Painting A Group of People With The Same Color Brush

January 30th, 2012 | Categories: Gender, Race

Recently, at a restaurant while on vacation I was offered the delightful place-mat below for my children’s use coupled with the requisite and generous mini-package of crayons.

I am embarrassed to say that I wasn’t even the one who noticed it. Someone else had to bring it to my attention. What, you might ask, is “it”? Well, can you see for yourself?

Perhaps it is hard for you to notice as well. Sometimes stereotypes are communicated in subtle ways after all. Yet, you might still have that aha moment when you realize that the basketball player is black, the soccer player is Hispanic, and the skateboarder, no doubt from California, is white.

You might try to argue that this is a coincidence, but a coincidence is not likely. For example, in 2009 a study by the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport showed that nearly 82% of NBA players were black. Although demographic data on skateboarding and soccer were difficult to find, this statistic suggests there may be something to the place-mat’s representation of race.

So, someone else might argue that the manufacturer was merely playing the odds by appealing to the most people either those who are actually in those statistics or those who would expect those groups to be represented in that way. It seems then that playing the odds in this way could be viewed as a sound business decision. After all, there are more people who either fit those stereotypes or believe in those stereotypes than there are stereotype gurus like me in the world.

Despite this, this stereotype guru isn’t convinced that it is a good business decision to paint all the members of a group with the same brush. There is, after all, variation within groups. This intra-group heterogeneity is often forgotten because most people assume members of the same group ‘must’ be similar (intra-group homogeneity) and members of different groups ‘must’ be different (inter-group heterogeneity). Despite these assumptions, intra-group heterogeneity is more common than people realize. Consider the following examples.

Here is an article explaining why not all black people thought highly of O.J. Simpson though they were stereotyped as thinking that way: O.J. is Not a Black Hero.

Here is an article about a black student who sent hate mail posing as a white student: Black Student Sent Hate Mail.

Here is an article about why there is not really such a thing as a leader of the black community: Being a Black Leader in America. I n this article the author invokes the diversity of the black community as a reason for his claims in the articles saying, “that one person can no more represent the hopes and aspirations of all blacks than one leader can represent whites in all matters of public consequence.”

Perhaps the most relevant article of the ones included here is this one titled Fault Blair and The Times, Not Affirmative Action. This article discusses why Jason Blair and The New York Times are to blame for the debacle in which Blair plagiarized and lied in his articles without detection by the Times. The author’s take on the situation, which was often blamed on affirmative action, is simply that Blair was an unqualified person whose incompetence was handled poorly by the Times. Essentially, what the author is saying is that to call the matter an issue of affirmative action is to paint all blacks with the same brush and doing that is probably what allowed Blair to last so long undetected.

In other words, it is inappropriate to paint all of the members of a group with the same brush, even if some statistics give the appearance of the stereotype being accurate. Why? Because each situation and person is unique and stereotypes are not. Stereotypes lead to nonspecific and impersonal assumptions that can lead to poor business decisions.

I might be the only stereotype guru out there that was troubled by the stereotype in the place-mat but I bet I’m not the only person out there that is, regardless of my skin color, gender, age, and so forth. Assuming otherwise, is bad for business.

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  1. Nick
    February 22nd, 2012 at 23:46

    It is especially interesting that you didn’t even notice at first the stereotypes depicted on the place-mat. To an extent, I think that as a society we have grown accustomed to stereotypes so that we don’t always recognize them when we see them. I agree with the perspective presented in this posting. Stereotypes do exist for a reason and many are based off actual statistics. However, oftentimes I find that stereotypes are much too heavily relied on. I always hear people say, “stereotypes exist for a reason.” Yet that should not be used as an excuse for people to not move outside of their comfort zone and learn a different perspective.

    The main problem with stereotyping, as this posting points out, is that stereotypes take away from individuality. Reliance on generalizations is dangerous because when people grow up in a society that relies heavily on them, any deviation from the status quo can be viewed negatively. It’s important for people to be more open-minded and see multiple perspectives in order for our society to progress. There is absolutely variation within groups and a reliance on stereotypes victimizes the individual who does not necessarily conform to a specific stereotype.

  2. YF
    February 23rd, 2012 at 23:25

    Aha, the place-mat doesn’t even have an Asian character! Oh, that’s right, Asians are “others.” Talking about stereotype! Now that Jeremy Lin has broken, or attempted to break, the stereotype of Asians not being good at sports, especially basketball, the manufacturers should re-design their place-mat :)

  3. ks
    February 25th, 2012 at 11:55

    Though I understand the point trying to be made about intra-group heterogeneity, is this too much of an in-depth analysis considering the target age group of the placemat? The placemat was in the restaurant to help occupy children. Though anti-stereotype movements should be made to kids from an early age, I believe this study is focusing too hard on the adult perspective of preventing stereotypes rather than the children’s perspective of just being entertained. I believe that children should be taught that everyone is not similar. However, as said in the article, “nearly 82% of NBA players were black. Although demographic data on skateboarding and soccer were difficult to find, this statistic suggests there may be something to the place-mat’s representation of race.” Therefore, is it really wrong to diagram the characters on the placemat in the stereotypical way if that truly IS who makes up a large majority of the groups being represented? I believe that the placemat, though it may fall into the stereotypical representation, truly does show an accurate representation of the groups being depicted and should not be changed.

  4. YF
    February 27th, 2012 at 12:03

    ks has made a point. Anastacia, could you offer some insight? If the stereotype “accurately” represents the status quo, should we bother to change it?

    ks, my question is, why do you think 82% of NBA players were black? Was it because Asians and other ethnicity groups were really not good at playing basketballs, or could it be that people “thought” Asians were not good at basketballs therefore denied in the beginning Asian’s possibly/chance to develop the skills or play at the same platform, like in Jeremy Lin’s case (you can search for his difficulties and struggles before he was “found”)?

    When I was skiing, I truly did not see a single black person. You can say that’s the reality. But why was this the case? Should we just rest assured that black people just don’t like skiing/skateboarding, or they are just not good at it, or should we think further? Compared to skiing/skateboarding, basketballs are much cheaper. Could social-economic status be a reason?

    • February 27th, 2012 at 14:35

      To clarify, the 82% statistic came from my article that KS was referencing.

      But to your point, I encourage people who want to use stereotypes to qualify their statements so that they are generalizing instead. Saying simply, “in my experience” or “based on the x type of people that I know” can diffuse the power of a stereotype.

      Consider the stereotype communicated in the placemat is that basketball players are black. However, that is not accurate. 1) only 82% (not 100%) of NBA players are black.2) That high number of 82% does not represent non-NBA players or international players which would obviously have different demographics. 3) the placemat was not depicting NBA players at all so that benchmark cannot be used to determine the accuracy of the placemat depiction.

      FYI- I wrote a post on the topic of accuracy located at: http://thecommunicatedstereotype.com/the-case-of-the-ivory-tower-accuracy-and-stereotypes/

  5. cookieD.
    February 29th, 2012 at 23:37

    After reading all of the blog posts on the website I was not surprised by what I read. Racism is in our world and it has always been. Racism is the inherent inferiority of a racial group and discriminating that group based on those beliefs. Some people believe that we will never be able to overcome racism because it is to intact into our society. Through racism the notion of stereotypes comes to mind. Stereotypes are the overgeneralizations about a group of people that is applied to all in the group. The majority of these blog posts dealt with racism and stereotypes. In Painting A Group of People With The Same Color Brush by Anastacia Kurylo, she claims that “it is inappropriate to paint all of the members of a group with the same brush, even if some statistics give the appearance of the stereotype being accurate. Why? Because each situation and person is unique and stereotypes are not. Stereotypes lead to nonspecific and impersonal assumptions that can lead to poor business decisions.” Overall Kurylo is saying that stereotyping is bad because not everybody will fit into that stereotype. If this act is so bad then why do we still do it? The reason why is because we have no idea that we are being racist.

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