Stereotypes are very different from legitimate cultural generalizations that are based on careful scientific study or positive personal experience.

Stereotypes are social constructs

  • they originate in & reflect the power relations in society because they are part of a culture's ideology
  • they foster values that reinforce group and individual subordination
  • they marginalize people, treating them as "the other"
  • they categorize people into groups whose members supposedly share inevitable characteristics, most typically, negative ones
Characteristics of stereotypes
  • stereotypes are categorical & general, suggesting the traits apply to all group members
  • they are inflexible or rigid, thus not easily corrected
  • they are simplistic
  • they are prejudgements not based on experience (They could be reinforced by negative personal experience.)
  • can be conscious or unconscious
Logical form of sentence asserting a stereotype: All x's are y.
For example, complete the blank with an adjective
  • All women are _____________.
  • Black men are ______________.
  • White women are ___________.
  • Athletes are _______________.
  • Lesbians are ________________.

Claude Steele on Stereotype vulnerability:

I think much of what is mistaken for racial animosity in America today is really stereotype vulnerability. . . . Imagine a black and a white man meeting for the first time. Because the black person knows the stereotypes of his group, he attempts to deflect those negative traits, finding ways of trying to communicate, in effect, 'Don't think of me as incompetent.' The white, for his part, is busy deflecting the stereotypes of his group: 'Don't think of me as a racist.' Every action becomes loaded with the potential of confirming the stereotype, and you end up with two people struggling with these phantoms they're only half aware of. The discomfort and tension is often mistaken for racial animosity.
New York Times Magazine, 9-17-95


Go back to P & D course base
Go back to Stereotypes in Context: Understanding stereotypes unit

Created by Kathryn Russell
SUNY Cortland - Philosophy
Last modified on 8-10-99