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A Change In Direction

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All Irish-Americans are alcoholics.

All African-Americans are intellectually inferior.

All Asian-Americans are poor drivers.

All Italian-Americans are associated with the mafia.

All Mexican-Americans are lazy.

All Polish-Americans are dumb.

All European-Americans are rhythmically challenged.

As you look at the above statements, you are probably saying to yourself, "Of course I don't believe that those statements are true. I would never think that about any group of people. Anyone who believes those statements is clearly a racist and I'm certainly not a racist." Now pause and take a few minutes to search within yourself. Really look deep inside and try to find those well-guarded places that might not make you particularly proud. It's OK to acknowledge them. No one has to know. After searching inside yourself, were you able to acknowledge that at some point in your life you probably believed a version of at least one of the above statements? If you answered yes, then that acknowledgement is a good thing. Recognizing your racial stereotypes is the first step to overcoming them.

What are racial stereotypes and how do people develop them? Racial stereotypes are automatic and exaggerated mental pictures that are held about all members of a particular racial group. When people are stereotyped based on race, individual differences aren't taken into account. Because racial stereotypes are so rigid, people tend to ignore or discard any information that is not consistent with the stereotype that has been developed about the racial group.

Racial stereotypes develop in a variety of ways. On a very simplistic level, it's human nature to categorize people. It's one way of making a complex world simpler. From an early age, one learns to place people and objects into categories. However, when very young, people tend to put less of an emphasis on attributing values to these categories. As one grows older and is influenced by parents, peers and the media, the tendency to label different racial groups as superior/good or inferior/bad increases significantly. Additionally, the less contact people have with a particular racial group, the more likely they will have negative feelings about the group. Also, any negative experiences that a person has with a member of a particular group will strengthen their racial stereotypes and create fears about particular races. Based on these fears, an us-versus-them mentality then develops and tends to be self-protective in nature. As a result, people miss opportunities to learn and thrive from these differences.

Some people might say, "There's no harm in having racial stereotypes or making racial/ethnic jokes based on stereotypes. People these days are so politically correct and should just loosen up. Anyway, there's always a kernel of truth in every stereotype." In some instances, all of the above might be true. However, in most cases, racial stereotypes are harmful because they ignore the full humanity and uniqueness of all people. When perceptions of different races are distorted and stereotypical, it's demeaning, devaluing, limiting and hurtful to others. In some cases, those who are repeatedly labeled in negative ways will begin to develop feelings of inferiority. Sometimes, these feelings of inferiority can lead to self-fulfilling



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