As I’ve noted before, stereotypes persist in all human cultures, unfortunately partly because they’re convenient mental shortcuts, and partly, again unfortunately, because the group being stereotyped almost always has within it individuals, almost always a significant minority, if not more, whose characteristics fit that stereotype. There are two kinds of buy-ins, one by outsiders doing the stereotyping and one by members of the group being stereotyped.
Part of the underlying problem with stereotyping is that stereotyping often results from pressures either within or outside the group being stereotyped. Historically, for example, Jews were stereotyped as being usurious and greedy money-lenders, but in much of Europe for centuries, money-lending and banking were among the few non-menial professions open to Jews, and certainly it was the most lucrative. Among young inner city ethnic males, failure to adhere to certain styles of dress and behavior can be detrimental to one’s health and well-being. The problem, unfortunately, is that such attire and behavior are regarded as socially undesirable, if not a warning of imminent danger, by most of those outside that ethnic male community. This obviously creates not only a social but an economic problem. The behavior and dress that allow day-to-day survival mitigate against success outside the community.
The same pressures also exist in other “communities,” although they’re seldom mentioned. Wall Street financiers are often stereotyped as greedy, heartless, and self-centered money-grubbers. The problem there is that, at least from what I’ve seen, having any sort of conscience or awareness of the impact of their actions beyond Wall Street is extremely detrimental to their day-to-day success.
At the same time, what all too many people within such groups fail to understand is that appearances and behavior matter. They affect perceptions of outsiders and how they deal with members of the group being stereotyped. What also overlooked, or at least seldom mentioned, is that stereotypes are far more detrimental to members of groups with less economic and political power. Unemployed and less educated minority youth seldom have either; Wall Street financiers and attorneys, aka shysters and ambulance chasers or, in more refined circles, “hired guns for sale to the highest bidder,” have both power and money, and money and power tend to override stereotypes, which may be another reason why so many pursue both so vigorously, rather than actual expertise in a given field.
There’s no easy answer to stereotyping, as Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, just found out, when trying to explain how he’d react to encountering various “stereotypes” on a dark street. Yet I’d be willing to bet that 99% of all Americans would do exactly what he said he’d do.