Friday, October 31, 2008

BOB RIEL: Prejudice and Stereotypes

1. What are some of the things people who don't know you very well tend to think about you?

Well, I just got back from an appointment with a new chiropractor and am currently sitting in a local cafe, where I just had a short conversation about coffee and Halloween with a barista who only recently began working here. Neither of these individuals know me well at all, so what would their impressions be of me? I think for someone who doesn't know me very well, I come across as friendly, down to earth, calm, probably unexcitable. People who know me slightly better probably assume I am relatively organized.

2. Which of these assumptions are true?

All of them, at least to some degree (otherwise people wouldn't get a certain impression, right?). However, with people who know me well, I think I'm more excitable, have more interests and am less organized than I probably show in public.

3. Which stereotypes about your country are true about you, if any?

Americans are generally seen as a friendly people. They are also perceived to be individualists and risk-takers. And, for better or worse, I guess most non-U.S. citizens perceive Americans to be woefully uninformed about or uninterested in the rest of the world. I meet the first stereotype in that I'm a friendly person who is easy to get along with. I'm an intermittent risk-taker (more than some people but less than others, and perhaps less than I should be). I am, though, very interested in the rest of the world.

4. What are situations in which you find yourself to be prejudiced?

Does it make sense to be prejudiced against people who are prejudiced? And does this mean, in fact, that I'm no better than those I'm prejudiced against? Sorry, but I do find myself with a prejudice against those who judge others by their skin color or their education or whatever. And I can't help myself, but I'm prejudiced against the right-wing nutjobs who make up the base of the national Republican party here in the U.S. Not against all Republicans, as there are some very good and reasonable ones out there, but some of these people really need to get a grip on reality.

5. To you, what value is there in stereotypes?

Stereotypes are valuable to the degree that they give us a flavor of the truth. Just as in question one, surface assumptions about an individual have at least some basis in reality but are rarely the entire story. It's the same with stereotypes about a people or culture. They are not completely true, but there are enough nuggets of truth to give us insight into how a people act and think.

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