Identifying and Dismantling Race-Based Stereotypes and Myths

Race-based stereotypes and myths pose a great threat to racial equality. That’s because they can lead to prejudice and hatred, which, in turn, lead to discrimination against entire ethnic groups. The people who make up any given racial group are so unique that no generalization can capture who they are. In short, race-based stereotypes are dehumanizing.

To deconstruct stereotypes, it’s important to know how they work, identify the most common ones and understand which behaviors contribute to ethnic stereotyping. Racism won’t go away until the racial myths that fuel it do. 

What Is a Stereotype?

1970s housewife

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What is a stereotype? Stereotypes are qualities assigned to groups of people related to their race, nationality, gender, and sexual orientation, to name a few. There are negative race-based stereotypes and positive race-based stereotypes. But because they generalize groups of people in manners that lead to discrimination and ignore the diversity within groups, stereotypes should be avoided.

Instead, judge individuals based on your personal experiences with them and not on how you believe people from their ethnic group behave. Giving in to stereotypes can lead to people being treated poorly in stores, turned down for loans, overlooked in school and a host of other problems.

Race-Based Stereotypes in Food Branding

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Want to know what some of the oldest race-based stereotypes in the U.S. are? Take a look at some of the products in your kitchen. Racial stereotypes and myths have long been used in food advertising to market everything from rice, pancakes, and bananas. 

Do any of the items in your cupboards promote racial stereotypes? The items on this list may change your mind about what constitutes a racist food product. On the other hand, many advertisers have updated their packaging over the years to reflect more contemporary times.

Racially Offensive Costumes

Children dressed as Indians unintentionally perpetuate racism.
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Once upon a time, Halloween costumes were simple. Witches, princesses, and ghosts surfaced as the most popular get-ups. Not so anymore. In recent decades, the public has taken a fancy to costumes that make a statement. Unfortunately, these costumes sometimes promote ethnic stereotypes and race-based myths.

So, if you’re thinking about dressing up as an Indian, a Gypsy (a racist term for the Romani) or a Geisha for Halloween or another event, you might want to reconsider. Avoid racially offensive costumes and absolutely do not wear blackface on Halloween. Although activists have raised awareness about such issues over the years, each Halloween someone inevitably wears an offensive costume.

Five Common Stereotypes About Africa

A Tigray woman of Ethiopia
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Despite growing interest in Africa around the globe, racial stereotypes about it persist. Why? Many people continue to think of Africa as one huge country where everyone is the same, despite the fact that it is an enormous continent that's to some of the most populous countries in the world. It is home to a wide range of cultures, ethnic groups, languages and religions, and even ecosystems.

Do you harbor any stereotypes about Africa or Africans? The major racial myths about Africa concern its vegetation, economic struggles and the kind of people who live there. Confront your misconceptions here.

Five Myths About Multiracial People

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An increasing number of Americans identify as multiracial, but myths about mixed-race people persist. Although mixed-race people have existed in the U.S. ever since the first Europeans to step foot in North America encountered the indigenous peoples who already lived here, one major stereotype about multiracial people is that they're novelties in the United States.

Other misconceptions relate to how biracial people identify, what they look like and what their families should look like. Know any other misconceptions about mixed people? Consult this list to find out.

Tragic Mulatto Myth

Actress Susan Kohner in "Imitation of Life."

Universal Studios

A century ago, no one would've guessed that the United States would have a biracial president. At that time, many people believed that mixed-race people were destined to lead tragic lives, fitting into neither the black world nor the white one.

The tragic mulatto myth, as it's known, served as a cautionary tale to whites and blacks who dared to love across the color line. The myth has even been the focus of films like Hollywood classic "Imitation of Life."

Foes of miscegenation continue to parrot the claims that mixed-race individuals are doomed to unhappiness. In actuality, countless multiracial people have gone on to lead happy and productive lives, proving the tragic mulatto myth false.