The Psychology of Stereotypes

The Psychology of Stereotypes - Kevin Albano Prof Mark...

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Kevin Albano Prof. Mark Karlins ENG-0002-23 January 29, 2008 Racism and Stereotypes: A Historical and Psychological Examination In Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing , five characters of different races turn directly to the camera and angrily vociferate a long list of racial slurs about other ethnicities that, in the end, leaves the viewer wondering what hit them. One hears time old slanders and massive generalizations, combined with new sounding stereotypes that everybody seems to understand. What underlying commentary about race relations in America today did Spike Lee have by including this upsetting, disturbing scene in the film? Continuing in that direction, why, despite the fact the stereotypes are often exceedingly untrue, do we still hold onto them? In this paper I will examine these questions through a historical and psychological background, showing that despite all efforts to be accepting and outreaching to people of other races, people still harbor a slew racist language that, under extreme conditions, can be unleashed as self-defense. Where do stereotypes even begin? For this question, African American history will serve as a good example. During the slave period performances, there was a distinction between how slaves would act when in public than how they behaved behind closed doors, out of view from the master. Public performances were always in the spirit of happiness, full of instrument playing, dancing, singing, skits and smiles. Private performances, however, expressed intellectual ideas rather than one feeling of joy. For example, slaves were consistently telling stories or fables with their body movements, as they were not allowed to use their native language, that taught younger audiences virtues
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and rules to live by. These were stories passed down over generations and portrayed strong African cultural beliefs, such as kunto – the belief in a connection between spiritual worlds, and nommo – or the belief that one’s actions can dictate what will happen to them in the future (Pre-Colonial African Popular Theater, David Kerr, 1995).
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