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.
Originally Posted by Quath
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.