Stereotyping refers to assigning a whole group of people characteristics that are exhibited only by a few members of that group. Every ethnic or racial grouping has stereotypes attached to it. It is common for stereotypes to result into intergroup tension which, sometimes, becomes violent. On the other hand, in many societies, stereotypes have been a source of parody and humor for ages. Examples of racial stereotypes are the following: African Americans are only good at basketball; Asians are geniuses; Hispanics cannot speak good English; white people are racists; and that all Asians know Karate. Now that we know what stereotypes are, let us focus at their role in maintaining racial hierarchies.
First of all, stereotypes have led to interracial subjugation. It is only in the past century that the US Government officially shed off racism. The infamous Jim Craw laws were founded on negative racial stereotypes and did more harm than good to the society. Stereotypes about white supremacy led to the rise of racist groups like the Ku Klux Klan. This led to the oppression of African Americans in many spheres of life (Healey 107). Other races like Hispanics and Asians were also not spared by the stereotype of white supremacy. These stereotypes made America wait until 2008 to elect a non-white president!
Racial stereotypes can also influence the performance of a race. For example, the stereotype that African Americans love basketball has indeed made many of them play basketball (Hagendoom 27). This is because when somebody is told something over and over again, he or she will most likely believe it (Healy 249). This tendency is a culprit for maintaining racial hierarchies as its long-term effect will be the absence of one race in some spheres. For instance, African Americans may remain in sports while Asians (stereotyped as geniuses) move into the more lucrative white-collar jobs.
It is the race that possesses positive stereotypes that normally reaps most benefits. If the American Asians are stereotyped as geniuses, they will most likely work hard to prove this positive trait (Healy 249). Another example is when the white race believed that it was superior and thus would make laws barring other races from voting. The white race could then influence most government policies. The opposite is also true, the race with most of the negative stereotypes stands to lose.
Affirmative action can curb racial stereotypes and avail opportunities to the historically discriminated races. This entails educating one and all on the fallacy that is racial stereotypes. We should also offer incentives to the historically disadvantaged races in order to make them exploit their full potential.