Issue Of The Week XXXI: Racial And Ethnic Stereotypes Are Costly And Dangerous

April 30, 2012
Written by Janice S. Ellis Ph.D. in
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Stereotyping and labeling based on the color or ethnicity of another person is not only insulting, it’s wrong. Photo Credit:

Whether it is our thoughts about black teens wearing hoodies or baggie pants, or white kids wearing punk hairstyles and mystic tattoos; whether it is rich kids driving BMWs and Corvettes to high schools; or Hispanics kids driving decorated low-riders. We all use stereotypes that wield a lot of persuasive power, intentionally, or unintentionally in our daily lives.

The influence they have on our perceptions and actions toward each other is too often not very good, and does little to improve our understanding of and relations with one another.

The costs, limitations, and hurtfulness abound.

We do not have to wait to have a dialogue about the harmful affects of stereotypes when we allow them too blindly govern our thought about and behavior toward others who do not share our skin color, do not live in our neighborhood, who like different kinds of foods, or who prefer and wear different kinds of clothes.

We have become too accustomed to relying on attitudes and labels, rightly or wrongly, passed from one generation to the next, without ever taking time to examine them or bother to learn firsthand, whether such labels and stereotypes are true, or bare any semblance to reality. Yet we allow these notions and presuppositions to govern our lives — often irrespective of the settings.

We do not see stereotypes just playing out in the law enforcement and criminal justice arenas, we see it playing out in how kids of color are taught, or not taught in schools. We see in play out in whether or not companies hire people of color and/or promote or not promote them in the work place. We see stereotypes at play when people of color go to buy a house, get equitable, and market rate mortgages even when they are well-educated with good jobs that make them very creditworthy.

Labels and stereotypes — what power they wield, more often negatively defining, and destructive than not.

Most of us are often not in tune, sometime totally oblivious, to how other labels – sociological, economic, political, racial, religious – affect how we go about our business on a day-to-day basis. Assigning and using labels within itself is not the problem. 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. So, labels and symbols, in and of themselves, are not bad.

How labels are used becomes the problem — when they evolve into negative stereotypes. 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.

altMany minority groups (and minority is a label) could testify about the impact labels have had on their ability, or lack thereof, to fully assimilate in society and enjoy the opportunities and privileges afforded “non-minorities.” The minority label is not just confined to racial or ethnic groups. Minorities can 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.

Will you continue to allow labels and stereotypes passed on by family members or perpetuated in mainstream media to determine how you think or act?

Or will you bother to examine and verify? While you may owe having an open mind as important when encountering others, more importantly, you owe it to yourself.

The indiscriminate use of a stereotype is costly not only to the person it is being used against, but also to the one who is using it.

What do you think?


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I agree with the issue of the

Submitted by CSULB-CPerez52S2012 on

I agree with the issue of the week. I am considered to be apart of a minority since I am Hispanic. I have been considered to fit the stereotype of having tan skinned as well as my ability to speak two languages. It is difficult for people to see my education or morals and values since they are basing their judgement on physical appearance. Many comedians joke about the regular norms within families and people laugh along that it is true. I myself have laughed at certain things that are true, however when these examples are used in a harmful way, then it creates clashes and discrimination. As much as I hate being stereotypes, I am guilty of judging others as well so I would certainly like to change the way people act towards one another to end this.

I agree that stereotypes do

Submitted by SBU-4S2012 on

I agree that stereotypes do nothing to improve our relations with people or all different races and backgrounds. Stereotypes are truly holding us back from seeing people for who they are. I, like almost everyone, is guilty of stereotyping people right off the bat. This is the way we have acted from a young age. But as I grow older and read into these issues, I find myself really thinking before judging. I think that just simply thinking before we judge and stereotype will help this problem.

I see this issue going on

Submitted by CSULB-KLy35S2012 on

I see this issue going on almost everyday. I'm part of the minority. I'm asian and when my mom is speaking to someone, like a worker in stores, I can see the difference of how they treat and speak to my mom compared to a non-minority person. I wasn't raised in a very Asian family so I'm not the "stereotypical" Asian that everybody always sees. They're surprised that I hate sushi and korean bbq. I don't get good grades and my parents actually DON'T get mad at me. So I'd hate it when people would assume things about me automatically. I like a variety of things and I don't think/act a certain way.

I agree with the issue

Submitted by CSULB-AKim2S2012 on

I agree with the issue of this week as well. I'm part of the minority. I'm Asian and I dislike when people automatically assume what I like or dislike and what I am good at or bad at just because of my ethnicity. I don't know why there is the need to sterotype others. It doesn't do any good beside losing a chance to get to know someone. Sterotyping others usually started off at a young age. I know when I was young, I'm guilty of judging others. As I get older, I learn not to judge others before getting to know them.


Submitted by CSULB-KRatliff2... on

I agree with the issue on the basis that stereotypes are still present in our society. We as a society create stereotypes and I think due to pressures and what we choose to see, we think that people follow their stereotypes. It is unfortunate that we still let stereotypes judge the character of a person. Though I am not a minority, as a white female I still face stereotypes and judgments that I did not ask for. I am young looking, and due to this people don't think I can handle tasks, just because someone looks young doesn't mean they are young, or incapable of something. Also on a less serious side of stereotypes I have blonde hair. I have had people automatically treat me as if I am less than them, or stupid just because of hair color! There are many times in which I have thought about dying my hair darker before having a big job interview as I feel I am taken more seriously if my hair is darker, even though I am a 4.0 student. Even though these stereotypes don't affect me like a stereotype of ones skin color does, it goes to show that all sorts of stereotypes exist, whether or not they are a "joke." I hope that all stereotypes can start to disappear as time goes on. I hope that all stereotypes, whether they are less serious, as in my situation, or a bigger problem as in a skin color situation, are no longer considered. A persons character should determine the kind of person they are, not the physical aspects of them (whether it be skin color, gender, hair color, height, ethnicity). I hope that we can live in a world where we don't judge people on their physical makeup. I think that it is hard to eliminate all judgments because if you aren't judging a person based on stereotypes or physical characteristics it is likely you are judging them on their behavior. I wish that we could live in a world without judgment, I don't know if it is possible, but I truly hope we can learn to live in a world without harmful stereotypes.


Submitted by CSULB-KBonilla3... on

I always assume that labels where negative. So, it really surprise me to read that labels are okay, but the way we use them is the problem. Now that I think about it, it makes sense. I mean it is true that hispanic people do eat a lot of beans. It is a common dish in my family. So, why is the world beaner so insulting? This word is insulting because of the way it is used. This word is used to signal out or make someone feel different because of the food they eat. The linguistic relativity theory states that our language creates our reality. This I find to be very true, because the words we use and how we use them define our thoughts and actions. So, it is up to me to make sure that I am open to see someone not for what stereotypes say about them, but for who they truly are.


Submitted by SBU-30S2012 on

I absolutely agree with this issue of the week. Stereotyping happens all over the place, and it does nothing at all to improve our relations with people. How you stereotype someone can impact how you act towards the when you are around them, and if you wrongly stereotype them, then you treat them unfairly right from the get-go. Most of the people that do stereotype others are generally wrong. Just because an African-American man is sitting with his hood up does not mean he is a thug. Maybe he is just ashamed of a bad haircut. However, some people can be right when they judge other people, although it does not happen often. The moral of this is that you should not judge people. At all. Give them a chance, and if you would still not like to be around them or be friends with them or be associated with them then fine, do that. But don't go around negatively stereotyping people, it's just wrong.

Things to ponder

Submitted by SBU-16S2012 on

I totally agree with you about the hood stereotype. If people question whether this racial profiling or stereotyping occurs in modern day, look no further than the Trayvon Martin incident in Florida. That is just one microcosm of racism and labeling that exists in society; there are probably thousands more that just aren't made as public as this one. I guess my question would be, "why?" Where did these stereotypes come from? Why do people classify Mexican women as housekeepers or black men as thugs and rapists, for example? It's really unfortunate. I think you slip up when you say "some people can be right when they judge other people" because then you go on to say how wrong it is to judge. It seems a bit contradictory. Just a thought.

Word game

Submitted by SBU-16S2012 on

One of the most common things I believe people do is make generalized associations about particular groups of people, as the author discusses in the opening paragraphs of the Issue of the Week. When people constantly are labeled by stereotypes and demeaned by negative perceptions, they have less of a motivation to succeed because they believe that the prejudices they experience are simply the norm and will not go away. It was interesting to learn that assigning labels in itself is not bad. However, I was not surprised to learn the catch: the way people use them give the words and associations negative connotations. It's sad that people have to hide behind labels in order to pretend to understand people different from themselves.

I believe stereotypes hurt

Submitted by CSULB-ATran8S2012 on

I believe stereotypes hurt people even when they're not being called names. I'm Vietnamese and people think all I eat is rice. It makes me not want to eat rice in front of people or else I'd be supporting the stereotype.

My thoughts

Submitted by CSULB-AChan48S2012 on

I agree that stereotypes do nothing but harm others when they are utilized. In life, diseases are already damaging us and we can't keep fueling the fire by deciding to discriminate and create divisions through stereotypes.In life there is no one type or accurate way of seeing things in life there are words that are written and pronounced differently throughout all cultures and facets of life and there are differences that should be respected and people are already getting offended by saying words that mean similar things in another language because people can't accept other languages as equals already and it is sad since that happens of course stereotypes are going to be bound to occur. The thing is people need to see that all people have commonalities and not try to find things to single out or differentiate people because yes we are different but it's not a thing that should be made fun of it. Instead we need to realize for every difference there are still commonalities. We have to realize in life the way with feel is amplified and if we want ourselves and others to feel amplified in a positive light stereotypes really need to fall to the wayside.

My Experiences

Submitted by CSUSM-4F2012 on

Stereotypes like the article said are often hurtful. I’m Mexican-American and a woman. So that right off the bat makes me susceptible to rude comments from people I don’t know. I work at a law firm and when I wear nice clothes, everyone respects me. I walk in to court and people can distinguish me from the people waiting for their lawyer. I don’t get second glances when I walk through the halls and people rush to help me. When I’m out in my regular clothes followed in tow by my 3-year-old child, I get those looks. Yeah, the looks of “OMG another teen mom.” I happen to be young, but also look very young. I look like I’m 16, but I’m nearing 21, so that doesn’t help my cause. When I shop and I’m about to pay, people are surprised when I pull out my American Express Card because they assume I’m going to pay with an E.B.T. card. I’ve had cashiers tell me, before I even pay, that they don’t take E.B.T. cards. I get offended, but I try not to let it show. It’s so disrespectful that because I am a young mom, some people assume that I must be poor and uneducated. I’ve also had experiences where I’m in stores like Nordstrom and the sales people won’t even help me. I almost want to just walk in to stores and announce, “Yes I have money to be shopping here!” It makes me sad that people sometimes only see my skin color and my age because I am going to school, I have a full-time job, and I am living a very privileged life. I want to better myself and I’m working hard to do so.

Looking In

Submitted by CSUSM-12F2012 on

I think everyone in this discussion will generally agree that stereotypes are an issue to be frowned upon. Something even more discouraging is when we subconsciously or unknowingly use them in our lives. I remember being a young child and playing in the streets, going to the local liquor store, and visiting my cousin’s friends in his neighborhood of Logan in San Diego County. Nothing ever seemed wrong to me and I never understood why my mother always looked overly concerned. It was not until recently that I saw Logan on an episode of Gangland, and my entire perception of that area changed. I found myself trying to avoid Logan at all costs and when I actually visited for family events, I always felt skittish. While it is indeed a rough area that has a reputation for gang activity, I let the whole area and it’s residents fulfill that stereotype in my head. It was difficult accepting the guilt of taking part in a negative stereotype, yet allowing myself to look past that stereotype was the real challenge.

I believe this is the only way that we will move forward as a society. Accept that fact that there are stereotypes out there, accept that fact that we’ve used them purposely or accidentally, because only then can we truly learn from our mistakes.

Location and Situation...

Submitted by CSUSM-30F2012 on

I believe by college we have all stereotyped and have been subjected to a stereotype whether it was consciously, sub-consciously, negatively, positively, knowingly or unknowingly; it is a part of life that is too prevalent in our society to simply overcome. As a part of a minority in my community, school, and workplace I will say that I have had a fair share of being stereotyped and discriminated against, but a large part of that was based on location and situation. One approach to the debate could be that since stereotypes are largely based on situation and location, you could say that stereotyping/labeling could be avoided entirely. Stereotyping and labeling almost always takes place in a situation or location where the minority doesn’t essentially relate to the majority; therefore, if you believe stereotyping is creating that much of a barrier or negative impact on your life then remove yourself from that situation or location. Chances are there are equally opportune locations and/or situations that you can thrive in as the majority without being stereotyped or discriminated against. Are we, as minorities, too prideful? I don’t believe so, but if it were causing serious harm to me and my family I would find a situation that we can better deal with. I would argue that stereotypes have been a pivotal part in my life in making me the man I am today. By breaking down barriers of the “norm” for young black males in America I have created a sense of triumph and accomplishment that gives me the confidence to stare down stereotypes and overcome adversity. Do I believe that some labels and stereotypes can prevent you and me from bettering our daily lives? I most definitely do. Do I also believe that they have helped me develop a strong character that other young black males look up to and seek advice from in stereotypical situations? I would have to agree with that statement as well. In the end we all would like to be treated the same, but in today’s world I would rather be equipped with the tools to learn how to deal with stereotypes than to ponder how we can eliminate them.

Then and Now

Submitted by CSUSM-20F2012 on

I grew up in Texas in a town where the population of about 5,000 is approximately 20% Asian, 25% Hispanic, 15% black and 40% everything else of a pretty good mix, if you prefer to section out the people by ‘races.’ I fit into two of these categories, even though I look like I could be in the one I’m not. Growing up in the sleepy little fishing town with a high school football obsession, I learned that everyone plays together from whatever neighborhood you are from. The groups that hung out together were pretty well mixed. At lunch, my table consisted of the goodie-two-shoes-and-never-did-anything-wrong best friend (the Hispanic), my goofy other best friend (who was from Canada) and really liked to kiteboard, the captain of the pom/kicks team (possibly of German descent), and me, the cross-country and track star, competitive dancer, Computer Science Team’s only girl, and Honor Society’s coordinator of volunteer events.

Guess what? I’m 25% Japanese, 25% mix of Scottish, Irish, Dutch, Comanche and Cherokee, and 50% good ol’ Texan. I’m distantly related to William Penn (on my mother’s side, where the Japanese also comes in) and Jesse James (the bandit from the old west, not the one on television right now). When I say what kind of mix I am, you can see the Asian blood in me with my slightly slanted eyes and olive skin tone. Does this mean I have to act a certain way?

The first time I saw a major distinction in how ‘races’ acted was on television when I was a freshman in my second semester at Texas A&M Univ-Corpus Christi. Then I saw how the different ‘races’ acted around school and how they tended to group together. Since then, my thought on how these ‘races’ act was how they want to be perceived. For example, I ran track with a black girl in college, who around people of her same skin color acted more and more like those on BET, but around people of different races, acted much more like an “American” would act. Did she change her behavior around me, the don’t-know-exactly-what-race-you-are girl? Or did she change her behavior according to who she was hanging around?

Here’s another issue I’ve been dealing with lately. I recently married a Marine. I hang out with other women whose husbands work with mine; needless to say, our husbands are all about the same rank. I’ve made contact with old acquaintances from my hometown (whose husbands are enlisted) and as soon as they find out my husband’s rank, I’m, in a way, cast out (because my husband is an officer). I’ve heard them say “oh, you’re an officer’s wife…” when it comes down to different experiences with the Marine Corps. I often finding myself avoiding the question of “what’s your husband’s MOS?” In this situation, ‘race’ has been changed to ‘rank’. According to some, I’m expected to act a certain way, dress a certain way, and only associate myself with certain people. When it comes down to it, did they change their behavior around me, the don’t-know-exactly-where-you-stand girl? Or did they change their behavior according to who they’re associated with according to biases and stereotypes of some officer wives?

A new outlook..

Submitted by CSUSM-33F2012 on

After reading this article, I definitely have a different outlook on racial stereotypes. Just like everyone else, I find myself from time to time stereotyping people based on their race. We’ve all done it. You can’t say you haven’t. Working in the restaurant industry you catch yourself doing it a lot more than you think. One of the biggest stereotypes in that industry is that African American’s are bad tippers. To be completely honest, most of the time this is true. But that could be said about any race. There are whites, Hispanics, Asians, etc. that are also bad tippers. There are also African Americans who are excellent tippers and I’ve experienced this first hand. So why do we find ourselves pointing fingers at just that specific group? I completely agree that racial stereotyping is wrong. We get so wrapped up in our day to day lives that half of the time we don’t even realize were doing it. But I also feel that there are stereotypes on specific races that those people bring upon themselves. This is every race. We have to start looking at the person and their quality before we stamp a label on them just because there is a majority that acts a certain one. It’s like the saying, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” This is something I am definitely going to start becoming aware of because I agree, it’s not right.