Stereotypes Are Skin deep. Knowledge Isn’t.

January 21st, 2013 | Categories: Uncategorized

Calling it a “literary sort of racial profiling,” author and professor Gene Andrew Jarrett discusses the implications of judging a book based on the race of its author. Jarret’s article discussing this topic originally appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Educationand is reposted here.

Do stereotypes link credibility about an author’s book content with that author’s skin color?

A similar question could be asked more broadly about group identity.

Do people use stereotypes to determine the relevance and credibility of information?

Consider that you likely flip through pages in magazines that seem particularly targeted towards a group you don’t belong to. You probably have never purchased a magazine at a newsstand that seems targeted towards another group with which you don’t identify. When I was in a barber shop that had Playboy amongst its reading material, not being a playboy myself, I didn’t pick these magazines up either.

Whether you like it or not, group identity can determine whether you will read what an author has written or listen to what a person has to say.

Can only blacks write about supposedly black topics? Women about supposedly female topics? Jews? The elderly?

The answer to all of these questions is no.

I know this because I was mentored in a particularly unique environment where a man wrote about menstruation, a woman wrote about fatherhood, and a thin person wrote about fat studies.

A person’s group identity is not an indicator of their level of knowledge about topics related to that particular group. Knowledge does come from experience, true. But it is folly to think that all people who visibly share the same group identity also share the same experiences.

Besides, knowledge comes from education as well.

In my case, my knowledge about this topic has been gained from experience as well as from my education. This knowledge helps me in my professional and personal life. For example, it is what prevents me from telling students in my class on stereotypes my racial and ethnic background even if they ask. It is also why I don’t care what gender my gynecologist is.

Knowledge is not just skin deep.

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