'm not trying to say that these racial labels are correct, and nor am I
trying to discount this article, but what I am trying to get accross is that there's a lot more to labels than
just racial differences. On another note, i feel as though the racial "box" that the article speaks of is a good analogy of the various boxes one must check when filling out almost any form in this day and age... We are supposed to check whatever box that we fit in regarding our race or ethnic status (as well as economic status), but there are often not enough options, or very generalized options to choose from which force people to take on a label that might not work for them.

Submitted by sheake10 on

Everybody stereotypes whether they want to openly admit it or not. Nobody is proud about doing it, but it is just a natural response to seeing a certain person or group of people. I am a white male that was raised in a somewhat mixed area, so I’ve seen my fair share of stereotypes thrown my way. The typical white male is really never stereotyped, but in some cases it does happen. I think that when people look at me they think that I was brought up a rich boy and had everything handed to me, when really my family is lower middle class and I had to work for everything that I have today. Images can throw people off completely. Just by the way you look everyone gets an idea of who they think you are, but really it is false judging until they actually know who you are and what you stand for. You can look at a big muscular man who has tattoos all over his body and think he is dumb just by the way he looks. Who know? He can be a genius, who knows? We should get an idea about a certain person just by the way they dress, the way their hair looks, or what is on their body.

Stereotypes and labeling is something we do everyday. Speaking as someone that goes to college there are stereotypes about everything. The one major thing I can think about is the greek life. It's thought that everyone that joins a greek is preppy and pretty and just care about meeting new people and partying. little do people know that they actually do more than just party, they help spread awareness about certain problems going on around the world. In this article I like how the author says 'we place people in boxes", this makes sense. Say when you're moving you would label a box with maybe "kitchen" or 'bedroom". When labeling someone and putting them in boxes you would most likely label them "white" or "African American". We need to break thru these stereotypes and stop putting people in these boxes.

Stereotypes and labels are very interesting taboos. We can all remember from elementary school whenever our teachers told us to include everyone in activities and how we should not exclude others because they are different than us. Though the same teacher doesn't talk to so and so who teaches such and such because she is just so much different than me. This example given for the obvious reason of, many people say do as i say and not as i do, which gives misleading ideas to children. So children go through life with the misrepresentations of ideas which leads to stereotyping or in some cases out right bigotry. In my personal opinion, I believe that those who buy into stereotypes actually show their ignorance by buying into them. And in many cases in very humorous ways.

Stereotypes and labels can be very harmful for people especially in the minority. It can hurt them with getting a job and how much money they make. In the article it says that black voters are hurting themselves by not voting and they are falling into that label. But in reality there are a lot of blacks that actually vote. This article also brings up the point that leaders of certain races can come up with labels for the whole race. This can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on what they do. In America you cannot think that labels will go away. It would take a long process and one that would probably never totally go away.