Positive Stereotypes are Negative

I used to teach a night class at the local college about the history of social welfare in America. One of the evenings was devoted to Social Justice and Discrimination. We discussed prejudice and stereotypes. Students seemed to think that while negative stereotypes were evil, positive stereotypes were a good thing.

Jews are smart.

Black people are great musicians and athletes.

Asians are math geniuses (even though they are abysmal drivers.)

One young, black student, about 6 feet 7 inches, raised his hand and said, “I hate those positive stereotypes. Every time someone meets me they say ‘You must be great at basketball.’ I suck at basketball. I’m a poet. These people don’t care who I really am.”

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It’s worse when people who share your race or ethnicity hold these damaging stereotypes.

When I was at college, lots of my friends were Jews from boroughs of New York City – the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens. I, along with others, was from Long Island.

“Oh, you’re one of those rich, Jewish American Princesses,” they would say disparagingly. They would use the offensive acronym JAP, which connotes a pampered brat, raised in a wealthy home, who is materialistic and selfish.

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I wasn’t deprived, but I grew up in a modest, middle class home in a middle class neighborhood. We ate the supermarket’s brand of bread because Wonder bread was too expensive. We wore clothes from the local discount store. We went on a vacation one weekend a year to a hotel in the Catskill mountains, a 3 hour drive away. My mother cut our hair herself, and we didn’t own a color TV until I’d graduated from college. (I’m not that old. Everyone else had one.)

I was hardly pampered or wealthy, but my city friends didn’t believe it. I lived in a house, and they lived in an apartment. It hurt to be judged by a stereotype.

I hear another asinine stereotype when I mention that my daughter-in-law is Japanese.

“Ahhh,” they rhapsodize. “Japanese women are so beautiful. Your son and his wife will have gorgeous mixed-race children.”

Aside from the offensive notion that the most important thing in a person is physical beauty, the comment is ludicrous.

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It’s true that my daughter-in-law is very beautiful. Tall, slender, with shining eyes and a dazzling smile, she looks like a model (and is as good-hearted as she is lovely).

But I’ve been to Japan. All Japanese women are not beautiful. They come in all varieties. Physical beauty is as special there as it is here, among white or black, or any other color person.

I told my daughter-in-law about this Japanese beauty stereotype. She said, “In Japan, everyone thinks that all white women are beautiful.”

We had a good laugh over that one.

While I wish it were true that all Jews from Long Island are smart, educated and rich, I also wish that people would think twice about prejudging someone by stereotypes. Negative or positive, a stereotype makes you blind to the individual right before your eyes.

Have you ever judged, or been judged, by a stereotype?


10 thoughts on “Positive Stereotypes are Negative

  1. All the time – hehe. Definitely don’t like how stereotypes make people invisible. So easy to do though, especially when they fit on some occasions. I’m definitely guilty of it, and sometimes do like it when a stereotype is positive and fits me.
    On the other hand, it’s not fun. I notice it a bit cos I’m Asian but was adopted so I don’t really fit any Asian stereotype. It’s a bit disconcerting when I can see people avoiding me or not knowing how to approach me, then their whole face and attitude changes when they realise I don’t have an accent.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Stereotypes, positive or negative, are labels that affix conveniently to certain target groups by the ignorant or the special interest. People are more alike than they are different. But often stereotypes are used to drive a wedge between people to gain certain advantage.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. My friend from India was a bit pissed off about the term “visible minority” as she told me that although she was darker than me, I had the worst accent. She suggested something like an “auditory minority” for me. I have a bad accent (born in the Netherlands before the 80s).

    She was one time angry in a shop where she bought fries (in Australia chips) and the man said “vally vally hot” (sp?).
    I could not stop laughing as she never complained when he gave her free mango ice cream. He liked her and it was not meant bad, but just a bit lame…

    I never got the free ice cream…

    Thanks Candy, you got great questions!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s really mean to make fun of someone’s accent or ethnic differences. But I guess the “vally vally hot” guy thought he was being cute. I guess it backfired!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. She still accepted the delicious mango ice cream :).
        It was lame indeed, I think she had heard it too many times. But you know what is interesting, depending on age and caste…some people from India, like my friend, had a problem to see others as equal. It was so ingrained that certain behaviours are “dirty”, that she at times referred to people as un-clean or dirty. I talked to her about that and it was not easy for her to see this.

        Liked by 1 person

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