Beware of sterotypes

Q:        Why is it important that each of us try to avoid stereotyping people? 

A:        Each of us must be very, very careful about judging people before we know them well.  We must beware of prejudging a group of people with one characteristic before you know what lies beneath the skin.  Stereotypes are oversimplifications that are often completely wrong. Stereotypes are generalizations to which there are almost always exceptions.

Here are some often stated generalizations or stereotypes that you have probably heard, thought or even said: a number of times:

  • Blonds are dumb
  • Poles are stupid
  • Women are the weaker sex
  • Elderly people are boring and are out of it
  • All physicians think of themselves as God
  • Golf is a boring sport
  • Poor people always want to get something for nothing
If you have been around long enough and have looked carefully at the people in the world around you, you know without the shadow of a doubt that each of the above generalizations can be 100% wrong in a person you know well or have heard about. You have worked, gone to church, gone to school or volunteered with someone who has disproved every single one of the above stereotypes.

 

 Ethnic jokes are jokes about groups of people with a characteristic that can be very funny. There may be some truth to the joke that draws attention to some habit or characteristic of a group off people. Sometimes a physician has an incredible lack of humility, a blond person is not very smart, an elderly person has lost his or her edge, or golf is completely boring to an individual or a couple. We all know that people are different and to acknowledge differences seems to me to be okay.  Ethnic jokes can be funny, but they may also be quite offensive. Jokes about stereotypes are perhaps best left to the individual who has the characteristic joked about.

Kathy Breithaupt is a very, very smart woman who loves to tell blond jokes and, of course, they are all the funnier because there she is – a blond woman. My favorite blond joke is one she told at Rotary two years ago. She gave me permission to repeat it using her name:

Two blond women were sitting on a porch in Michigan looking up at an incredibly beautiful moon. One said to the other: “I wonder which is closer, the moon or Florida.”

The other replied “Hellooo! Can you see Florida?”

There  are numerous groups of individuals whom I have placed into a slot in my mind as ignorant, lacking a loving approach to others, dangerous, lazy, self indulgent, or unhappy because they can’t take care of themselves.  But I have definitely come to see exceptions to every single one of these generalizations. When I can overcome one of my stereotypes I just love it.  It is a happy day for me.

When I can blot out a stereotype I am reminded of this Norman Vincent Peale quote: “Change your thoughts and you will change your world.”

Robert A. Hatcher MD, MPH

Professor of Gynecology and Obstetrics

Emory University School of Medicine

Atlanta, GA

Key Words:  stereotyping, prejudging, characteristic, generalization, dumb, stupid, weaker sex, boring, God, ethnic jokes, groups, individuals, ignorant, loving, dangerous, lazy, self indulgent, unhappy, Norman Vincent Peale