Julian Abagond: “Stereotypes have some truth to them”

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By Julian Abagond

“Stereotypes have some truth to them” has some truth to it but not in the way people think. That truth is not about the stereotyped but the stereotyper.

First, stereotypes are kept alive by confirmation bias: We notice the few examples that fit the stereotype and overlook the ton of examples that do not. This has been proved by studies.

For example, here are two stereotypes that I used to think had some truth to them:

  1. Black women are harder to get along with than white women.
  2. Asians are more serious about their studies than whites or blacks.

So when I argue with my wife, it “proves” the first one true – even though I have never been with a white woman!

Or when I go to the library and see Asians there I think, “See how studious they are!” – even though there are way more blacks and whites there doing their homework!

That is confirmation bias. Stereotypes are not based in fact but instead make you blind to the facts.

Second, stereotypes can be made up out of thin air.

For example, black people are supposed to love watermelon way more than anyone. But when I looked  it up on the Internet  it was Asians who ate the most watermelon by far of anyone in America. Blacks do eat more watermelon than whites but the difference is so slight – like a slice more a year – that no one would notice it.

Or: Some white people say that there are all these black rapists on the loose going after white women. They said the government numbers proved it! But when I looked at the numbers for myself I found out that they had imagined the whole thing!

Or: When I read about the Mammy stereotype I found out it was made up by white people in the early 1800s to defend slavery! Made up.

Third, whites know so little about black people they must be talking about themselves.

Whites keep themselves apart from blacks. So much so that they seem to get most of what they know about blacks from television. But television  is put together by other whites who, if anything, know even less about blacks since they can afford to keep themselves even more apart. The blinder leading the blind.

In effect black people become a canvas on which white people paint their fears and self-serving lies. So stereotypes often become this strange mirror of white people:

  • Whites got rich off of black slave labour. So blacks are pictured as not wanting to work hard, as being a drain on society.
  • White men raped black slave women in such huge numbers that Black Americans are now 15% white. So black men are pictured as dangerous rapists.
  • White men use to kill blacks without fear of the law. So black men are seen as violent and dangerous without fear of the law.
  • Whites repeatedly broke their treaties with American Indians, so now “Indian giver” means someone who takes back what he promised.

Read original story here.

 This piece was reprinted by Migrant Tales with permission.


  1. JM

    One thing I don’t like about racial generalizations is how an assumption based on one group of people applies to the rest. For example, nobody is going to argue that the Zulu and the Somalis are quite different people from each other culturally, historically and geographically, yet if someone sees either they are both going to identify them both with the same black stereotypes. I’ve heard a suggestion given to a Somali kid that he should play basketball because “he’d be good at it” when this kid didn’t even like basketball!

    Same with white people, I’ve seen statements directed against the English-descended so-called WASPS (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants) in North America as being responsible for slavery, colonialism, etc yet people of European origin who have had nothing to do with the slave trade of the Americas or with colonizations like say, Belarusians or Croats get this stereotype attached to them as well. I met a Belarusian youth many years ago at a hostel in New York, he had never been to North America to before, came from a country that had nothing to do with Western European Imperialism and hadn’t even really seen a black person before and when I was accompanying on the street a black man asked him for some money for bus fare and when he didn’t give it the black man called him a “white boy.” I found this ironic since the implication of “white privilege” was something foreign to this Belarusian kid. He didn’t even really identify himself as white but as Belarusian first and foremost.

    For Asians, I know very few people who can tell the difference between traditional Korean and Japanese architecture, I’ve heard many people refer to Japanese architecture as Chinese architecture.

    I think the so-called “New World” or colonial world like Canada, the United States, Brazil Argentina, Colombia, etc are largely responsible for racial generalizations since this is where people of different “races” had interaction with each other without the unique, individual differences amongst each other obvious. The exportation of this mentality has found its way to Europe. For example, up until several decades ago, the British identified themselves as “British vs. non-British” nowadays, because of large-scale immigration from outside Europe and a heavy influence from American racial issues, British people have become categorized into “white British,” “black British” etc. Personally, I think these racial generalizations are somewhat foreign to Europe and divide the population, help induce stereotypes and combat integration. Luckily, no other European country as so far imported the New World racial classification system. In Sweden for example, one can still be “Swedish” depending on whether one is of Albanian, Moroccan or Somali origin. Of course, there will be people who say you can’t be Swedish unless you talk, look and act a certain way (and have a certain name) but they aren’t in the majority.