Stereotype Accuracy

July 2nd, 2014 | Categories: Uncategorized

I view issues surrounding stereotypes to involve three particular topics that perhaps all discussion of stereotypes can be reduced to:

1) stereotypes in our mind

2) stereotypes we communicate

3) the “reality” of stereotype accuracy that exists somewhere outside of any one person’s thoughts or communication

The issue of stereotype accuracy – the last point- is of utmost concern to most people. People give stereotype accuracy a lot of weight arguing that if a stereotype is accurate then it is valid to use. Of course the problem is that it is unlikely anyone who thinks stereotypes are accurate has actually read any of the research on stereotype accuracy. This research is pretty extensive. It says, essentially, “We don’t know. There is no way to tell with certainty. Our research has not found stereotypes to be accurate.”

Worse than not having read the research, which is of course understandable, is that most people who say stereotypes are accurate base it on anecdotal evidence. Stories they have heard or experienced. People they know who act or don’t act in certain ways. For most people, this type of evidence is enough.

Not for the Stereotype Guru, but most people. I simply tend to ignore the issue of stereotype accuracy and concentrate on the first two topics stereotypes in the mind and stereotypes we communicate. The reason is because I am comfortable with the unknown and I am good at compartmentalizing. I can distinguish point three from the other two points.

In my view whether any stereotype is accurate simply doesn’t matter. Even if stereotypes are accurate for some percent of a population, they are either 100% or 0% accurate for any single person with whom I come into contact. If they are accurate for that person, then score! If they are not, I am immediately alienating myself from that person in a potentially irreversible way. Frankly, for me the risk isn’t worth it. Therefore, the accuracy of stereotypes provides little assistance for how I navigate my day to day life so I tend not to give it a second thought.

But…. for those of you who find the issue to be a deciding factor in whether stereotypes should or shouldn’t be used, this article by Gene Demby may be of some interest, “How Stereotypes Explain Everything And Nothing At All.”

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