By: Kylie J.

We have all been at both sides of a stereotype - either we’ve been stereotyped or applied them to others. We are told to be ourselves but then again how can we be ourselves when stereotypes hinder us from being just that? Where did this term come from that has such a huge impact on society today and the way we act or are perceived by it? 

Well to start it off a stereotype is a set of assumptions, usually negative, that are based on minimal information, about the characteristics of a group or an individual. They aren't necessarily all negative, they can be neutral or positive as well. According to Merriam-Webster, “The word is French in origin: stéréotype. Stéré- correlates to English's stere-; both mean "solid." Stereotypes were not moving (or movable) type, but solid type.” The stereotypes that we form today come from the media, cultural influences, and our parents or guardians. 

Credits: Markus Spiske

As human beings, our brains tend to naturally assess everything we come in contact with. We automatically put people into categories even if we are not consciously aware that we are doing so. We search for where people fit in society and sometimes treat them based on that. We do this to avoid conflict and bad situations later on. The majority of stereotypes often stem from an assumed truth and are then manipulated beyond reality. It’s like a rumor, when a person hears something from one person, and then they tell it to another person but they bend the truth, which then spreads and makes everyone believe a lie that was twisted.

Because we are raised around certain beliefs, stereotypes form from the beginning of when a child can understand their surroundings. They can also come from your own experiences with a group of people or an individual. 

For example, the stereotype that all black people like watermelon has been rooted deep into our society first beginning with slavery. Watermelons served as a symbol of slaves’ freedom after they won their emancipation during the Civil War. So when black people grew and ate watermelon, it was seen as a threat to society and the racial order that was put in place. In response, white people in the south responded by making watermelon a symbol of laziness, ignorance, impurity, and representative of how they felt that black people were an unwelcome presence. 

credits: British Library

This stereotype was revived again during the Jim Crow Era. It was used as propaganda to discriminate against African Americans. This stereotype has caused great harm to the African American community, and it’s still present today in society because it was passed through generations and seen in the media that we consume. This would be an example of a negative stereotype.

However, most people do depend upon stereotypes nearly every day to help them navigate society. According to, “For designers, stereotypes act as a jumping-off point for understanding an audience.” In this case, a stereotype helps fashion progress and understand people's buying patterns based on their needs. Of course, stereotypes aren’t true about a whole group of people but in this case, it helps the designers have a generalization about the wants and needs of the people. This helps the fashion world thrive. 

credits: Darling Arias

Another negative about a stereotype is that when a stereotype is formed, most are difficult to change. This is most likely because as people we need security and stable environments. And without forming a stereotype people have to get out of their comfort zone and make their assumptions about a person. This is why most people stick to stereotypes because they don't want to admit that they have been wrong and grow from their previous behavior.

To avoid stereotypes we as people need to be more open and better about not making assumptions about a group of people. Exploring different cultures firsthand and not believing everything you hear about people from someone that has nothing to do with them would be the first step. I could go on and on about stereotypes but just knowing that stereotypes aren’t always negative or positive is a start. 


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