A STEREOTYPE is an over-simplified label that describes a group of people.
Putting objects into groups and labeling them can be helpful. For instance, children might put crayons in a crayon box to protect them. A carpenter might keep nails in a box labeled “nails” and bolts in another box labeled “bolts” so that they will be easy to find. Categorizing people is much more complicated. Grouping and labeling people does not take into account their individual differences and may lead to misunderstanding or insult. Some stereotypes may be accurate, but many are not. Some stereotypes are complimentary, but some are hurtful.
Stereotypes are based on an accumulation of assumptions and/or prejudices. Stereotypes can be found in books and magazines, on television, in the movies, in cartoons, and in commercials and advertisements. Songs, toys, video games, school logos and team mascots sometimes use and promote stereotypes. Stereotypes are also present in figures of speech. These expressions are very often used incorrectly, are insulting, or just wrong.
Examples of Stereotypes
All children can ride a bike.
Some can and some cannot.
All adults know how to drive a car.
Some do and some do not.
All Americans own their own house.
Some do and some do not.
All Native Americans lived in tepees.
This statement is inaccurate because only the Plains Indians lived in teepees. Some Native Americans lived in chickees, some in wigwams, and some in hogans. The Haudenosaunee lived in longhouses. There were many kinds of Native American homes depending on climate, life style, and the kinds of building materials that were available. Today, most Native Americans live in homes that look just like yours.
All Native Americans carve totem poles.
This statement is misleading because not all Native Americans made totem poles. Native Americans of the northwest coast used to carve totem poles. Some still make totem poles today. The making of totem poles today isn’t limited to just the Native people of the Northwest. There are many Native artists from a variety of Nations and tribes who have adopted this art form.
All Native Americans have the same traditions and language.
There are hundreds of different Native American tribes and nations. Each has their own history, songs, dances, stories, language, beliefs, culture, and traditions.
All Native Americans have high cheek bones and long, black, straight hair.
Some do and some don’t. Some are tall. Some are short. Some have straight hair and some have curly hair. Native Americans have different hair and eye color. Each Native American person has their own look.
An assumption is an idea or opinion that is believed to be true, but is without proof. Assumptions sound logical, but are not necessarily true. They may be based on limited or incorrect information.
Examples of assumptions:
I assume all Native Americans have forgotten their traditions because so many drive cars and wear the same kind of clothing as everyone else.
(Actually, many Native people still follow their traditional teachings even though they might live in an apartment building and dress in a business suit or jeans and a sweatshirt.)
I assume that all Native Americans who know how to speak English do not want to continue speaking their tribal languages.
(More and more Native Americans are working hard to learn and teach their native languages so that they can function in more than one society while maintaining their own identity.)
I assume all Native Americans know how to make beaded jewelry and weave baskets.
(Some do and some don’t. Some Native Americans know their traditional teachings, some know non-traditional ways and some know a combination of both. It is possible for a traditional basket maker to also have a college degree and know how to use modern technology. Some Native Americans today are artists, lawyers, teachers, electricians, entertainers, or doctors and still respect the teachings of their ancestors.)
Prejudice is having a negative opinion of a person or group of people without reason, without knowing all of the facts, or from fear of the unfamiliar. It is very often based on the stereotypes and assumptions that are learned from other people or from the media. Prejudice grows from fear, mistrust, and anger. Like stereotypes and unfair assumptions, prejudice can be hurtful.
Examples of prejudicial remarks:
The only good Indian is a dead Indian.
Native Americans are savages, pagans, and sneaky.
Native Americans never contributed anything worthwhile to the world.
Native Americans are primitive.
Native Americans are warlike and should be feared.
Native Americans are less than human.
Examples of discrimination:
Starting in the late 1800’s, many Native children were taken away from their families and communities and put into residential schools where they were not permitted to speak their languages or practice their cultural traditions. Their hair was cut and their traditional clothing was replaced with uniforms and non-Native clothing.
(This was done in an effort to turn Native American children into non-Natives. At that time, it was believed by some that Native traditions were not to be valued. Today, many people around the world show great respect for Native American teachings and traditions.)
Historically, many Native Americans were removed from their ancestral homelands and forced to live in places that no one else wanted to inhabit.
(They were usually removed to land that no one else wanted and relocated to lands far from non-Natives. For example: many Cherokees were forced to walk hundreds of miles in the dead of winter and leave their possessions behind. (read about The Trail of Tears).)