Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Stereotype deficit, my Aunt Mary, etc.

I grew up without stereotypes. My grandfather quit his first church over his pastor joining the KKK and that kind of attitude just kind of kept in the family.

That came up again when someone was talking about crazy Irish Catholics. I've got an Irish Catholic Aunt. When I think of Irish Catholics I think of dependable and hard working people you can trust and like. There may have been alcoholics in the family, but not my Aunt.

Kind of like when I think of Hispanics or Latinos. In my mind it is (hardworking) Hispanic, etc. It probably isn't fair, but in my experience in the non-academic world (I've never been a real academic so I can't say for academia), the Blacks and Hispanics I've known were a little more competent than the average, a little harder working. Ok, many of them were a lot harder working.

The problem comes up when I have to deal with stereotypes. Instead of them making sense to me, most cause a cognitive disconnect. A friend of mine said it was simple, I suffered from a stereotype deficit. Blame it on your Aunt Mary he said, she shouldn't have been so reliable and hard working and I'd have been fine.

Thanks, I said, I'll keep her just the way she is.

On page 124 of Lewis Mehl-Madrona's _Narrative Medicine: The Use of History and Story in the Healing Process_, the author describes....

"the experiments of psychologists Claude Steele and Joshua Aronson, which involved black and white students answering questions from the Graduate Record Examination, the standardized test used for entrance into graduate school. When the black students were asked about their race before answering questions, the number of questions they answered correctly was cut in half. This is an example of a master narrative of American culture that says that blacks are not as smart as whites and don't deserve to succeed. When the psychologists asked the black students if it bugged them to be asked about their race before the test, they answered, 'No,' and added that they just didn't think they were smart enough to be at the university."

[References for the research mentioned: "Stereotype Threat and the Intellectual Test Performance of African-Americans," by Claude M. Steele and Joshua Aronson, on pp. 797-811 of the _Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 69 (1995); "Thin Ice: 'Stereotype Threat' and Black College Students," by Claude M. Steele, on pp. 44-47 and 50-54 of the 2/99 _Atlantic Monthly_.]


Anonymous said...


Yeah, your Aunt Mary sounds just fine to me. :)

Anonymous said...

Interesting. It's also interesting to see how older generations (my grandparents, as an example) have an attitude change along with the popular culture.

It's cool that your family wasn't hampered by the popular culture of their youth.

Anonymous said...

That is great to be free from stereotypes. I have to be conscious of this as I have some. I am grateful for my education that has helped in that matter. A teacher in high school said that prejudices were due to ignorance.

The problem with stereotypes is that people have an Eagle eye for the stereotyped behavior. If a person exhibits the stereotyped behavior than it reinforces the stereotype even if people who are not in that subgroup may exhibit the same behavior. A person may have a lot of nonstereotypical behavior and yet this is tossed aside by those with the mindset of stereotypes.