Have you noticed that the negative ones are usually more about certain people than others? And that those “certain” people are usually not in the dominant group? Think about it. Who are the bad drivers, the late-comers, the lazy ones…the list goes on. Of course there are positive stereotypes too: which group has rhythm, is good in math, has great fashion sense…?
Stereotypes are discussed in Blind Spot, which makes sense since they come from categories which the brain is so good at creating and using. Drs. Banaji and Greenbaum tell us that “stereotyping is an unfortunate by-product of the otherwise immensely useful human ability to conceive the world in terms of categories.” And everyone does it.
Back to our lists from the first paragraph: Blind Spot asserts that stereotypes are not equally distributed. This should come as no surprise. The authors state that “if you can be described by the default attributes of your society, you will be subject to less stereotyping.” So what are those default attributes, you ask? Blind Spot has an exercise I’ll rework to be Canadian for you to try: Picture a Canadian lottery winner making a call to collect their win. Who do you see in your mind’s eye? What does that person look like? Probably they are white and male and an adult. And those are the defaults they mention in the book. Which explains why, in a multicultural country, I’m still asked where I’m from because I’m not white.
We should add heterosexual, cisgender, able bodied, Christian, and a thin body type to that list of defaults. And there are others of course. Banaji and Greenbaum go on to say that “the default attributes that we add are so taken for granted and so automatic that, without thinking about why we do this, we are usually careful to specify a different set of attributes when the default-ones don’t apply.” That’s why we say things like female doctor or male nurse – for example.
Stereotypes are reinforced by the media when they profile, when they choose certain stories over others, when they don’t report certain stories, and in how a story is told. That constant barrage of perspective gets hard wired into our brain, unconsciously. The saddest thing about stereotypes is, as stated in Blind Spot, that they are also often self-applied by members of the group in question. And in this case, a self-applied stereotype can be self-undermining and become a self-fulfilling prophesy.
Take a moment to check your use of stereotypes, and consider the impact.