Profiling, Stereotypes, And Why You And Me Are Different Individually But Similar As A Group


I often comment about the natural diversity of man (ok.. humans) and while that tends to define us individually we are nearly as equally identified by groupings; that is, numbers of humans with similar consistencies. 

A collection of head shots showing multiple races

Sources of stereotypes

That extends the variety of our species even more.  For example, we know that humans come in different skin colors, certain physical characteristics, eye color, and the simpliest grouping of our species… our gender.  Some of us have a penis and some don’t.   Those that do are socially required to dispose of their bodily waste in different rooms than those humans who do not have a penis; a discrimination based on physical gender attributes. A stereotype would be assigning a human being to one room or the other by using identification factors other than direct physical gender identification. For example, one stereotype might be humans without a penis tend to have shorter hair on their heads. If we are in a group of fellow humans and unable to determine direct gender identification (because of clothes covering the area) we might look at the hair on the head and make a judgement call that if the hair is short they must have a penis and therefore should go to the room for.. penis-humans. But.. obviously a non-penis human could have short hair, although not common. Those persons risk being identified incorrectly and expected to go to the wrong room to take care of nature’s call (and we all know the public scourn, redicule, and embarrassment that would bring).

Stereotypes Anyone?

Stereotypes Anyone?

This little exercise simplfies the idea of stereotypical judgements being part of our human makeup.  As a species we are given the mental ability to identify with our surroundings, determine cause and effect situations to manipulate our environment, and draw conclusions to assure our survival as individuals and ultimately as a species.  This means each one of us is inbred with the means to separate, classify, and discriminate in order to meet the survival challenges of our environment.  So while our contemporary belief that stereotyping leads to discrimination and discrimination is bad… is really an extension of our own survival mechanisms conflicting with social awareness.

The whole point here is that in order to understand why we are even debating social discrimination based on stereotyping we need to understand that it is a part of what makes us human… and what we need to survive as a species.  Now… the contemporary society that we humans have created for maximizing our survival and allowing for an equal application of social laws for the welfare of all humans, calls for controls of those inbred traits of discrimination if said discrimination creates an unfair survival advantage or disadvantage toward a specific group of us humans.

Ok, if we kick-start our discussion here to more relative discrimination practices, we can recall vividly the civil rights struggles of the past and the racial discrimination of that period.  People were made to suffer in most facets of society based on skin color alone.  As a result stereotypes, factual or contrived, carried this discrimination even further.  As a result of those that fought for civil rights our society is a better place, albeit far from perfect by any means.  But a lot of that which might linger might be the best we will get because of ourselves.  I don’t mean that we should not continue to fight against racial discrimination whether the race is black, Asian, Hispanic/Mexican, whatever… but that some stereotypes (which does not necessarily foster discrimination) are just going to stay until they eventually evolve out of importance.

Nowadays an area where we like to attribute the excesses of racial stereotyping and profiling, or stereotyping by any means, is with law enforcement.  But while we debate the use of racial profiling in law enforcement it is exactly this ability that makes law enforcement more effective.  If the police have determined that there is a seemingly high number of Hispanics who drive souped up street vehicles being caught transporting illegal drugs along a certain highway then does it not make sense that they indeed have a profile of a potential offending group?  To be sure, there are likely many law abiding Hispanic people driving souped up street vehicles… and if they are driving down that road they would likely be stopped… and therein is the rub.  So that forces society to develop “reasonable cause” for stopping someone, in order not to overtly violate a person’s civil rights on stereotype alone.

But the bottom line is that we are all stereotyped and profiled in life.  Here’s another simple example;  auto insurance.  Those folks use stastistical tables and actuarial charts to determine rates.  If I want to insure my 2002 Honda Accord I will likely be quoted a rate that would suggest that my age combined with the conservative nature of my vehicle will be a lower risk because I likely drive conservatively and will have less chance for an accident.  On the other hand, if I want to insure a Vette then the insurance company presumes I have an affinity for speed and will drive in a manner that might be more inclined to have an accident… even if I still had a conservative driving habit and liked the car for driving to church on sundays.  Being stereotyped and profiled in some form is part of life.  It’s why trucks and SUV‘s and beer is advertised during sports games even though there are many sports fans who drive sedans and drink Coke.  There’s no doubt of the profile they feel makes up the average sports fan.

In fact, stereotyping and discrimination makes up a lot of our humor in our society.  From the apparent “tastless and crude” around the water cooler to mainstream late night monologs and comedy clubs… we love laughing at ourselves because of our similarities to others and whatever stereotypical group we might be a member of. 

My suggestion… we need to ease up on ourselves.  Yeah.. the maintaining of our civil rights is one thing in combating overt racism, but as much as we try to be individuals we are still members of that one great club that separates us from other living things.. human beings.  When we pass on the street I will most certainly pass stereotypic judgement on you based on your appearence.  If you open your mouth I will most certainly pass more stereotypic judgment about you.  But if we never met we’d never know if our stereotypic judgements of each other would have turned us into friends.  Opportunity lost.  I’m letting you know up front, though, I’m one of those with a penis.

One thought on “Profiling, Stereotypes, And Why You And Me Are Different Individually But Similar As A Group

  1. Pingback: The Psych Life » The Bronze Screen: Discrimination in Latin Hollywood [Guest Author - Adrian Espinoza]

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