Suramya's Blog : Welcome to my crazy life…

April 9, 2021

How do stereotypes form and how you can avoid them?

Filed under: My Thoughts — Suramya @ 11:59 PM

Stereotypes are basically over generalized beliefs about a particular group or class of people. By stereotyping we infer that a person belonging to a particular group has all the characteristics all members of that group are supposed to have. Evolutionally stereotypes help us respond to situations faster because we have encountered a similar situation before.

These stereotypes in turn lead to social categorization because we have a tendency to group things together. This creates the us-vs-them mentality and creates in-groups and out-groups which in turn lead to prejudice. Basically that group members of an in-group will seek to find negative aspects of an out-group, thus enhancing their self-image and bond within the group because then the group members will be less likely to leave the group as they are prejudiced against the other groups. Prejudiced views can and do result in racism which in its extreme forms may result in genocide. This happened in Germany with the Jews and in Rwanda between the Hutus and Tutsis. There are countless more such examples.

Stereotypes are created when we listen to the people around us. Our friends, relatives co-workers etc would talk about people in a certain way or we see movies, read stories that depict people in a particular way and slowly we internalize that outlook without realizing it. For example, Chinese and Indians are supposed to be really good at math and during my freshman year in college, my advisor put me in Honors math course on his own because as per him “You are Indian so you should be good at math.” Personally I really dislike math so I hated that course. This is a minor example, but there are extreme cases where these stereotypes cause real harm, for example the stereotypical African American is supposed to be lazy, rude and in a gang, so people from these communities don’t get the opportunities that other communities get because it is expected that a majority of the folks in that community would join a gang. Over time this becomes a self fulfilling prophecy as kids join gangs because they don’t have other options.

There are so many examples of stereo types and how they harm the communities that entire books have been written on the subject. All I want to say is that people should be judged on their own merits and not on how they look like.

The best way to reduce stereotypes is to expose folks to other cultures and people without diluting them. Travel is a great way of achieving this and I can personally vouch for it as I have met folks from across the world during my trips and nothing beats meeting someone from another part of the world and realizing that they are just like you and have similar wants and needs.

– Suramya

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