Righty: You have to be either blind or a political correctness fanatic (essentially the same thing) not to notice that blacks are superior athletes or that Jews are smart. Let’s face it: Asians love technology, Latin Americans love hot music, the Irish love drinking and politics. I’m not going out of my way to be offensive here; I’m just stating that we shouldn’t ignore the obvious. That’s what Lefty and his fellow PC freaks are doing when they deny the validity of stereotypes. I find it exasperating that godless liberals insist on explaining evolution strictly in genetic terms, yet they throw a hissy fit if you mention the role of genetics in determining the behavior of ethnic groups. We know that individual dog breeds, for example, exhibit distinct behavioral traits that have been perpetuated through selective breeding. Why shouldn’t it be the same with members of ethnic groups that have married within their own tribe for centuries?
Lefty: I won’t dignify Righty’s ghastly prejudices with a lengthy retort; I’ll let his ignorance speak for itself. (With his comparison of ethnic groups to dog breeds, Righty has just possibly reached a new low even by his standards.) Let me just assert that stereotypes are responsible for some of the most hateful crimes in human history, including most genocides. We reduce living, breathing individuals to identical units in a group. Then we dispose of the group. So neat and convenient, isn’t it? (Shudder.)
The New Moderate:
Stereotypes aren’t simply the wild fabrications of flaming bigots. Nearly all stereotypes, crude as they are, contain a kernel of truth that no open-minded person can deny. Jews, on average, do have higher IQs (and incomes) than the rest of us. Blacks do comprise a vastly disproportionate percentage of basketball, football, boxing and track superstars. And nobody who listens to hip-hop can honestly dispute the much-ridiculed notion that black people seem to possess a racially inherited sense of rhythm. Nearly all black music and dance — African and African-American alike — inform our ears and eyes that they do. Whether the inheritance is genetic or cultural is beside the point; all that matters is the finished product.
Is the black rhythm hypothesis a blatant stereotype? Of course it is, and a relatively silly one at that. But is it an inaccurate stereotype? I don’t think so. We know it doesn’t apply to all black people (we’re not sure we’d want to see Oprah attempt to break-dance), but it applies to enough blacks within our experience to make the generalization stick.
Why do Lefty and Company profess to detest all stereotypes — even positive ones? Because stereotypes deny due credit to individual talents and efforts. (If blacks are naturally superior athletes, then it follows that Willie Mays and Muhammad Ali were nothing special.) More insidiously, the mind that observes positive stereotypes is likely to use the same mental tools to concoct negative stereotypes. To the stereotyping mind, Jews are smart but also pushy; blacks are not only physically talented but intellectually indifferent. You can see why we’d want to avoid this line of thinking.
The New Moderate should point out that stereotyping isn’t an exclusive pastime of the right. (Those who accuse right-wingers of indulging in stereotypes are themselves indulging in stereotypes.) Lefty’s opinions of fundamentalist Christians, Republicans, the military, white male authority figures, Texans and other mortal enemies bear a distinct resemblance to stereotypes — even vicious stereotypes — though of course Lefty would simply shrug and insist that the truth can be unflattering.
Why do so many of us — right, left and center alike — engage in stereotyping? Because stereotypes help create order in a disorderly world. If you know what to expect from Group A or Group B (or think you know what to expect), then you know (or think you know) what to expect from all the individuals in those groups. Stereotypes help an uncertain soul feel more at ease in the cosmos.
Regardless of the common traits passed down from one generation to the next, all ethnic groups are made up of individuals. The more individual those individuals are, the less they resemble the group norm. Talented Jewish athletes and black scholars should never have to find themselves imprisoned by group stereotypes. Neither should heterosexual male interior decorators or gay airline pilots. Stereotypes are valid only as crude caricatures of group characteristics (and I’m probably giving them too much credit). They should never, ever be used to prejudge individuals within the group.
The folks who do resemble the negative stereotypes for their group are usually the ones who haven’t bothered to develop as individuals. Gun-toting black thugs, Jewish wheeler-dealers, puritanical WASPs, boorish Russians and rednecks, bland Asian technogeeks, compulsively clannish Greeks and Armenians, slap-happy Irish drunks… all of them exist in real life, at least to a degree — and they tend to make their more enlightened kinsmen blush on behalf of their tribe.
The unenlightened ones simply inherit their behavior from their family and neighbors, follow the path of least resistance and never carve out their own identities. They’re still creatures of the herd, and their numbers are probably larger than we’d comfortably like to admit. But do they deserve recognition as fitting representatives of their breed? Absolutely not. We should cheer all the quirky mavericks who emerge from those groups: nerdy blacks, lovably goofy Germans, ethereal Latinos, math-averse Asian rock stars and fashion-challenged gay men. They give us reassuring evidence that individualism is stronger than inheritance.
Summary: Most stereotypes contain nuggets of truth about various groups, but they’re only crude caricatures and should never be used to prejudge individuals within a group.