The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Stereotypes - Why are they bad?

What makes stereotyping immoral? I work with people who think stereotyping is extremely evil, bigoted and immoral and if you didn’t know this, they will tell you.

For a long time I accepted this as truth. I adopted the concept that, yes, it is wrong. One could say I jumped on the bandwagon, as many do, without much critical thought. The only thing needed to convince me of this evil, were, apparently a group of people bullying me to believe I was wrong and they were right.

When I actually did start to question it, I was provided reasons that were less than convincing, and seemed to me that it was just PC BS. But, I’d like to present what I feel, and then open it up for people to destroy my position with well reasoned arguments, or affirm they agree in large part.

My position is that stereotypes are based on personal experience. We try and make sense of our world. Our first priority, is self preservation.

When I grew up, I witnessed first hand and was the victim of a number of black people who tried to start fights with me. I have witnessed groups of black people beating up people. Over time, I learn that to protect myself, I’d keep some distance when I saw a group of black men. I’d cross the street to avoid the confrontation. After all, based on my experience, I didn’t want to roll the dice and hope they were not going to attack me. I have also done this with white groups, who dress the part, like thugs. I feel zero guilt about this.

Then I have met and become friends with a number of black people. Never did the stereotype apply to them, or all blacks in general. It applied to a subset that was characterized from past experiences.

Stereotypes apply to a statistic, whether real or imagined that lines up with our experiences. They only apply on a broad level, and never on an individual level and this is for obvious reasons; as we gain information, we reanalyze the situation. This is why Republicans can be friends with Democrats are vice-versa. They have more data to judge with and the good they see outweighs the bad, otherwise they would not be friends.

But even positive stereotypes, why are they too, rejected? I can say that black people can jump or run fast. That is a compliment, but if a white person says that, it is racist. Yet, a black person can say “white men can’t jump”.

Moving beyond race, we can apply a large range of stereotyping… Jesus stereotyped. “Scribes and Pharisees” and called non Jewish people “dogs”… Certainly, if Christ did it…

I don’t feel stereotypes are wrong nor malicious and come with the given that they are spoken from a particular point of view, which is based on this person’s experience and interaction with this data set. That doesn’t mean a person’s stereotyping is factually accurate as a whole, just that from their POV and experiences, it is true to them.

In one sense, how dare we tell another person that their interactions with a data set are wrong and that we can sweepingly tell them that their real world experiences are wrong? That doesn’t seem moral to me. Perhaps we could better say, “I see you have had negative experiences with this data set, but I have found that this isn’t the case in my experience” Validate their position, state yours. What I see, however, is people declaring another’s experience as invalid and forcing theirs down someone else’s throat.

Some good thoughts there!
This is just a ramble and I hope to hear from others:
Would you say that ‘basket of deplorables’ or ‘smelly Walmart people’ - referring to white supporters of Person X - would be a stereotype? Or ‘all white people are racists’? Or those that ‘cling to The Bible, guns and God’ is a stereotype?
I would think so. And very innacurate.
Now how about profiling? Is it the same thing? In certain parts of big cities, cops profile all the time, based on experience over time with groups that look and behave a certain way. And the profiles are made to protect innocent people, and are generally very accurate. (I’m putting aside the case of ‘bad cops’ who might be racist). Yes the profiles can cause discomfort to innocent profilees; I see no way to avoid that however. Is profiling the same as stereotyping?
How about stereotyping such groups as the “FarL” and the “FarR”, (to avoid political overtones)?
Both groups use similar language about the others, some inaccurate, some unfair, some spot-on. We have to have SOME language to describe groups rather than individuals, after all.
I have no suggestions here other than, if someone pronounces a stereotype that you don’t agree with, as for what evidence that person has. Personal experience - well do we have enough personal experience to be able to generalize about an entire group? Maybe, I don’t know. How about media reports, speeches by particular people, posted excerpts from opinion papers, etc?

As I said, this is just a ramble and I hope to hear from others.

My $.02:

My wife and I were married here in Guadalajara, but spent part of our long summer honeymoon in the U.S.A. While there, we visited Christian friends of mine in NYC involved in an inner-city ministry to drug addicts and AIDS victims; and while they were hosting us, we also did some touring around the city, visiting the Statue of Liberty, the U.N., et cetera.

One day, we were riding the subway to some tourist destination or other, and at a particular stop, a big, scruffy-looking white guy with a crooked, broken nose got on, and then paused in the doorway of our compartment, flexing his muscles and glaring at us like he owned the place. I thought to myself, “That guy looks just like a hardened convict!” But then I said to myself, “Now, now, now, I shouldn’t have such an unloving attitude toward a stranger, or make snap judgments!”

Nevertheless, within a minute, I found myself discretely, fervently urging my wife that we needed to get off at the next stop—simply because I was uncomfortable in that man’s presence. She thought I was overreacting, and that we should wait for our scheduled destination, but I was insistent.

We got off in the middle of nowhere, and as we started to walk forward on the platform to find someone to ask when another train would be coming by, before the doors of our car had closed behind us, I heard someone yelling out for a security guard, that “There’s a man with a gun!”—and I had no doubt who they were referring to.

Later, I remembered that that guy had had a bulge at his waist under his shirt, and that his arrogant swaggering through the car had felt like he was sizing all of us up—yet at that time, I had not consciously put the pieces together, only subconsciously—or more probably, through the Holy Spirit.

Also, regarding the justification of “racial profiling” through the use of crime statistics, here is a quote from the Wikipedia entry (my emphases):

Supporters defend the practice of racial profiling by emphasizing the crime control model. They claim that the practice is both efficient and ideal due to utilizing the laws of probability in order to determine one’s criminality.

…When confronted with accusations of racial profiling the police claim that they do not participate in it. They emphasize that numerous factors (such as race, interactions, and dress) are used to determine if a person is involved in criminal activity and that race is not a sole factor in the decision to detain or question an individual. They further claim that the job of policing is far more imperative than to concerns of minorities or interest groups claiming unfair targeting.

…The use and support of racial profiling has surged in recent years, namely in North America due to heightened tension and awareness following the events of 9/11.

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‘Stereotypes’ are certainly influenced by personal experiences. But my sense is that the term usually involves generalizations (that then can reinforce a ‘prejudice’ toward a universalized perception).
Thus they actually often then do get applied to individuals, instead of waiting to see if a given person conforms to the stereotype one holds about their category.

E.g. Blacks may experience stops for driving while black, or particular experiences of poor treatment by particular policemen, and thus form a ‘stereotype’ that policemen form a prejudiced and unfair group from which they can expect abuse. Given that I actually think most cops are actually trying their best to be fair, I’d conclude that holding such a classic stereotype is unfortunate, unfair, and apt to lead to problematic responses to cops.

So do people who drive red sports cars. I don’t see this as evidence that it is wrong.

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We’re not going to get a perfect system. Police will slip up, some criminals will slip through and people will be hurt, and sometimes an innocent person is profiled.
We make these concessions to our freedoms all the time. I see nothing wrong with profiling that is based on good experience and on weighing the risks.
I’ve been profiled and faced a gun drawn by a cop, and he was right to do so. I was completely innocent and could do no harm anyway, but there I was, behaving strangely to neighbors in a hood where I wasn’t recognized. Big deal. I understood.


You misunderstand me. They absolutely are applied to individuals of which we have limited (we know nothing except a very limited public persona) data. Once you obtain more information, you no longer default to the stereotype.

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That’s irrelevant to my point. I wasn’t arguing whether it was wrong. It’s an illustration of how stereotypes form.

That’s great, but this topic is asking why it is wrong or right. Anything can be used incorrectly, but that doesn’t make it wrong. You are not telling me anything I don’t know about stereotypes, so I am more interested in what you think of them, and why you agree or disagree with their use.

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By the way, I accept the stereotype that blacks tend to be treated harsher by police. But I also accept the stereotype that blacks are generally more disrespectful to police. I suspect this is a chicken or egg thing. I mean, who knows which stereotype started it all? No idea, but both are stereotypes “and” both are statistically true.

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But to the contrary, as my observation implied, I actually do often default to my stereotypes. But if your point is advocating that stereotypes should be revisited when we encounter individuals who actually haven’t displayed conformity to them, I heartily affirm your conclusion.

My point was that I see jumping to generalized stereotypes based on a few experiences as problematic (often both “wrong” and “incorrect” about many individuals in that category) 'because they are usually defined as an unfair generalization that I perceive typically discourage revisions and encourages us to assume monolithic traits in a given identity.

Speaking of stereotypes - this has to stop!

5 classic stereotypes in all zombie movies like ‘Train to Busan’


I’m a sports fan and it’s plainly obvious the blacks are better athletes. Ever watch the NBA? The black basketball player “in general” moves quicker, faster and jumps higher and now this is translating to NFL football too. It’s a statistical fact and silly to debate and in fact certain ethnic groups have attributes that do distinguish them from other groups. If Harvard would not have quotas, the student population would be 70% Asian. So God did give not only individuals different attributes but also groups of people do have differences and it’s not racist to say it because it is reality. Why God arranged this way I can only speculate but stereotypes often are true if there is no malicious intent.

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I may agree if we are talking extremely broad things. Like if I said “Most black people are bad people”. Yes, that is a wrong stereotype for anyone to have, except in a scenario where the only black people you knew existed were at war with your tribe and executed your family. Then it becomes reasonable and even an understandable. But obviously that is not the case with technology and our day and age today, so it would be an unjust stereotype.

However, if we see black people cursing, wearing their pants down exposing themselves and grouped up with youth being obnoxious, then I think that is a perfectly reasonable stereotype to address. It is specific enough and not depenant solely on racial attributes. If it fits the data of thug like behavior, then call it what it is. But this has less to do with color and more to do with dress, speech and deneaner. Any race can be a thug. I also stereotype gun toting rednecks. But, again, that is specific and not broad like “People who own guns are bad”. Or “rednecks are retarded”.

Maybe we hear the term, “stereotype” differently. If you are just concluding that you’ve seen more individuals in the black race curse and wear their pants too low, or even that you see this as thug-like, that may be appropriate. But I’m not seeing that even that reality calls for a generalized ‘stereotype.’

I’ve known many in that race who abhor that behavior just as much as you do. Thus I’d discourage assuming that what some members in a race do should become a stereotypical expectation (that could encourage fearing that any given black will be thug-like). Possibly serving in a denomination with a high proportion of African Americans helped make me especially wary of assuming such stereotypes are fair or helpful.

Well, I was a Peace Corp volunteer, in Liberia, West Africa. It was in the seventies and I taught math, at a Catholic mission high school. But I was a minority, among a black populated country. And the blacks there, did have stereotypes of white, US Americans. Like we were all rich, for instance. Go figure!

As you must all know by now, I am a Scotsman. By default, I have had to live with the stereotype that we are all mean, stingy with our money. Disney invented the character of Scrooge McDuck, giving him a phony Scottish accent and all the other paraphernalia.

You should know by now it is all lies, like the belief we don’t wear anything under our kilts.

It hurts, so please refrain from doing it. I admit we are canny, but that’s not a bad thing.

Hmm, I never heard that stereotype of Scottish people… I wonder how many stereotypes are perceived as universal, yet are localized?

Can you provide your source for this?

Other studies have shown much the same result.