How many people from one group do you have to meet to form a truthful opinion of “them”?
If I know one Italian would it be enough?
If I knew 10 Catholics would it be enough?
If I knew 100 people with schizophrenia would it be enough?
Surely if my sample size was 1000 I would be able to form a clear picture of a group; or would I? Those thousand souls will always be comprised of individuals. Is it my duty to look past their idiosyncrasies and pull out commonalities? If I want to disparage them I must. I must look past the fact that they come from different neighbourhoods and communities. I must look past the fact that they are from different families. I must not be influenced by the fact that they have been exposed to a myriad of individual experiences. They may be shaped but it is in the form I wish to exploit for my prejudice.
We all have these little beliefs about groups. The Irish are ?, women are ? Homosexuals are ? For many the individuals who make up a group can only possess common traits. To look at individuals separately is too time consuming and not conducive to prejudice. To walk about with my head held high should not mean I look down on you.
I know of an individual who considers women to be worse drivers than men. Two minutes on Google or a phone call to his insurance agent would tell him otherwise but that would undermine the value of his stereotypical view. It is based more on his need to place his “type” above another. Knowledge sometimes means you must recognize your own shortcomings. This person may argue that he has interacted with well over a thousand women drivers but when we begin with a stereotype it clouds our perceptions. It’s like owning a new Toyota. Once you have one that’s mainly what you notice. You see what you know. A stereotype is similar in that the prejudice we “possess” illuminates our view of others. If the slow driver is female we shore up our attitude. If the slow driver is male we cast aside the anomaly. The male driver is misinformation which doesn’t fit with our worldview so we discard it.
The most interesting of stereotypes are those we hold when we don’t even know a single person from that group. This misinformation is passed between generations even. I am not pointing fingers as I have some of these stereotypes myself. How do we combat it? Some say we need education or exposure but do we see and learn something different or do we shore up old attitudes? How many people do you know who have been through the Forensic mental health system? Many of you can only point to me but I suspect you have ideas that fall far from me.
It seems as though stereotypes are a form of communication. When we say Homosexuals are effeminate we can share a common perception. If we were without prejudice and stereotypes how would we know what the other describes? If you mentioned something about the Irish and I didn’t own the stereotype that they are heavy drinkers I would know nothing about them. They would simply be a group of humans who happen to reside at a certain latitude. Heaven forbid that I should see and treat them as such.