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Cultural Stereotypes: Superficially Humorous but Potentially Harmful

Latti Ice Ganga Gangsta of PHAET 2012/08/17 20:41:56
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written by: Gustavo Lequerica-Calvo



Cultural stereotypes may seem humorous but they can harm people. While many people understand and accept this as true, a "case study" approach, in the form of personal testimony, is often more valuable than a truckload of research.

  • This article is about my own personal experience with stereotypes. I rarely write in the first person, but this is a topic that merits a deviation from my journalistic practice of assuming a neutral voice. What I have to say is valuable to anyone interested in cross-cultural communication, because stereotypes are an extreme example of cross-cultural miscommunication.



  • Stereotypes are Distorted Taxonomies

    Most likely, all of us grew up hearing comments from our parents or peers about certain individuals or the way they acted. At some point we began to wonder why our parents or friends had said something awful or funny about a person having to do with their being gay, Jewish, Black, Latino, Chinese or a member of some other identifiable social or ethnic category.

    When we were young, we probably didn't have a name for this sort of comment, but as we grew up we learned to label such comments as stereotyping or bigotry. Stereotypes are generated by ignorance and fear of a person or group that is different from the observer. When we first heard the comments, we may have found them funny, even if we realized their inherent cruelty.

    On one level, people need to classify everything they encounter in order to know how to deal with them and define themselves as members of their own group. Thus, in certain social situations stereotypes serve to provide "answers" to questions about how we should act toward others. The problem is that stereotypes are distorted taxonomies: incorrect maps of the sociocultural landscape. Just as a distorted map would cause a traveler to become lost, so do false impressions about people and groups cause individuals and indeed, whole societies to lose their moral compass.

    • The Psyche of a Group

      Growing up in Cartagena, Colombia, where the local population is overwhelmingly African Colombian, I heard the African Colombians telling jokes about other African Colombians, or the Cartageneros telling jokes about how lazy the Cartageneros are, or how the rest of the Caribbean Coast of Colombia is just one big patio for a party. Although it wasn't true, it was funny to hear at the time. One aspect of culture in the northern part of Colombia is to tell self-consciously mocking jokes about one's own type.

      Despite the seemingly harmless nature of such joking, stereotypes can sink into people's real image of themselves and do real harm. When stereotypes sink into the psyche of a group and they come to define themselves by that stereotype, a whole culture is harmed.

      One example of how a stereotype can erupt into violence can be found in the murder of a teacher named Rolando Perez . When he was murdered, everyone spoke of the act as a crime of passion instead of as the hate crime that it was. I offer the following translation of a portion of the local media's coverage of this crime. The police Coronel of Cartagena said “At any rate, this fellow lived a dissolute life. He was promiscuous. As a gay man, he had a lot of lovers.” The Coronel was unable to see the way in which a stereotype about gays could be clouding his own professional judgment in dealing with the case. The sexual orientation of the victim was elevated to such a level of importance that it explained away, even justified murder -- despite the fact that he was one of the most respected teachers in the city. He was known for his ability to inspire his students to reach their full intellectual potential.

      The Rolando case demonstrates how we may recognize the negative impact of stereotypes when seen from a comfortable distance, but we may not be aware of the ones we are culturally immersed in. We may not be aware of it, but this case should remind us that even if the person we are joking with is our best friend, brother, sister or uncle, we all absorb stereotypes in ways that could manifest themselves in passive, or worse, active aggression toward people who are different from us or our group.



    • Stereotypes in Mainstream Society

      We can blame our parents. We can blame society. But in the final analysis, the only people we can control are ourselves.

      I am not advocating burying our heads in the sand in some form of smug political correctness. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, stereotypes are part of the social dynamics and humor of every civilization of the world. We see them in popular entertainment on television: on Comedy Central, for instance. Stereotypes are the stuff that stock characters are made of, such as the “magical negro ” an African-American man who helps a white man throughout a story. The Jewish mother stereotype is used widely in comedies such as The Nanny, Will & Grace, South Park and to a lesser extent (surprisingly) in Seinfeld. The question we need to ask ourselves, individually and collectively, as the media exploits stereotyping in the name of humor, is whether the negative consequences of stereotypes is disproportionately greater than the laughs they generate.

      Another example more familiar to people in the US is the crime of Matthew Sheppard, or that of Brandon Teena, in which both were victims of the stereotypes that surround the gay community. These two people were victims of fear and bigotry from others who did not want them in their communities. What is worse, religion was used to sustain the moral values of the communities in which these crimes took place. While religion is a powerful unifying and spiritual force, these are examples of how it can be used almost as a murder weapon, generating or justifying fear and hatred, or as an accessory after the fact to assuage guilty consciences in the communities where these crimes took place.

      There are several useful Websites that deal with understanding prejudice , stereotyping, stereotype and society , ormental health . They can help people understand how hurtful a joke be to a person, possibly even one you love. Imagine being the parent of a child who has heard words that cause him or her to feel devalued and you will begin to understand why even a "harmless joke" can be harmful.



    • The Best Antidote is the Truth

      The best antidote to stereotypes is the truth. Wounds to the body can heal but the harm that words can cause can last forever, damaging someone emotionally for life. That is why it is important to measure your words and learn from the experiences of others and avoid saying things that distance people and find ways to lift up their common humanity.

      Finally, my parents were certainly unconscious of what they were doing. They might not have believed it if someone had pointed it out to them--after all, most people see themselves as good and right. With effort, we can change ourselves and in so doing, change society. It is important to see the diversity that surrounds us as a good thing, something wonderful about the world. Isn't that better than living in our own cultural bubbles?

      http://www.brighthubeducation.com/middle-school-social-studie...

      i am not a thug

      i am not a racist i am not an illegal i am not a cheap jew

      I am not a greedy Jew.

      gay men how i sees me

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  • Will Advocate of PHAET 2012/10/09 16:24:02
    I Agree
    Will Advocate of  PHAET
    +2
    I agree, but am also saddened by the article. I look at the humor I have truely enjoyed throughout my life and it turns out that most of it was just what Gustavo was talking about. Look at Bill Cosby, Gabe Kaplan, Redd Fox, Jackie Mason...etc.

    They all emphasized the differences between people through exageration and humor about races. Even though there sometimes was a sound moral to the story, it was still ethnic humor.

    I guess if I have the choice of looking at all of our differences with fear, or with humor, I'll take the humor. I'm not saying that is the answer, but I really don't know what the answer is.
  • Latti I... Will Ad... 2012/10/09 16:34:19
    Latti Ice Ganga Gangsta of PHAET
    +1
    An honest response, thank you Kimmel; I rather it be through humor as well.
  • SA 2012/10/09 15:50:15
    I Agree
    SA
    +2
    Another great post, my dear Latrice. Thank you!
  • Latti I... SA 2012/10/09 15:54:51
    Latti Ice Ganga Gangsta of PHAET
    +2
    Thanks SA ;-)
  • Bibliophilic 2012/08/22 17:02:02
    I Agree
    Bibliophilic
    +2
    i love you gif
    Perfect- post. Everyone on Sodahead should read this. I love that Naked Black Justice poster- wherever did you find it?
  • Latti I... Bibliop... 2012/08/22 17:07:29
    Latti Ice Ganga Gangsta of PHAET
    +1
    blush gif

    Thank you Bib; it was one of my friends blog I follow and she told me the name of the person who orchestrated it. (James C Lewis)

    http://loveblackproject.com/t...
  • Latti I... Bibliop... 2012/08/23 00:56:57
  • Mark In... Latti I... 2012/10/09 19:37:03
    Mark In Irvine
    +1
    very nice! thanks for sharing!
  • Latti I... Mark In... 2012/10/09 19:37:30
  • Mark In... Latti I... 2012/10/09 19:44:49
  • Latti I... Bibliop... 2012/09/13 01:05:40
    Latti Ice Ganga Gangsta of PHAET
    +1
    Hey Bib; did you ever get the link to "Naked Black Justice"?
  • bye 2012/08/21 18:48:33
    I Agree
    bye
    +2
    I think it can be funny but in the end hurtful unless you are playing to the audience that you are having fun with. It's always easier to pick on what you are with others of the same then to pick on others.
  • rand 2012/08/21 16:04:17 (edited)
    I Agree
    rand
    +3
    ...and so often arguments against these bigotries are dismissed as simply being "politically correct". "Hate", regardless of its form, is "incorrect".
  • Transquesta 2012/08/21 06:44:42 (edited)
    I Agree
    Transquesta
    +7
    I agree so much it friggin' hurts! More than likely all of us have been pigeonholed by the gestalt at some point in our lives, but thankfully not normally in ways so severe as to get us killed. Just enough, though, so that each of us has just a wee bit of a taste of what life is like behind the social eight-ball. Whether you're big, little, are black, gay, a nerd, a jock, a beauty queen, are Muslim, are Jewish, etc. ad infinitum, each of us can probably fill volumes on the pain of being 'different.'

    Well, sports fans, we're all friggin' different. Knowing this you'd think each one of us would know better than to treat each other according to the rigid dictates of an erroneous set of cognitive maps, peer pressure, etc.--and yet each of us form a part of that same entity which inflicts its cruelty on people just like us day in and day out.

    This is why I've come to the point in my life where, while I eagerly embrace the individual, I detest 'society.' Am I 'anti-social'? You bet your ass!! Something truly nasty happens when we get together in groups. Sociologists call it by a hundred different names--groupthink, risky-shift, etc.--but these are only manifestations. Clinical cryptolinguistics we use in the attempt to understand that ineffable evil which sprouts when any two...



    I agree so much it friggin' hurts! More than likely all of us have been pigeonholed by the gestalt at some point in our lives, but thankfully not normally in ways so severe as to get us killed. Just enough, though, so that each of us has just a wee bit of a taste of what life is like behind the social eight-ball. Whether you're big, little, are black, gay, a nerd, a jock, a beauty queen, are Muslim, are Jewish, etc. ad infinitum, each of us can probably fill volumes on the pain of being 'different.'

    Well, sports fans, we're all friggin' different. Knowing this you'd think each one of us would know better than to treat each other according to the rigid dictates of an erroneous set of cognitive maps, peer pressure, etc.--and yet each of us form a part of that same entity which inflicts its cruelty on people just like us day in and day out.

    This is why I've come to the point in my life where, while I eagerly embrace the individual, I detest 'society.' Am I 'anti-social'? You bet your ass!! Something truly nasty happens when we get together in groups. Sociologists call it by a hundred different names--groupthink, risky-shift, etc.--but these are only manifestations. Clinical cryptolinguistics we use in the attempt to understand that ineffable evil which sprouts when any two or more of us act as a mob. By themselves, grasshoppers are relatively benign creatures. Together they form swarms of locusts. So it is with human beings.

    Embrace the individual. Detest society. Treat every human being as if you know absolutely nothing about them in advance. Everybody gets the same 'tabla rosa.' Form your opinions of what you learn about people AFTER engaging them in dialogue, not before.

    Here endeth this rant. :-)
    (more)
  • Latti I... Transqu... 2012/08/21 06:46:19
    Latti Ice Ganga Gangsta of PHAET
    +3
    Nice comment T :-).
  • Cuthber... Transqu... 2012/08/21 15:27:44
    Cuthbert Allsgood
    +3
    Well said.
  • rand Transqu... 2012/08/21 16:13:36
    rand
    +2
    I tend to be "asocial" for some of the reasons you've delineated, but being "anti-social" is, by the definition "harmful to the welfare of people", counterproductive. You are probably a model for how to behave socially and can serve humanity by socializing and being involved, but beware of even hating the haters. It doesn't help. Ask why Bertrand Russell's friend Davies said, "I have a magnanimous love of mankind and a contemptuous dislike for most individuals."
  • Piper 2012/08/21 00:49:46
    I Agree
    Piper
    +3
    Yes. Chuckling over silly stereotypes, is far different from actually believing them. Great post, Latrice.
  • Latti I... Piper 2012/08/21 04:37:00
    Latti Ice Ganga Gangsta of PHAET
    +2
    Thank you Piper.
  • Mark In Irvine 2012/08/21 00:40:16
    I Agree
    Mark In Irvine
    +2
    We "create"stereotypes because it helps us simplify the world:

    "blacks are [insert stereotypes here] and Mr. X is black, so i can assume that i already know what Mr. X is like, what he thinks, and what he does ..."

    "democrats are [insert stereotypes here] and Mr. Y is a democrat, so i can assume that i already know what Mr. Y is like, what he thinks, and what he does ..."

    "mexicans are [insert stereotypes here] and Mr. Z is a mexican, so i can assume that i already know what Mr. Y is like, what he thinks, and what he does ..."

    "asians are [insert stereotypes here] and Ms. K is an asian, so i can assume that i already know what Ms. K is like, what she thinks, and what she does ..."

    "gays are [insert stereotypes here] and Ms. B is an lesbian, so i can assume that i already know what Ms. B is like, what she thinks, and what she does ..."

    by relying on stereotypes, we reduce the "other" to a two-dimensional character and we ignore the real person ... which we would not like if someone treated us in the same way ...
  • Latti I... Mark In... 2012/08/21 00:43:20
    Latti Ice Ganga Gangsta of PHAET
    +3
    Exactly Mark.
  • Mark In... Latti I... 2012/08/21 00:54:19
    Mark In Irvine
    +3
    you're pretty smart ... you know, for a woman ... ha ha ha!!! you KNOW i'm teasing you!
  • Latti I... Mark In... 2012/08/21 04:37:14
    Latti Ice Ganga Gangsta of PHAET
    +3
    lol :-)
  • bettyboop 2012/08/20 11:12:45
    Other
    bettyboop
    Had this come from someone else, instead of you, who I already think racist, I might have thought more of the piece.
  • Latti I... bettyboop 2012/08/20 12:43:44 (edited)
    Latti Ice Ganga Gangsta of PHAET
    +3
    You sound like a broken record; don't like me then buzz off. It's apparent you aren't capable of comprehending this any of way, since you couldn't comprehend another post I did. I'm not responsible for what you don't understand.

    not responsible for what you don t understand
  • Transqu... Latti I... 2012/08/21 06:50:59
    Transquesta
    +1
    Graphic duly stolen. . . :-)
  • Latti I... Transqu... 2012/08/21 06:54:26
  • Alvin 2012/08/19 17:53:13
    I Agree
    Alvin
    +3
    Well written, well thought out and extremely truthful.
  • mk, Smartass Oracle 2012/08/18 17:26:49
  • Latti I... mk, Sma... 2012/08/18 18:46:36
    Latti Ice Ganga Gangsta of PHAET
    +2
    What do you mean by, "But they are the reality," and why a T-shirt that reads Cracker?
  • mk, Sma... Latti I... 2012/08/18 18:54:55
  • bags the Indigenous Guru 2012/08/18 15:29:42
    I Agree
    bags the Indigenous Guru
  • Latti I... bags th... 2012/08/18 18:47:02
  • Transqu... Latti I... 2012/08/21 06:52:43
    Transquesta
    +1
    Bags doesn't say a lot, but when she does it's usually awesome.
  • Chris- Demon of the PHAET 2012/08/18 12:39:23
    I Agree
    Chris- Demon of the PHAET
    +3
    Another great post Latrice. :-)
  • Commander Pyle 2012/08/18 09:08:19
    I Disagree
    Commander Pyle
    +2
    Stereotypes serve an important purpose. Those who clicked agree also fit a certain profile. There, I stereotyped you too.
  • Latti I... Command... 2012/08/18 14:13:48 (edited)
    Latti Ice Ganga Gangsta of PHAET
    +3
    I disagree; they serve a purpose for those who refuse to think on their own and goes towards those stereotypes, because it is harder for some to actually take the time to get to know a person.
  • Command... Latti I... 2012/08/19 00:33:38 (edited)
    Commander Pyle
    +2
    Refuse to think on their own? If you refuse to break a stereotype, then I am not to blame for stereotyping you. If you dress a certain way, I'm not going to give you the benefit of the doubt. If you act a certain way, I'm not going to bother knowing you. Your actions and appearance can be easily classified. Don't blame me for taking advantage of it.

    To note: I do treat people with respect, regardless. That's how I am. I just understand that stereotypes play an important role.
  • Latti I... Command... 2012/08/19 01:48:43
    Latti Ice Ganga Gangsta of PHAET
    +3
    Again not understanding; to stereotype racially, religiously and so on is completely different from stereotyping a certain individual due to their actions alone. To equate ones actions on an entire group of people is devolution and yes one can be blamed for not being able to differentiate the two.
  • Command... Latti I... 2012/08/19 02:05:42
    Commander Pyle
    +2
    I do understand.

    thug
    lawyer
    mexicans
    indian scientist
    muslims

    You cant just look at these pictures and not have an image ingrained. Stereotypes exist even when we try not to accept them.

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