So let's talk about stereotypes. In class we briefly touched on them, attributing Herder's writing as stereotyped. What exactly is a stereotype though? The Oxford Dictionary tells us it is "a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing," This seems to be a solid definition, but I am dissatisfied by it's lack of attention to one of the most important aspects of stereotypes: that fact that they are necessary.
Dr. Johnson actually stated this in class, but did not expound on it much beyond an observation. I feel, however, that the issue of stereotype deserves much attention since it is a huge factor in racism and discussions of racial differences. I'm sure the students in our class have experienced at one time or another the accusation that they had stereotyped some people and then attributed it in their minds to something bad. Don't fret. Stereotypes are a part of the human psyche and, despite what political correctness suggests, stereotypes are absolutely necessary to our experience in the world and therefor not a bad thing. Imagine this; you walk into a room and see thirty people you have never met before. Immediately you scan the crowd; you are looking for people's characteristics, like are they male or female, short or tall, heavy or skinny, and ethnically different from yourself. This is how every person gets a grasp on meeting new people. We look at what's visible and then from that apply a judgment call to those people. From these observances we apply stereotypes. By doing this we have taken a room of thirty people and made it less foreboding and more 'discovered' without ever talking to a single person.
Clearly, this is a seemingly negative way to approach new people. I would agree that the best way to get to know someone is to talk to them and get to know them. This is where stereotypes come into play however; they are not something we can fight or claim freedom from. Stereotypes are the way our mind deals with meeting new individuals. We can to handle the complexities of rediscovering everything from scratch about someone that we meet. Instead, we apply stereotypes and discover how that person deviates over time. Stereotypes therefor are an essential part of our mental survival. We group things, apply labels and assumptions, and ascribe stereotypes. Without doing these we would have to memorize specific characteristics about every person and thing we encounter, which is something we simply don't have the mental capacity to do.
As this applies to race, many stereotypes are, unfortunately, negative. There is a theory that stereotypes, especially negative ones, are perpetuated because it builds up positive feelings in the stereotyper. I can see this a valid especially since there is an inclination for us to improve the perception of ourselves compared to others. Among people, stereotyping attributes to the grouping inclination we have to include certain people as 'us' and others as 'them'. This is simple human nature. All we can hope to do in discovering the truths about others that conflict with our stereotypes is to reevaluate our stereotypes in a more positive light. The stereotypes themselves will never disappear. but hopefully they will become better.