On Stereotyping

17 Sep

All parents should read this post by Daddysan – make that everyone!

Stereotypes classify people based on a set of standardized, widely-held beliefs. This isn’t very different from segmenting consumers in Marketing theory. We use terms like behavioral segmentation, attitudinal segmentation, etc and stereotypes are a special case of segmentation where nuance is sacrificed for the convenience of reducing complexity. Why complexity? Because dealing with humans is an arduous task. Stereotyping may also be an offshoot of the need to process information efficiently to survive. Decision-making becomes tougher as the number of discrete pieces of information we have to process increase…We can utilize the time saved to formulate sophisticated survival strategies instead of spending it merely coming to terms with our environment…

So is this process of applying experience, precedent and biases inherently wrong? Not every time.

So why do cultural sterotypes always sound so wrong? “Rapist Delhi boy”, “Studious, culturally evolved, doe-eyed tamilian girl”, “Stingy marwari”, “Rude Puneri from sadashiv peth” are some prime examples.

Motive, open-mindedness, communication and sensitivity.

If my motive is malice, it’s rather easy to put together the least desirable characteristics of a community and paint everyone with the same brush. Malice could be driven by revenge (assumed in the case of the offending blogpost above), humor (cultural and racial stereotypes are perfect fodder for comedy, as evinced by Chris Rock’s hilarious takedowns of African-Americans and their quirks) or utter joblessness and a nasty streak to put down people perceived better than themselves (trolls). On the other hand, like my example of categorizing clients, one may genuinely be looking to reduce complexity in decisions. Classification in such cases is just that, classification. They turn into stereotypes when there is lack of open-mindedness…

Stereotypes aren’t “wrong”. It’s what you do with them which makes them right or wrong.

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Posted by on September 17, 2011 in Links


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