Understanding Stereotypes

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Everybody is different and we encounter a diverse set of people every day. Some differences cannot be seen by just looking at a person. Treat each and every person you encounter with respect and dignity. Through this module we will begin to identify what if any stereotypes a person may have.

Stereotypes vs. Biases

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A stereotype is a conventional, formulaic, and oversimplified conception, opinion, or image. One who stereotypes generally thinks that most or all members of an ethnic or racial group are the same. Typical words used with stereotyping include: clannish, aggressive, blue-collar, lazy.

Bias is a preference or an inclination, especially one that inhibits impartial judgment. The use of bias is more subtle. Often it is evident through the addition of qualifiers or added information to spoken statements. For example, you may hear “Jane González, who has a degree, will be joining our staff”, implying that having a degree sets this individual apart from most Hispanics, who may not have degrees.

Identifying Your Baggage

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Baggage is defined as intangible things (as feelings, circumstances, or beliefs) that get in the way.

From an early age, you learn to place people and objects into categories. As you grow up and are influenced by parents, peers, and the media, your tendency to label different racial, cultural, or other groups as superior or inferior increases significantly. This can be referred to as your baggage.

Though often you are unaware of what constitutes your baggage, you can begin to uncover it by monitoring your thoughts when you encounter an ethnic last name, see a skin color, hear an accent different than yours, interact with someone who has a disability, or learn that a person is gay.

As these events occur, look for consistency. Do you have the same reaction to members of a given group each time you encounter him or her? Ask yourself: “Do I have these reactions before — or after I have a chance to know the individual?” If the answer is before, these are your stereotypes. Work to label these automatic responses as stereotypes and remind yourself that they are not valid indicators of one’s character, skills, or personality. Because stereotyping is a learned habit, it can be unlearned with practice. And remember not to judge yourself; a thought is private, and not an action.

Understanding What This Means

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Knowing as much as you can about your own ethnocentrisms helps you recognize how discomfort with differences can prevent you from seeing others as “fully human”. With practice, you can identify feelings and thoughts, filtering them through a system of questions designed to help you change your baggage, or perceptions.

Module Three: Case Study

Betsy sat down with her co-worker, Mark, to go over their sales reports. “As you can see here, profits have gone up from last quarter.”

Mark pointed and said, “It says there that the profits doubled from $1,000 to $3,000. Don’t you mean $2,000?”

Betsy looked at the chart. “Yes, you’re right. It should be $2,000.”

Without thinking, Mark said, “That’s okay. A lot of girls just aren’t good at math.”

Betsy was taken aback by his statement, and she said, “Mark, that was hurtful. It makes me feel like you’re stereotyping me, when it was just a typo.”

Mark seemed surprised to hear this, but then said, “I’m sorry, Betsy. I didn’t mean it that way. I won’t say anything like that again.”

They continued on with their work and gave an excellent presentation the next day.