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    Tuesday, November 30, 2010

    Stereotypes and Why They Stink

       In my inner-city Youth Group, we've been discussing stereotypes, bigotry and racism.  We've been going through a series called Ethnic Mosaic where we've been trying to break down some of these walls.  Below is some insight I found in my reading on the subject of stereotypes;  Enjoy.

    One of the causes of stereotypes is called automatic processing. “Even further below awareness is something that psychologists call automatic processing, in which stereotypes are triggered by the slightest interaction or encounter” (Murphy Paul, Annie Where Bias Begins). This can happen to anyone at anytime where they have a poor encounter with someone of another race or ethnic background then themselves and they attach that experience to all people of that particular race or ethnic background. Dr. Dirks in his week 6 lecture defines out a bit more what stereotyping is: “Simply put it [a stereotype] is a generalization about a group of people. According to Wittmer (1992) when we stereotype someone we “hold a rigid and fixed impression of a group of people, which we then apply to all members of that group” (62). Martin and Nakayama frame a stereotype as, “Widely held beliefs about a group of people” (41). Or in other words we could say that it is a form of generalization” (Dr. Dirks, Week 6 Lecture 2010).

    This goes a long with what I said above that not only is the stereotype attached to the person who may have brought about a bad experience but the stereotype is attached to the whole race or ethnic group that person belongs to. This is a dangerous thing because a stereotype a person has forces that person to then encounter people of a certain race with a pre-judgment, not giving that person a chance whatsoever. I see this is my youth group a lot. I am a youth pastor of middle school students in the inner city, where there are also a fair number of suburban white students. The interactions between these two groups is harsh and very hateful. Although the teens don’t realize it they are pre-judging one another based off of their stereotypes.

    This is where the stereotypes become a prejudice. “How do we define prejudice? Calloway-Thomas, Cooper and Blake (1999) describe it as “negative attitudes toward others based on faulty and inflexible stereotypes” (98). It is a “negative attitude toward a cultural group based on little or no experience” (Martin and Nakayama, 43)” (Dr. Dirks, Week 6 Lecture, 2010). The problem with stereotypes is that once made they are hard to break, there are as Cooper and Blake say:“inflexible”. It becomes a solid belief a person has of another race and is hard to break down. In my own life, I had a prejudice against black people and it took several black youth group leaders in my life over years of time to help me break down my own prejudice. God is his sovereignty used these men to guide me down the path of love rather than the path of hate.

    Another cause to the forming of stereotypes comes from the environment and culture with which we live. “Much of what enters our consciousness, of course, comes from the culture around us. And like the culture, it seems that our minds are split on the subjects of race, gender, class, sexual orientation” (Murphy Paul, Annie Where Bias Begins). If we live in a culture (or a home) that has certain stereotypes within it, we are more likely to attach those stereotypes and prejudices to our own mind. When all we see are minority men and women going to jail on the news, our minds automatically say that all people of this race or ethnic background are bad…especially when that is our ONLY interaction with people of that particular race or ethnic background. This then forces a person to look at the cues their own environment are giving in way of stereotypes. What images are we exposed to daily that could assist us (or our children) in developing a stereotype? What shows, movies or news stations are we exposing ourselves to and what messages are they shouting in light of this idea of culture helping us define our stereotypes?

    Here is an eye-opening quote about the exposure our kids get when it comes to stereotypes: “We learn the subtext of our culture's messages early. By five years of age, says Margo Monteith, Ph.D., many children have definite and entrenched stereotypes about blacks, women, and other social groups. Adds Monteith, professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky: "Children don't have a choice about accepting or rejecting these conceptions, since they're acquired well before they have the cognitive abilities or experiences to form their own beliefs” (Murphy Paul, Annie Where Bias Begins).

    When talking about the causes of stereotypes, I think environment and culture are the strongest, especially since they happen to us so young. Once we have this stereotype, any interaction that proves it solidifies that stereotype even deeper. We must be wary and cautious as to what we expose ourselves to as well as our children. I believe so strongly in this that I am teaching my middle school students the importance of coming together and I am taking 6 weeks of teaching to share with them why stereotypes and prejudice is destructive and against God’s plans for mankind (especially within the church).


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