Stereotyping and Practical Reading and Writing

How Stereotyping Works
Stereotyping acts as a shortcut to thinking. It sounds innocent enough. All humans stereotype–even you. Instead of actively seeing or observing, when we stereotype we make an assumption that the individual fits our notion of what the group is like. For example, I’m Scottish. I know that, in America, Scottish people are stereotyped as being frugal to the point of stinginess.  (Think Scrooge McDuck.)  While this might seem like an innocent stereotype, it has its consequences.

We put things into neat categories so that they don’t arrest our attention. If you were driving home and noticed every new thing, you wouldn’t be able to function. Having stated this, it is likely that your next drive home will be cursed by noticing something new!  Our minds operate through the notion of grouping. (I won’t get into this here, but I would like to recommend a great book, Steven Pinker’s How the Mind Works . It was published by Norton in 1997.) Do you know people whose lives are especially guided by stereotyping?

In this sense, stereotyping is a survival skill. People get into trouble when they apply stereotypes to race, class, ethnicity and gender. We need look no farther than the Holocaust to see the disastrous effects of stereotyping. But in any college-level course, we ask students look further.

We all have been stereotyped at one point, whether it is for our height, weight, eyebrows, shoes, speech patterns, etc. See if you can relate to our readings through your own experiences.

Interesting question: How does nationalism play upon stereotypes? This is a complex issue, isn’t it?  Writers can avoid this tendency toward stereotyping by knowing their preferred prewriting techniques while also having a few back-up approaches.  For instance, I might use clustering and listing, with reporters’ questions as my go-to in case these don’t work well.  I can also be aware that I tend to like certain approaches to the ways I get into arguments.  Changing up those tired approaches can help me refine them or even scrap them when they are counterproductive.  I can also get a better idea of my opponents’ approaches if I’m not using a single way of writing.

This applies as well to reading.  Everyone should mark up the text in some fashion–whether it’s with pen/pencil or a device’s annotation tools.

Read Flexibly
Can a flexible approach to a topic be managed if the writer is closed-minded?  What if the writer puts on blinders, only seeing what they wish to?  You’ll be frustrated as a reader and writer if you approach any of response assignment only from a fixed perspective.  Often, one has to “check weapons at the door” and be prepared to learn something new Those figurative weapons are the stereotypes we gather.  

Writers invite you into a version of their world.  Think about the ability for you to read a sonnet from Shakespeare now in pretty much the same breathing patterns in which he created it.  Exciting stuff!

Stereotyping is something we all do. It allows us to go through the world without stopping at every new thing we see in order to examine and categorize it.