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genjgal's avatar

Where is the line between stereotypes and prejudice?

Asked by genjgal (1006points) March 20th, 2013

Stereotypes don’t exist for no reason at all. Then again, stereotypes make people more likely to be that way. They also hurt people who have bad stereotypes, because people assume they are less than they are.
Teenagers are encouraged and allowed to act immature and foolish, and not to be the young people that they could be, because people say it’s “normal” for teens to be stupid.
In general, people are more wary of black people than white people, partially because they happen to be the people who have been living in poverty in America for years, and therefore getting involved in all kinds of other junk.
My Uncle, who is a black police, said, “I love my people, but they are mean to each other.” He’s not prejudiced, he’s just a cop that knows reality and has certain initial assumptions of people based on their appearance.

Where’s the line between stereotypes and prejudice?

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17 Answers

dannyc's avatar

The line is fine. Stereotypical observations can be based on prejudices. And prejudice can lead to unwarranted stereotypes. I believe that both are unhelpful. Free your mind of making judgements based on stereotypes and you will most likely find alternate realities exist than the one based on these stereotypes. All of these quick analyses based on stereotypes usually lead to poor decisions about people as the variance in any group is usually enormous. Grouping people in any ways is also flawed, though common. Like believing one nation is superior or better than another, all pointless and counterproductive.

dra_red's avatar

Good question. I have often wondered the same. My conclusion is that we need to balance the two. We have good reason to stereotype, it allows us to recognise patterns that make it easier to get through life. It is a stereotype to consider used car salespeople as untrustworthy and this is prejudice but hand all your trust to one of these sales people is likely to be a big mistake. It is human nature to stereotype. Researchers studying the brain have shown that we produce stereotypes in our brain whether we act on them or not. It is part of our DNA so to speak.

As you point out though, stereotyping/prejudice is unfair to many and can produce a negative result for all involved. Not trusting a person because they are black (or vice versa) when they are the only person who can help is an example of prejudice holding everyone back. There are many circumstances when we can and should suppress our prejudice. For example, if a company is large enough to conduct aptitude testing for candidates then it should rely on this rather than the whimsical opinion of a prejudiced manager.

In reality, our governments tend to legislate against prejudice but it is very hard to enforce except in certain circumstances. As a result, most people still hold onto their prejudices but they are slowly worn away over time because people trying to ‘appear’ unprejudiced will often actually become unprejudiced.

But yeah, in short, it is a balancing act.

Cheers, Dale

JLeslie's avatar

Stereotypes are not always negative, sometimes they just describe a cultural norm. The line between stereotyping and prejudging is pretty thin though, there I agree. I think prejudice is more negative than stereotyping. They both indicate assuming something about a person, actually I would say assuming or generalizing about a group. I would admit I have stereotypes in my head about various groups, some of it based on actual statistics, but when I meet an individual I don’t assume he will fit into the stereotype, I meet them as an individual. Having a prejudice means to me the person is less open when meeting an individual and is more likely to expect everyone in the group to be the same.

zenvelo's avatar

The line is between using a positive stereotype for cultural understanding, and using a stereotype to establish a denigrating assumption.

rooeytoo's avatar

I think I do more stereotyping. I make judgements based on the experiences I have had in my life. There are certain things I do not do because they are dangerous and that conclusion could be based on a stereotype of a neighbourhood or a gender or a culture or probably many other things as well. There are neighbourhoods I would not dream of walking through. I don’t consider that prejudice even that neighbourhood is made up of predominantly one group of people. Prejudice is also based on one’s experiences but is a more personal thing than stereotyping. If I dislike a person based on any factor other than my personal knowledge of them, it is probably prejudice.

Plucky's avatar

I think a stereotype is basically shared beliefs or thoughts about a specific group of people, through experience and media (based on their habits, behaviours, culture, social class, etc). Prejudice is a judgement we put upon a person, or group of people, without any personal knowledge of them (or without evidence).

pleiades's avatar

Fantastic question! A huge stereotype/prejudice I hear about in my generation is the condescending use of calling someone a “hipster.”

It’s strange because my wife is a fashionista and the term “hipster” in fashion is nothing more than an aesthetic but when general people use it, they use it in a way to describe a “hipster” as someone beneath them for liking bicycles, art, coffee, music etc etc etc.

rojo's avatar

Interesting question you have posed. And, one I have struggled with for several years.
I am in the property rental business and my tenants, predominantly students, are a sexually, ethnically and culturally diverse group.
Some of my units are in an older neighborhood and we have done extensive renovations to the apartment so they present very well both inside and out They also lease for about a hundred dollars more per unit than the surrounding buildings.
I have a sign in front of them that says “For Lease – Two bedroom, One bath” with my phone number.
As I said earlier, I rent to diverse group but if I get a phone call and the first question asked is “How many ‘betrooms’ is they?” I know I am just going to be going through the motions and am wasting my time trying to rent to the him or her.
The first thing I tell them, after how many bedrooms there are, is the monthly rent and the deposit requirements because once they find out the costs they are they will no longer be interested.
Since my assessment has been made after only the first question, am I stereotyping, being prejudiced or being realistic? In my opinion, I am being all three but is there any way, other than not pre-judging, not to be?

thorninmud's avatar

A stereotype is a composite mental picture, a generalization. This is a normal function of the brain, whether we willingly acknowledge it or not. If you tell me to imagine a Jew, a vague image will come up in my consciousness even though I know very well that the particulars of this image will apply to only a tiny percentage of Jews. I accept that this is just my brain’s clumsy shorthand for a far more complex reality, and so I would be a fool to attribute much importance to it.

Viewed this way, the stereotype is always subordinate to the reality of the person in front of me. I don’t assume that this person will conform to my stereotype; in fact, I will allow the reality of this person to update and inform my stereotype, adding nuance to it, refining it.

Prejudice puts the cart before the horse. It assumes that the stereotype is a reliable predictor of traits, and so the stereotype becomes a selective filter through which the realty itself is viewed. The stereotype then becomes resistant to change in the face of evidence, since it is seen as reality itself and not just a mental construct.

CWOTUS's avatar

Welcome to Fluther. What a great question.

I’m going to give a kind of quick answer to this now, but I’ll be thinking about it more and hope to come back to it later.

I think that stereotyping is a shorthand way of identifying many characteristics shared by many or most members of a group (whether it’s racial, national, religious, company, sports, whatever) and attributing those characteristics to the group at large. There may not be – in fact, I think there should not be – any judgments applied, whether positive or negative. I think that last part is key.

Prejudice is carrying the stereotype as the model for the group and being unable to see individuals in the group beyond that model or making positive or negative assumptions about individuals based on the stereotype, and not even testing the assumptions.

For example, think of IBM. The stereotype that the company itself has attempted over many years to perpetuate is a buttoned-down, straight-laced, white-shirted all-business type of nerdy guy (and now women, too), who are smart and dedicated to solving business problems with IBM hardware and software. So if you hear of someone referred to as “an IBM-type guy”, the company hopes that you have this image in your mind.

But if you simply assume too much about him based on the stereotype, then that’s a prejudice (and it may be a positive one) that may not be accurate.

PS: You’re a Fluther type. Stick around.

LuckyGuy's avatar

If you are given no data and no additional information, the smart money bets on the stereotypical traits.
Imagine this example: There’s a black guy and white guy standing a parking lot. You don’t know anything about their physical conditions, their height, their weight, etc.
Answer these questions: Which one can jump higher? (If I had to bet I’m putting my money on the black guy.) Which one lives in Vermont?
One of them is named Tyshaun and the other is J.Eddington III. Guess which is which. Who is wearing the hoodie? Who is wearing the cardigan?
Those kinds of generalizations are fine as long as you recognize there is a spectrum of behaviors and traits. You become prejudiced if you think there are no exceptions: Not all white men can’t jump and not all black males are named Tyshaun.

keobooks's avatar

I’ve always thought of stereotyping as a thought and prejudice as an action. For instance, let’s say I’m a waitress.

A group of senior citizens come in. I may think to myself “Great.. here come seniors. They are lousy tippers” and that’s a stereotype. If I try to get someone else to take my table so I don’t have to serve them, or I give them lousy service because I don’t expect much, that’s prejudice.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I think we’re all guilty of stereotyping, even if we aren’t prejudiced. I think the difference is the emotion involved. Stereotyping can be bad, neutral, or even positive sometimes. Prejudice is always bad.

A story on me. My daughter was expecting twins (they’re 3 months old now.) I located a double stroller for a REALLY good price. It was in KC, which is on the other side of the state. Well, we were planning a trip to KC anyway, so it all worked out.

I was on the phone several times with the seller. Her name is Angel. I really liked her and enjoyed our conversations. Went to pick up the stroller. Turned on her street. Nice, comfortable, middle class, single family homes. Angel came out…and I was shocked to see that she’s black! Nothing in her voice indicated it, and black didn’t seem to “fit” with the neighborhood and maybe I figured black people didn’t have twins. I don’t know what I thought. It was a slap upside my head, though.

All that assuming was going on in my subconscious. That was me stereotyping and not even realizing it. If I was prejudiced, however, my instinctive liking for her would have been diminished. It wasn’t. After I got over the surprise (about .5 seconds) we talked as easily as we had on the phone. I texted her, and sent pics, when the twins were born, too.

This is a great question, BTW.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

Stereotyping would be the mostly true assertion that black people love fried chicken and watermelon. Prejudice would be believing that no one else likes fried chicken and watermelon (best friggin picnic food, EVER!), so there must be something wrong with black people because of it.

SamandMax's avatar

My days of Sociology are far behind me, but from my point of view within that subject stereotypes are expectations base on morals. standards and principals. The line arguably could be that the line is not really that thin, but actually very wide, because prejudice is without expectation, it is ‘judging before the facts are known’, before any evidence to the contrary is pointed out or shown.

The counter-argument to that is that where there are new expectations, new standards and new morals, the line is widened to accommodate the changes in what people consider to be socially – or culturally – acceptable. Therein lies your line between prejudice and stereotype – and it will constantly change in width, narrowing or widening according to changing times.

zenzen's avatar

Great first question and some fine answers. Do stick around kiddo. Is that a stereotype?

JLeslie's avatar

I wish I knew the stereotype about a certain group before I sold my house. Dealing with my house buyers was so stressful because of how obnoxious and ruthless they were in their negotiations. I have never been through something like that, and now I have heard several stories about people from their country regarding money matters. I would have been more on guard and handled the whole thing differently.

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