There are plenty of e-mail items and jokes circulating through the Internet that remind us of our most common racial stereotypes. Not that many of us forget.
Stereotypes are memes in which we consciously or subconsciously transfer our beliefs about others to others until they become popular assumptions. And the assumptions stick — no matter how many times we see evidence to the contrary.
Thanks to the Internet, thoughts and ideas become memes faster. However, many of us long hold on to beliefs about not only other races, but also other sexes and even professions.
Librarians are shy.
All men are chauvinist.
Blacks and Mexicans are lazy.
Jews are stringy.
All whites are racist.
Ken Hines, a St. Joseph Missouri psychologist, says many of us are not even aware we apply stereotypes. They are convenient and save us the trouble of gathering data about a particular person. Stereotypes are often based on data or the opinions of trusted elders, which makes them harder to dismiss.
“The world is a threatening place and pre-conceived impressions are better than none at all,” Hines says. “Without them we would be nervous and uneasy all the time, especially when we are exposed to strangers. If we were constantly aware that our pre-conceptions are mostly false, outdated, or inapplicable, we would lose confidence in our ability to size up situations on the fly and fit ourselves into them.”
Hines adds that it would be hard for us to give up stereotypes. He believes pre-judging others is something that is probably hardwired in us.
He says, “The best possible outcome for society is to make you aware of them, which will likely be an increased ability to suspend our behavioral reactions long enough to factor in our own personal observations and trust them over the automatic pre-judgments that we are also making, at least long enough to stay out of trouble.”