What is a stereotype? Social psychology defines a stereotype as “any thought widely adopted about specific types of individuals or certain ways of behaving intended to represent the entire group of those individuals or behaviors as a whole.” Stereotypes are generalizations made about people and the groups in which those people belong to based on their appearances and behaviors.
Do you know of any stereotypes made about you? Your skin color? Your religion? Your ethnicity? Your people? Not only do stereotypes apply to physical characteristics, but they also apply to personality traits. Therefore, stereotypes speak to the whole identity of a group.
Now, what happens when that identity is dehumanized by society’s stereotypes of you and your people? What happens when those stereotypes made about you are negative and paint a fake or misconstrued image of yourself and the people that look just like you? What happens when those stereotypes become a threat to you, your life, and your success? What happens when those stereotypes become the only ways used to describe you and your group? How does that influence the way that you now view yourself? What does that do to your self-identity? How do stereotypes influence the way that you perceive others part of your group and others part of other groups?
The media has drastically influenced the ways in which we perceive people from different backgrounds. For example, the media often portrays the Black man as a thug, drug-dealer, criminal, rebel, troublemaker, uneducated and illiterate, or animal-like. All of these negative representations of the Black man in the media affect the ways in which society treats and thinks about Black men in the Black community. These extremely poor depictions of Black men are many times part of the underlying or subconscious causes for such cold beliefs about real Black men part of our daily society.
Additionally, stereotypes become dangerous to the ways in which people, specifically people of color, view themselves and people just like them. Stereotypes can be so believable that you even start to believe them about yourself and the group you identify with. Society begins to project those false representations of you onto you because of the ways in which we consume media and socially construct boxes for people to fit in. For example, stereotypes made about the Latinx community include that they are job stealers, drug dealers, and Latinas are supposed to be sexy but then perceived as “the crazy Latina” when they speak up or “get loud”. In addition, the Black community also faces ugly stereotypes made about them including that they are ghetto, violent, and posed as a threat to society. When you constantly and consistently continue to hear the same generalizations made about you, how does that influence your identity and self-image, and not only how does it affect you and the way that you look at yourself, but how does it also affect how you perceive others that look just like you?
It can be extremely detrimental to the self and self’s image when you start to believe and think things like “Let me not speak so they don’t hear my accent” or “Let me not wear a hoodie so no one thinks I’m dangerous”. Stereotypes blind our own conscious awareness and it becomes easier to identify a stereotype before our own thoughts. This could be dangerous to the self because it’s being blinded from the real you, the real you without the social constructions and boxes that society puts you into. Now, when you internalize these stereotypes made about you and your people, how does that shape how you view members of the same community as you? It is vital to understand that there exists both a fear to conform to the stereotype made about you and a fear of being viewed as such by others depending on who you surround yourself with. It can be a great mental, emotional, and physical battle to face, overcome, and grow from the stereotypes made about you, to know that you are NOT them, and to, instead of running and hiding from these falsified ideas made about you, face them head on with a daring attitude. How can we lessen the importance, validity, and influence that stereotypes have on us to help move towards a more accepting, open, and inclusive society?