Are Streotypes Accurate? Testimonials And Examples Tell Us So (Part Three)

June 11th, 2013 | Categories: Uncategorized

I argued previously that stereotypes are accurate because so many health and social reforms are based on them. After all, they MUST be true if we base social and health reforms on them. However, perhaps it isn’t so simple. Some have objected to the social and health reforms mentioned in the previous post on this issue arguing that the reforms are based on stereotypes without any evidence that the stereotypes themselves are accurate. Worse, people can argue that the reforms themselves perpetuate the idea that the stereotypes are accurate though there is no evidence. From this perspective, these social and health reforms,then, are not beneficial after all and actually hurt the groups they are supposed to be helping.

-For example, some affirmative initiatives action hurts blacks and other minorities because it reproduces systems in which these groups are not considered capable of getting higher level jobs without a handout.

-For example, some immigration reform that provides benefits to illegal immigrants perpetuates the idea that illegal immigrants ‘steal’ from Americans.

-For example, some health care reform for the elderly produces a system in which elderly are treated like children (e.g., people talk louder and slower) regardless of their mental and physical state.

-For example, some welfare reform hurts the groups it aims to help most by making them reliant on handouts and undermining their motivation to get off of welfare.

-For example, focusing health attention on a non-essential benefit like Viagra reinforces the idea that men are less valuable unless they have virile sexual health.

So perhaps the benefits I discussed last time are not so beneficial after all. Even if you don’t see these reforms as beneficial, it is difficult to deny that the stereotypes on which they are based are still accurate.

You only need to look at personal examples and expert testimonials from yourself, those around you, the famous, or those you hear about in the media to put faces to stereotypes that demonstrate their accuracy.

For example, when you look around at the major companies in which you work and at which you shop at what rung of the corporate ladder are the black and other minority employees? In the newspaper the day I was writing these notes, an employee at GE was suing for racial discrimination. Even though he is middle management, in a company in which under 5% of middle management were black at that time, he has been unable to move pass the glass ceiling into an upper management position despite efforts by the company to improve the diversity of individuals represented in their organization. Clearly, blacks do work lower level jobs when compared to their white peers.

As another example, consider that when you are in a major city, especially a southern border city, where do you see Mexicans? You see them washing dishes and busing tables in a restaurants, bagging groceries at the supermarket, or on the street peddling some wares. Each of these is a position in society without access to health care benefits, not well paid, and often off the books well suited for an illegal immigrant. Mexicans are viewed as so desperate for income in America that in 2005 even the then president of Mexico, Vicente Fox, said that “Mexicans in America do the work that blacks are unwilling to do.” Clearly, Mexicans are immigrants in the United States without access to health care and social services which are seen by many as a basic right of its citizens.

Consider another example, just think about your conversations and interactions with your grandparents. How often do you discuss important topics with them? But I bet you often help do things for them because after all they can’t do things for themselves, right? Former U.S. president Ronald Reagan, at one point one of the most powerful men in the world, succumbed completely to Alzheimer’s disease to the extent that for years he recognized his wife and children only sporadically in brief and fleeting moments of lucidity. Clearly, the ravages of age bring senility even to the most brilliant of minds and bodies rendering the elderly individual helpless.

In yet another example of how stereotypes themselves are obviously accurate, consider the beggars you see on the street, on public transportation asking for a handout. I vividly remember one beggar on a corner holding up a sign saying, “I won’t lie I will use this money to buy beer.” Clearly, the poor put a hand out and take money from hard working others whether by begging on the street or through welfare.

Consider a final example of how accurate stereotypes are. Consider President Clinton. A man who had everything he could want from a traditional stance: strong political and religious convictions, seemingly happy marriage to an intelligent and beautiful woman, most powerful position in the country, loving children, even a cat. Yet, he risked all of this for a sexual liaison with Monica Lewinsky. Clearly, his male instinct led to this destructive yet irresistible path.

I suppose some could object to the use of testimonials and examples as selective and biased evidence of stereotype accuracy. After all, we can find a single person to fit any description that we want to be true. There are just that many people in our lives that someone would necessarily fit the characteristic profile of one of the stereotypes that apply to them.

I suppose there is even a well-known scholar who would support that point. Walter Lippmann (1922), often given credit for coining the word stereotype, asserted, “if we believe a certain thing ought to be true, we can almost always find either an instance where it is true, or someone who believes it ought to be true” (p. 98).

I suppose that each of you, even if you don’t believe a stereotype to be true, could find someone, anyone, who did fit the stereotype. It is possible that the expert testimonials and personal examples I provided above are not the norm. It is possible that these are not proof that a stereotype is accurate for all people that it targets. It is possible that I plucked examples that supported my point without consideration for equally viable evidence to the contrary that I ignored because it wasn’t what I was looking for.

It seems once again I am left uncertain about whether or not stereotypes are accurate. Stay tuned next month for another attempt to resolve this issue once and for all.

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