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Why Are Stereotypes Dangerous and What Can Be Done to Reduce Them Essay

Very often, in our everyday life, we tend to make certain generalizations about things and people around us. This is because we are constantly exposed to heaps of information, and in order to cope with the complexity of the world around us, we need to generalize and categorize. [1] Sometimes we do this on purpose, with some intention. However, very often we do this subconsciously, unaware of what we are doing. Many people generalize on others according to their clothes, profession, origin, way of speaking, and many other, outer markers. This sort of thinking could be very dangerous, and it can lead us to creating stereotypes.

Stereotype is a term which most people “avoid” in our time, and many of us usually deny using them at all. However, we have to admit that stereotypes are present in every segment of our lives, on television, in newspapers, books, and even in cartoons. It is obvious that stereotypes are something we cannot escape from. They can sometimes even help us, if used as a first step towards learning more about other people and cultures, as long as we are aware of their existence. [2]

However, if taken to be completely true, stereotypes can be very dangerous, and can lead to prejudice, discrimination, persecution and even genocide. 3] This is the point when, apparently “hurtles” remarks and conclusions about other people, based on their appearance, way of speaking, job or nationality, become very serious. This is when people, led by some preconceived, over-generalized, and exaggerated images, start having certain expectations and assumptions about the others (prejudice), start acting and treating them in a cruel way (discrimination), or, in the worst cases, grow into something so dangerous as violation and killing of the stereotyped groups (persecution, genocide).

In order for this not to happen, stereotypes should be reduced as much as possible. One of the possible ways of doing this is making people aware of the seriousness of using stereotypes, by propagating this idea through the media, introducing it in the education system, and by making people aware that every “group” is a group of different people, a group of individuals. Prejudice One of the possible dangers of using stereotypes is the fact that they can serve as bases for prejudice. Prejudice can be defined as an unfavorable opinion formed against a person or group, based on stereotypes. 4] This is dangerous because it leads us to having certain expectations about people in advance. We make our own conclusions, our own visions of those people. This can prevent us from “going further,” from exploring and getting to know more about the people we are stereotyping. One of the most common distributors of prejudice are national stereotypes. National stereotypes are usually created among groups of people who are “not so fond” of each other, and obviously, they are in most cases negative.

For example, in our country, it is a common belief that all Americans are evil. This is because we have had many unpleasant situations, related to war and recent political clashes, where the Americans were “to blame. ” However, this does not mean that all Americans are evil, and that all of them are war-mongers. However, many of us would not do anything to prove this to be true. There are many examples of national stereotypes found in films, and they can be a very powerful distributor of prejudice and ill-formed images of other nations.

They are dangerous because they can influence viewers’ behavior and attitudes towards the stereotyped nations, since most people take everything broadcast on television for granted. For example, in many American Western movies, Native American people are stereotyped as savages. At first, they were ‘noble’ savages, but when they became an obstacle for the Whites, they started to be stereotyped as wild, primitive, uncivilized, dangerous people who sadistically kill the Whites. These stereotypical portrayals of the Natives gave way to thinking that all Natives were cruel savages and villains.

However, people who ever had any interest in American history know that the situation was quite the opposite. In a similar way, African American people sometimes happen to be the ‘thugs’- drug dealers, or even the murderers in the American films. In a recent American film ‘Lakeview Terrace,’ a couple of young Americans move to a new town, where they are tortured by their next door neighbor, who is accidentally or not- ‘Black. ‘ Although this is said not to be done on purpose, people who watch this sort of movies can subconsciously form negative attitudes towards African American people.

Led by this wrong image propagated on television, people can subconsciously create negative opinion about them. For example, a person walking through a park at night, on encountering a group of ‘Blacks,’ will probably not feel the same as if, for example, they came across a group of ‘Whites. ‘[5] Another example of national stereotypes that is a common basis for prejudice is the world-wide known English stereotype, ‘a reserved, cold, stiff-upper-lips. ‘[6] ‘These ‘typical’ English characteristics became so widely present in the media, that most people apply them as real English characteristics.

This, of course, is not true, simply because all people are different, and we cannot apply one characteristic to a group, without considering it as a group of individuals. However, people usually believe in everything they hear or see on TV, and consequently form some kind of expectations and prejudice against the people they do not actually know. To prove this to be true, some of my colleagues and me had some people from our environment interviewed on this topic. It is interesting that most of them had similar answers, and almost everyone said the English were reserved, snobbish, and even evil.

Americans were ‘fat and stupid, self-centered. ‘ Although none of them would admit to be stereotyping, they all somehow ‘knew’ this was ‘true. ‘ Many of them, when asked if they would ever live in these countries responded negativelly, because the people were ‘bad. ‘ Thus they had some prejudices formed against these people, and did not want to do anything to help them understand and appreciate the other culture. Discrimination When the stereotypes we have formed last for too long in our minds, they can grow and develop into something more serious than prejudice.

This is when we start acting and treating other people in a different, often bad and inhumane way. [7] This is another possible danger of using stereotypes, which is called discrimination. There are many different types of discrimination, based on appearance, age, nationality, sex, etc. One of the most common forms of discrimination is based on a well known stereotype found in many movies, magazines, and even in cartoons. It is the stereotype of a ‘dumb blonde. ‘[8] It is an image of a girl who is physically attractive, but ‘lacks brains. This stereotype is so powerful, that very often all blonde girls are considered to be stupid, and are not taken seriously, which in some cases can affect their lives, especially when it comes to their intellectual abilities. In one of the famous Hollywood movies starring Reese Witherspoon, ‘Legally Blonde,’ the main character suffers the consequences of being blonde. Namely, the girl in the film enrolls in Harvard, but is immediatelly looked down on by her colleagues, and considered to be stupid and superficial just because of her looks.

However, at the end of the movie, she manages to graduate from Harvard, and proves the stereotype to be false. Although this fim is often considered to be teen-oriented and not very serious, it tells a story that can happen in real life, and it sends a message to people that stereotypes can lead to discrimination and affect people’s lives. Additionally to this, some national stereotypes can serve as a starting point for discrimination, too. In our country, Gypsies are often looked down on, and are stereotyped as dirty, uneducated, loud, and very often as thieves.

Although many of us would decisively deny to be stereotyping Gypsies as such, reality is very cruel for them, and they are often victims of discrimination and even persecution. Beside this racial discrimination, in some cultures discrimination is based on the stereotypical portrayal of women as the ‘weaker sex,’ incapable of doing any kind of normal work but everyday chores. In cultures like these, (Indian, Egyptian, etc. ) women are discriminated against and their basic human rights are violated.

In a recent documentary on ‘National Geographic,’[9] an American was obliged to leave his country, and go to Saudi Arabia to work. There he faced many differences between his and the Arabian culture. He was amazed by the fact that his girlfriend, who applied for a job of a photographer, was turned down with no obvious reason. However, later in the documentary, it was revealed by an Arabic woman that in their country, this was ‘not a job for a woman. ’ In their country, women are not supposed to be seen out very often, especially without their husbands, and they are supposed to take care of their home and children.

This, of course, was a shock for the American, and he said he could not believe that things like this happened in 21st century. However, this proves again that stereotypes are dangerous and that they can lead to discrimination, in this case of women as a weaker sex, incapable of doing any proper job. Additionally, discrimination that results from stereotyping can even be more dangerous, if we do not take into consideration people’s feelings. Very often, especially in the age of adolescence, young people tend to stereotype their overweight friends as if they belonged to some different group of people.

Although the young ones do not think about the effect of their stereotyping, it can be very painful and can cause harmful effects on the stereotyped group. Moreover, discrimination of the overweight can even be done by the teachers, the adults. For example, when I was in high school, at one of our physical education classes, we were supposed to compete in high jump. Just before the competition, the teacher told one of my friends that he did not have to take part in this, because he was aware he could not jump (he was a bit overweight).

The fact that this was said in front of the whole class made him feel even more miserable. This is an example of discriminating overweight people, by stereotyping them as unable to perform things as well as the others. Situations like these can be very dangerous, and can have horrible effects on an individual, such as emotional stress and low self-esteem. [10] One of the most widely present forms of discrimination based on stereotypes is sexual discrimination.

Even though we live in modern times, the issue of homosexuality is still considered to be something unacceptable, and people belonging to this ‘group’ are considered to be weird and are often stereotyped negatively. This varies from country to country, but they are generally stereotyped as effeminate, incapable of doing any serious jobs (except for fashion related ones), and many people feel some kind of inexplicable scorn towards them. This especially is the case in our country, where homosexuality is still a taboo, and where homosexuals are considered less than humans.

Except for the emotional pain, these people are often turned down at a job interview, or are fired if their sexual orientation is revealed. A famous Hollywood actress, Ellen DeGeneres, in one of the shows that has been on TV recently, said that when she openly admitted she was gay, her TV show, which was at its peak at the moment, was suddenly cancelled. ‘The network executives blamed low ratings, but the reason was quite obvious,’ said the actress, alluding to her public reveal of being homosexual.

This discrimination of homosexuals is an issue that has been discussed many times in the media. In a recent episode of ‘Oprah Winfrey Show,’ the topic of the day was the discrimination of homosexuals. People from all over the world were telling their sad stories, and there was even a girl from Brazil who talked about her terrible experience, when a group of angry youths attacked her, and raped her, causing her both physical and emotional injuries, just because she admitted she was homosexual. This leads us to the final and most terrible effects of stereotyping- persecution and genocide.

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