I think an interesting, and relative, discussion might take place around the topic of "stereotypes". It's one of those terms that surfaces a lot especially around groups that by their placement may be just on the "fringe". I'm going to suggest that the term itself has been "stereotyped", and I think it's as important to be as aware & careful of that as any other stereotype !
In trying to be accurate I tried looking up the term at various online sources and in all honesty didn't come away very impressed. For a term so heavily used I found little (short & concise) information I could paste here. But here's one from one of the dictionary sites....
2 : something conforming to a fixed or general pattern; especially : a standardized mental picture that is held in common by members of a group and that represents an oversimplified opinion, prejudiced attitude, or uncritical judgment
Well, lookie here ! The term "stereotype" in modern society has been given it's own stereotype. It's been demonized ! "Stereotypes are badddddddddd" !
But let's think about this a minute.... (via example)
Suppose 3 or 4 of us decide to go beach hopping this weekend along the east coast. (NOT a good idea THIS weekend!) We hit 3 different beaches. At 2 of those beaches, we see people eaten by sharks ! Conclusion (stereotype) formed - "beaches - especially along the east coast -are NOT good places to go swimming".
Notice by definition above...."something conforming to a fixed or general pattern".
Is this an accurate representation of all east coast beaches ? NO
Should we still take note of it and be AWARE - maybe a little extra cautious ? ABSOLUTELY (if we value our life)
See, it seems, the thing about "stereotypes" that I don't see a lot of awareness of, or at least acknowledgment of, is that it's part of that primal "wiring" lots of people talk about. It's a built in safety mechanism. It's the way our brain functions to classify all the sensory information presented to it in a day into some logical, retrievable manner that's - in many cases - critical to our survival. Like a drunken librarian, sometimes the categorization has a lot to be desired.
So my point in this is just to try to remove the stereotype of "stereotypes", all the while trying to remember the reason and importance of having them. As "thinking" beings, we're capable of recognizing a stereotype when it comes up but just as importantly remembering there's a good chance it didn't appear out of thin air. At some place, in some time, there was a reason for it.
Stereotypes can be both positive & negative, and BOTH can be equally dangerous to accept at face value. (all doctors by route of their education, MUST be qualified healers and trustworthy).
But it can be every bit as dangerous to ignore, or even rail against them without thought, because they've been identified & labeled as "stereotypes".
Unless of course you're fine with being shark meal.
Sterotypes are useful for a quick judgement. If some young guys approach me dressed in gangsta gear, I will be more defensive than if a group of elderly ladies approached me. I think this makes sense.
However, I should be willing to accept that my prejudice could be wrong. When it is not a matter of safety, I should try to err on the side of being proven wrong. I think prejudice is useful when we apply it to things that keep us safe. It is not so useful when we do not challenge our impressions.
You hit it on the head.
It's being aware that stereotypes exist but that by acknowledging that as well as that fact that we're capable of thinking past them puts us in the most favorable position for a thought or action to have a positive outcome.
It's like a warning beacon, never to be ignored, but leaves us in a position to choose our reaction.
But (using your example) to proceed with anything and assume "nothing", because a particular 'stereotype' (label) has been assigned can be foolhardy at best.
My trouble is that more often than not, we are basing our stereotypes on inaccurate information, so therefore not really making ourself more safe by heeding the ones that are trying to warn us.
For instance, if two out of three beaches contain man eating sharks on the east coast does that really indicate that east coast beaches are bad? More often than not, the reality of the example is that one of dangerous beaches was in South Carolina and the other one was in Florida. So if I'm going to go swimming off the coast of Maine, should I use those other two examples as a distinct possibility that I'll get eaten by sharks? Not if I'm a reasonable person.
That's the danger with confusing correlation and causation. More often than not, we base our stereotypes on false correlations as if they are causal. This is why most stereotypes are inaccurate. You are not more likely to be eaten by a shark on an east coast beach. You're more likely to be eaten by a shark on a beach that's on warm water. So if I decide to go swimming off the coast of Australia and deem it safe because it's not one of those horrible east coast man eating shark beaches, I might be surprised when a shark comes to eat me. Here's a case where stereotyping does nothing to make you safer and is based on correlating the wrong information.
This is also something we do often with regards to race. In the US, you are more likely to raped and assaulted by a white person than by a black person. Yet it is the black people we decided to avoid and walk on the other side of the street when they pass. We are making correlations based on inaccurate racial stereotypes. Comparing a group of people dressed in gangsta wear to old ladies seems a bit of a stretch for me because the information you're getting about one group (the old ladies) is more accurate than the info you're getting from the other. It would not be unreasonable to assume that if a gang of old ladies attacked you, you could probably take them or outrun them. So it's not unreasonable to dismiss any threat.
But if you're feeling defensive when a group of young guys in gangsta gear approach (in this situation those young men could be white, I don't know...but usually when one says gangsta gear, they are referring to black people, so please correct me if I am wrong), what is the information you're basing that threat on? Personal experience of being attacked by such? Most of the time, we develop our perceptions of such people based upon how they are portrayed to us in the media, and that is usually heavily weighted on the crime side. The actual statistics show that you are far less likely to be attacked by such a gang then by white people though.
Unfortunately, that type of stereotyping has lead to things such as racial profiling by police.
Having lived in the same neighborhood and having been the teacher of a whole lotta young guys who sport gansta gear, I can't say that they are any more likely to cause me trouble on the street than some young guys in ties. I can draw other conclusions, such as the young guys in ties are likely going to the type of job that requires a tie and the guys in gansta gear are probably not heading to such a job, but anything beyond that would be hard to base on accurate information.
When I call a stereotype into question, you'll note that I almost always qualify that with the words inaccurate or harmful or both. Stereotyping is something we do when we don't have enough information and more often than not ends up being based on the wrong information or not enough information. It may appear that such stereotyping creates a positive outcome, but the reality usually reflects something different than that.
Yeah, but that is actually a correlation that does match fact. A woman walking alone is far more likely to be assaulted by a man than by a woman. (Hell, I've been mugged twice, both times by a white man) The statistics actually back that one up. In a situation late at night, by yourself...sure, that's reasonable. Refusing to interact with all men because men are more likely to attack you may not be so reasonable.
That sort of thing might marginalize men if police started following or arresting the majority of men who are walking home late at night because they are men.
I believe you are more likely to be mugged by a white person because there are more white people in the US. Adjusting for population, you are more likely to be mugged by a black man than a white man. However, this is because being mugged is directly tied into how poor the mugger is. White men tend to have more money than black men (due to racism and having blacks catch up to established wealth in white people).
My grandfather was very racism. He would give us some money (a small amount since he was still living in the Depression era view of money) and tell us to watch out for black pickpockets. We would say that we will only let white people pickpocket us. :) But my grandfather was missing on what to watch out for. He should have warned us about poor people (not many white collar muggers out there).
Another problem is that humans tend to overuse anecdotal evidence. Like statistics will say one thing, but that is ignored because of a personal story. When seatbelt laws came out, many people would argue that they heard of one story where if a person had been wearing a seatbelt, they would have died. They completely ignored all the other cases where people lived due to seatbelts because those stories were not really out there.
Some sterotypes I have are
1. People hooked on certain drugs will likely steal from family and friends.
2. Personal drama lessens as a person matures and ages.
3. Poor people on the street are most likely to ignore me. If they do interact, it is to panhandle. It is rare to be mugged.
4. If walking the streets at night, muggers are more likely to stay in poorly lit areas away from crowds. Pickpockets and theives are more likely in very crowded places.
There are probably many more.
One more thing... if it happens to be a black man that I am avoiding, I don't care if they are offended because they think I did it just because they're black. I hear this a lot listening to black men speak of it, say on TV or whatever: "Women hold their purses tightly when they see me approaching" or "Women cross the street when they see me coming". Well sure. If you were white, asian, etc., I'd still do the same. But if you've (duh) been a certain race all your life, then you've only experienced things AS a person of that race.
I'm not sure what my point is, but this is something that I think of every time I see or hear a conversation about this topic.
Anyway, the teacher admitted she had some hidden racism in her. She said she was on an elevator and a couple of black guys walked in. She found herself holding her purse tighter. She said she was very surprised by her reaction. So maybe it is more likely.
I grew up in the South where race is still a pretty big issue. When I moved to California, I would have people ask me why I always referred to race when describing events. Like I would say, "This black waiter was stiffed out of a tip by this white guy." They would ask me why race was important in that statement. I never realized it. I realized my statements were not racist, but it put race into every statement which could have hidden motives in it. So I made an effort to use less race and gender descriptions in my statements.
Now I am rambling...
I don't doubt that I have "hidden" racism in me, but it takes a back seat to my not-so-hidden-sexism sometimes!
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