Understanding Black folks or stereotyping in 10 steps (or less)

Gregg Reese | 10/3/2013, midnight
In our post-racial landscape, advancements are undeniable, but the old stereotypes live on.

In our post-racial landscape, advancements are undeniable, but the old stereotypes live on.

“The man who walks out of his house with a mind devoid of stereotypes is like the man who goes to the Antarctic without having inquired about the weather. But there is no such man; for even to know that the Antarctic exists is to know that it tends to be cold there. Our minds are necessarily full of stereotypes, and we could not negotiate the world without them.”

—From “Types of Stereotypes,” by Theodore Dalrymple in the Aug. 19, 2013 issue of National Review online.

The discourse about stereotypes is at a fever pitch with all the racially related crimes in recent headlines. In the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman hullabaloo, America has, in short order, experienced the drive-by murder of an Australian college athlete by a racially mixed group of teenagers (two Black, one White) in Oklahoma; the brutal beating of an 88-year-old World War II veteran by two Black teens in Washington state; and a White teenager being beaten by a group of his Black peers on a Florida school bus, caught on video; a film clip that was aired repeatedly for days afterwards.

It goes without saying that racial categorizing, or pigeonholing is a well-established precedence within these United States, but these recent acts of malfeasance have, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, been exposed to folks who will possibly never set foot on these shores. Yet and still, they have a mental picture, not only of a distant land, but the behavior and morals of the people therein.

Let’s start off with the notion that stereotypes are a necessary evil in a complex world. According to researchers like J. Andy Karafa, Ph.D., associate dean of Arts and Sciences at Ferris State University, they are the means by which we make sense of the chaos that confronts us on a daily basis. They are, if you will, a sort of mental short cut that tells us how to react to people and situations for which we have no time to thoroughly analyze and process, and in turn, come up with an unbiased assessment.


The images of some contemporary public figures might be considered a rehash of the “Brute” stereotype as depicted on the cover of Charles Carroll’s 1990 quasi-scientific tome, “The Negro, a Beast.”

Stereotypes are also used in a sociological context, where they arguably can be employed as a means to control and undermine select groups of people. As time goes on, these stereotypes may evolve, or be intentionally altered to conform to societal change. Occasionally, stereotypes are tailored in order to serve a particular purpose or accomplish a specific agenda.

With the founding of the New World and the need to secure a robust labor force to conform this virgin territory into a European ideal, the newly arrived pioneers saw fit to validate and justify the system implemented to provide a proper workforce (slavery) in this hostile environment. In doing so, they had to overcome the considerable obstacle of moral justification for an institution they saw as so economically necessary for the survival of themselves and the newly formed union (just as they needed justification for the seizure of land from indigenous peoples).