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Stereotypes in Social Groups Essay

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Updated: Mar 19th, 2020

Introduction

Stereotypes are virtually present in any social group because they form part of the social identities that people assign each other basing on beliefs, norms, traditions, and physical features.

Fundamentally, stereotypes are attributes that people assign to specific groups of people depending on their social, cultural, traditional, and physical attributes. In essence, stereotypes are erroneous attributes that people have assigned unto others for purposes of identification. Stereotypes can be positive or negative depending on the attributes that they assign on to the people.

Positive stereotypes assign good attributes while negative stereotypes assign bad attributes. According to McGarty, Yzerbyt, and Spears, perception of positive and negative stereotypes is subjective because negative attributes of the majority tend to be negative, whereas positive attributes of the minority tend to be positive (12).

The existence of positive stereotypes benefits members of a given group because they identify good attributes and provide social recognition. Moreover, positive stereotypes are beneficial because they motivate group members to perform well by nurturing their positive attributes.

However, positive attributes hurt members of a group because they distort reality and alienate people in the society. In this view, positive stereotypes are not only beneficial, but also hurtful depending on how a given group takes them. Therefore, this begs a question: Are positive stereotypes beneficial?

Background Information

In my life, I have encountered a number of stereotypes, which people have made against the Chinese. When I attended class with diverse students from various racial backgrounds, they took me as a great mathematician, yet I was poor in mathematics. As I was not good in mathematics, the stereotype motivated me to be a mathematician, so that I could fit into their perceptions.

With great struggle in class, I had to prove my identity to be a Chinese with great mathematical skills. During my high school education, we were many Chinese in the school, and thus people had difficulties recognizing us because they had stereotyped that all Chinese are alike. Other students claimed that we shared common features like skin color, walking styles, weight, and hair color.

Basing on these features, people have stereotyped that the Chinese are related because they look alike. In the film industry, artists have portrayed Chinese as martial artists (Zinzius 266). In this view, people perceive walking styles and weights of the Chinese as appropriate for martial arts. Therefore, I have experienced aforementioned stereotypes in the course of my life, which associate me with my racial background of Chinese.

Pro-Con Argument

Positive stereotypes are beneficial to members of social groups because they enhance their pride and confidence in their respective cultures. Given that diverse cultures exist in the society, some cultures appear to have more privileges than others. Cultures with positive stereotypes have good attributes, which make people from other cultures to emulate the positive attributes.

For example, the stereotype that the Chinese are better than the Americans in mathematics gives the Chinese an impetuous to perform well because they have confidence in their culture. In age-related stereotypes, Boduroglu et al. state that old Chinese can perform memory tasks better than old Americans.

Such positive stereotypes of Chinese are beneficial because they portray Chinese as people with intelligent brains, as they are not only good in mathematics, but also have sharp brains in their old age. In his experience, Steele insinuates that restrictions imposed on them regarding when they were to swim in the pool reduced their confidence as African Americans, while the White Americans were very confident because they did not have any restrictions (2).

In essence, positive stereotypes indicate the extent of social privileges that people enjoy in a diverse society. Thus, the privileged groups have more confidence than unprivileged groups.

Positive stereotypes are also beneficial to members of a social group because they identify positive attributes and thus aid in recognition of people and their respective cultures. Since diverse cultures across the world exist, they have different norms and traditions that define how people behave in society.

Cultural diversity is an important aspect of modern society because people from diverse cultural backgrounds interact in workplaces, schools, markets, cities, and social places. The existence of the majority and the minority groups in the society means that the attributes of the majority are more dominant than the attributes of the minority groups.

McGarty, Yzerbyt, and Spears argue that positive stereotypes are important among the minority groups because they enable the majority groups to identify and recognize their good attributes, and consequently their presence in the diverse society (12). The minority groups always experience a challenge when shaping their identity in a society that the majority dominates.

For example, the Whites can recognize African Americans when they perform extraordinary tasks. The experience of Brent Staples depicts how positive stereotypes, as portrayed in the whistled Vivaldi, changed perceptions of the Whites from perceiving him as an African American man, who is uneducated, unrefined, and violent (Steele 6).

As a mere African American man in the Street, the Whites could not have bothered to identify and recognize, but the stereotype of whistling Vivaldi reversed their perceptions.

Although it is beneficial, positive stereotypes are hurtful because they distort reality by holding on baseless claims. Positive stereotypes depend on false perceptions, which give a person a false sense of importance, which distort the reality. The reality is that people virtually have similar capacities to perform certain tasks provided the conditions are the same.

However, stereotypes give a false impression that one certain group performs better than another certain group, without any scientific basis to back up the assertion. For instance, the stereotype that the Chinese are good mathematicians does not mean all Chinese are good mathematicians whine non-Chinese are poor mathematicians.

According to McGarty, Yzerbyt, and Spears, positive stereotypes are hurtful since “distortions are self-enhancing because they reflect self-serving biases” (7). Fundamentally, positive stereotypes assign unrealistic attributes to individuals in a certain social group.

According to Steele, the White students who knew that the golf task aimed at measuring their natural athletic ability performed poorer than students who knew nothing (7). This implies that positive stereotypes distorted their perceptions and consequently their abilities.

Additionally, positive stereotypes are hurtful because they use personal experiences in setting an example. Blum argues that positive stereotypes emanates from personal beliefs and experiences, which are very subjective and biased (253).

For instance, A White American meets an African American drug addict and concludes that all African Americans are drug addicts. Another example is that an African American encounters a rich White American and infers that all White Americans are rich. Such experiences create positive stereotypes, which are hurtful in the sense that they demean good attributes that others hold and uplift non-existent attributes.

The personal experiences and beliefs, which form the basis of positive stereotypes, alienate people from the mainstream society as they perceive themselves as a special group with unique attributes. Steele notes that positive stereotypes create social problems because they disintegrate society into gender, social, and racial classes. Therefore, positive stereotypes are hurtful to the individuals and society.

My Position

Positive stereotypes are beneficial to members of social groups because they enhance confidence that people have in their culture and promote the identification and recognition of other cultures. As aforementioned, positive stereotypes make people to gain confidence in their respective cultures in that they are proud about the unique attributes that they uphold and cherish.

Moreover, stereotypes are beneficial as they make people identify and recognize good attributes that other social groups hold. Comparatively, it is evident that positive stereotypes distort reality by creating false impressions about attributes of people in a certain social group. The personal experiences and beliefs, which form the basis of positive of positive stereotypes, create diverse social groups, and thus cause some forms inequality in society.

Despite the negative impacts, positive stereotypes have overwhelming benefits to members of various social groups. Therefore, people should avoid negative stereotypes and create positive stereotypes since they make people feel confident of their culture and gain recognition in the diverse society, which comprises of the minority and the majority groups.

Conclusion

The stereotypes are relevant in the society because they shape how humans interact and behave. Since the society comprises of diverse races, cultures, and traditions, the nature of stereotypes depicts virtues and values that the society uphold.

In this case, the argument that positive stereotypes are beneficial is relevant because it supports the formation of stereotypes in the society and their application in transforming cultural norms and values. Thus, social groups should embrace positive stereotypes and shun negative stereotypes.

Works Cited

Blum, Lawrence. “Stereotypes and stereotyping: A moral analysis.” Philosophical Papers 33.3 (2004): 251-289. Print.

Boduroglu, Aysecan, Carolyn Yoon, Ting Luo, and Denise Park. “Age-related Stereotypes: A Comparison of American and Chinese Cultures.” Gerontology 52.1 (2006): 324-333. Print.

McGarty, Craig, Vincent Yzerbyt, and Russell Spears. Stereotypes as Explanations. London: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Print.

Steele, Claude. “An Introduction: At the root Cause of Identity.” Whistling Vivaldi and Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us. Ed. Claude Steele. New York: W.W. Norton, 2011. Print.

Zinzius, Birgit. Chinese America: Stereotype and Reality: History, Present, and Future of the Chinese Americans. London: Peter Lang, 2005. Print.

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