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Iowa State University

Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching

International Community Resources

Stereotypes

Stereotypes are generalized statements we make about people in certain groups.
"African-Americans are athletic," and "Asians are good in math," assume all individuals from the same group fit into the same category or have the same characteristics. These are generalized statements on stereotypes.

Generalizations are a necessary part of the way our brain functions. We are bombarded with a tremendous amount of information on a daily basis and our brain, to function effectively, creates categories to help us organize all the data being received.

Generalizations become a problem when people don’t fit our stereotypical images. In this case, our stereotypes prevent us from seeing the person for who he/she really is; invariably, we end up seeing only who we expect to see, thus negating the individual. Furthermore, when people don’t fit our stereotypes, we often assume they are an exception to the rule rather than questioning our stereotypes.

Stereotypes are pervasive in our society. We all stereotype and are all subject to being stereotyped by others. The stereotypes we use can be both positive and negative. The negative ones, though, have more devastating consequences. We need to become aware of the stereotypes we have so we can see people for who they really are. Stereotypes should never influence the way we deal with or treat others.


According to Robert Kohls and John Knight (1994), the most common stereotypes internationals have of Americans are:

  • Outgoing, friendly
  • Informal
  • Loud, rude, immature
  • Hardworking
  • Extravagant, wasteful
  • Think they have all the answers
  • Not class-conscious
  • Disrespectful of authority
  • Racially prejudiced
  • Know little about other countries
  • Women are promiscuous
  • Wealthy
  • Generous
  • Always in a hurry
  • Disregard the elderly

Now, think for a moment.

  • How many of these stereotypes are true?
  • How many are positive, and how many are negative?
  • How could these stereotypes have started?
    Through the media (e.g., (American movies, TV, newspapers)? Through tourists?
  • Could YOU have reinforced some of these stereotypes?
    What you need to keep in mind is that, even if these stereotypes are untrue, undeserved, or have nothing to do with who you really are, you will be included in them. This is the problem with stereotyping — stereotypes lump everybody together and allow no room for individuality.

In order for you to eliminate the stereotypes you have, you need first to become aware of them. Here is an opportunity for you.

On a piece of paper, make a list with the following three columns.

You don’t need to share this list with anyone. The point of this activity is to help you become aware of the stereotypes you have of other groups.

GROUPS YOUR STEREOTYPES SOURCE
e.g., Hispanics, men with earrings, women over 40, Arabs, etc.): List as many groups as you can think of. Without thinking too much about it, start writing down the stereotypes that come to mind. Don’t analyze; just write. Think of the source of each stereotype. Was it from a movie? Something you heard your parents saying when you were a child?

 

Information on Stereotypes, thanks to Iowa State University Study Abroad Center.