Stereotypes of groups within the United States

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Stereotypes exist of various groups of people as found within US culture. These stereotypes may be disproportionately well known to people worldwide, due to the transmission of US culture and values via the export of US made films and television shows.

Ethnic groups[edit]

Native Americans[edit]

There has long been an admiration of Native Americans as fitting the archetype of the noble savage within European thought, stemming from a cultural sympathy grounded within the post-Enlightenment theory of primitivism.[1][2] These positive portrayals of Native Americans as being noble, peaceful people, who lived in harmony with nature and each other continue within modern culture, e.g. the 1990 film Dances with Wolves.

Over time, as settlers spread west, Native Americans were seen as obstacles and their image became more negative. Native Americans were portrayed in popular media as wild, primitive, uncivilized, dangerous people who continuously attack white settlers, cowboys, and stagecoaches and ululate while holding one hand in front of their mouths. They speak invariably in a deep voice and use stop words like "How" and "Ugh".

In drawings their skin color was depicted as deep red. In westerns and other media portrayals they are usually called "Indians". Examples of this stereotypical image of Native Americans can be found in many American westerns until the early 1960s, and in cartoons like Peter Pan. In other stereotypes, they smoked peace pipes, wore face paint, danced around totem poles (often with a hostage tied to them), sent smoke signals, lived in tepees, wore feathered head-dresses, scalped their foes, and said 'um' instead of 'the' or 'a'.

As colonization continued in the U.S., groups were separated into categories like "Christians" and "civilized" against "heathen" and "savage". Many Whites view Native Americans as devoid of self-control and unable to handle responsibility. It is thought that such ideas about Native Americans form the ideology that is used today to justify the disparity between Whites and Native Americans.[3] Today, a 19th-century stereotype of Native Americans lives on for many people[who?]. Modern Native Americans as they live today are rarely portrayed in popular culture.

Native Americans were also portrayed as all-bring fierce warrior braves—often appearing in school sports teams' names until such team names fell into disfavor in the later 20th century. Many school team names have been revised to reflect current sensibilities, though professional teams like the Kansas City Chiefs, the Atlanta Braves, the Cleveland Indians, and the Washington Redskins continue. Some controversial upper-level Native American team mascots such as Chief Noc-A-Homa and Chief Illiniwek have been discontinued; others like Chief Wahoo and Chief Osceola and Renegade remain.

Native American gaming has been expanding since the 1970s, and was formalized in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. It has become a modern stereotype that a Native American must either own a casino or be in the family of one who does.[citation needed]

African Americans[edit]

Early stereotypes[edit]

In centuries before and during the first half of the 20th century black people were often depicted by Whites as dumb, evil, lazy, poor, cannibalistic, smelly, uncivilized, un-Christian [4] people. The early British colonists brought these ideas with them to the Americas, and their negative stereotypes persisted in the newly formed United States, and other former British possessions, once the period of British colonialism ended. White colonists commonly believed that black people were inferior to white people. These thoughts helped to justify black slavery and the institution of many laws that continually condoned inhumane treatment and perpetuated to keep black people in a lower socioeconomic position.[4]This was especially true for how whites treated black females. Through the creation of the Jezebel stereotype, white men were able to sexually exploit their black female slaves. The Jezebel stereotype has plagued the lives of African American women for many years, and continues to loom over modern society. These sexuality-related adjectives once described the infamous Phoenician Queen, Jezebel, from the ninth century. Due to her many devious actions, the word Jezebel now “signifies a deceitful and immoral woman.” The British colonists arriving in Africa for the first time in the 1500’s were the first to create and spread this stereotype. As these explorers initially observed Africans, they mistook the women’s public nakedness, a traditional practice of the culture, as lewdness. In addition, the public nudity of women allowed the explorers to scrutinize the African women’s unique bodies. These women generally had larger breasts and buttocks than the British men were accustomed to. Consequently, the explorers mistakably surmised that these features developed from the women’s incontrollable sexual appetites. To further prove their claims, the British used the African practices of polygamy and tribal dances as evidence of the lasciviousness of the African women. Once African slaves were brought to America, the notions and beliefs about African women and their bodies did not change. The white slave masters justified their ongoing sexual exploitation of slave women by attributing hyper-sexuality as a common trait of African women. White slave owners also used this attribute to rationalize their forced procreation among slaves in order to economically benefit themselves through increased slave populations. Furthermore, white slave owners used this image as a legal defense when raping African American women. In fact, “James Redpath, an abolitionist no less, wrote that slave women were ‘gratified by the advances of Saxons.’” This was not true at all, as many African American women were threatened into sexual relationships with whites for fear of being “sold, beaten, raped, and having [their] ‘husband’ or children sold.” The suggested sensuality of slave women became the antithesis of the modesty, purity, and civilized nature of white women during this time. This distinction between white and black women further dehumanized African American women beyond the already dehumanizing condition of slavery, creating an even larger racial divide. People believed that because African women were insatiable sexually, they were more related to animals than humans.[citation needed] Even after acquiring freedom, African American women still suffered from sexual assault and rape throughout Reconstruction up into present times. During and after Reconstruction “Black women […] had little legal recourse when raped by White men, and many Black women were reluctant to report their sexual victimization by Black men for fear that the Black men would be lynched.” The Jezebel stereotype therefore is rooted in Imperialism and Slavery and continues to benefit white society in many ways while limiting the power and safety of African American women.

Black people were usually depicted as slaves or servants working in cane fields or carrying large piles of cotton. They were often portrayed as devout Christians going to church and singing gospel music. In many vaudeville shows, minstrel acts, cartoons, comics and animated cartoons of this period they were depicted as sad, lazy, dim-witted characters with big lips who sing bluesy songs and are good dancers, but get excited when confronted with dice games, chickens or watermelons (examples: all the characters portrayed by Stepin Fetchit and black characters in cartoons like "Sunday Go to Meetin' Time" and "All This and Rabbit Stew").

A more joyful black image, yet still very stereotypical, was provided by eternally happy black characters like Uncle Tom, Uncle Remus and Louis Armstrong's equally joyous stage persona. Another popular stereotype from this era was the black who is scared of ghosts (and usually turns white out of fear). Butlers were sometimes portrayed as black (for example the butler in many Shirley Temple movies). Housemaids were usually depicted as black, heavy-set middle-aged women who dress in large skirts (examples of this type are Mammy Two-Shoes, Aunt Jemima, Beulah and more recently the title character of Big Momma's House). Children are often pickaninnies like Little Black Sambo and Golliwog. African American Vernacular English speech was also often used in comedy, like for instance in the show Amos 'n' Andy.

African black people were usually depicted as primitive, childlike, cannibalistic persons who live in tribes, carry spears, believe in witchcraft and worship their wizard. White colonists are depicted tricking them by selling junk in exchange for valuable things and/or scaring them with modern technology. A well-known example of this image is Tintin in the Congo. When white people are caught by African tribes they are usually put in a large, black cauldron so they can be cooked and eaten. Sometimes black Africans are depicted as pygmies with childlike behavior so that they can be ridiculed as being similar to children.

Other stereotypical images are the male black African dressed in lip plates or with a bone sticking through his nasal septum. Stereotypical female black African depictions include the bare breasted woman with large breasts and notably fat buttocks (examples of this stereotype are the 19th century sideshow attraction Saartjie Baartman) or the woman who wears multiple rings around her giraffe-like neck (note: this type of neck ornament is also common in Burma with women from the Kayan tribe, but is generally associated with Africa (like in the Bugs Bunny cartoon "Which Is Witch").

Secretary of State John C. Calhoun arguing for the extension of slavery in 1844 said "Here [scientific confirmation] is proof of the necessity of slavery. The African is incapable of self-care and sinks into lunacy under the burden of freedom. It is a mercy to give him the guardianship and protection from mental death."

Even after slavery ended the intellectual capacity of Black people was still frequently questioned. Lewis Terman wrote in The Measurement of Intelligence in 1916:

"[Black and other ethnic minority children] are ineducable beyond the nearest rudiments of training. No amount of school instruction will ever make them intelligent voters or capable citizens in the sense of the world…their dullness seems to be racial, or at least inherent in the family stock from which they come…Children of this group should be segregated in special classes and be given instruction which is concrete and practical. They cannot master abstractions, but they can be made efficient workers…There is no possibility at present of convincing society that they should not be allowed to reproduce, although from a eugenic point of view they constitute a grave problem because of their unusual prolific breeding.)"

Modern stereotypes[edit]

Since the 1960s the stereotypical image of black people has changed in some media. More positive depictions appeared where black people and African Americans are portrayed as great athletes and superb singers and dancers. In many films and television series since the 1970s black people are depicted as good natured, kind, honest and intelligent persons. Often they are the best friend of the white protagonist (examples: Miami Vice, Lethal Weapon, Magnum Force, Walker, Texas Ranger, The Incredibles).

Some critics believed this political correctness led to another stereotypical image where black people are often depicted too positively. However those who boycott Political Correctness for its often hypercritical behaviour, say that it’s only replacing one negative stereotype with another. Spike Lee popularized the term magical negro, deriding the archetype of the "super-duper magical negro" in 2001 while discussing films with students at Washington State University and at Yale University.[5][6]

One media survey in 1989 showed that blacks were more likely than whites to be described in demeaning intellectual terms.[7] Political activist and one-time presidential candidate Jesse Jackson said in 1985 that the news media portray blacks as less intelligent than we are.[8] Film director Spike Lee explains that these images have negative impacts. "In my neighborhood, we looked up to athletes, guys who got the ladies, and intelligent people", and the images widely portrayed black Americans as living in inner-city areas, very low-income and under-educated than whites.

Even so-called positive images of Black people can lead to stereotypes about intelligence. In Darwin's Athletes: how sport has damaged Black America and preserved the myth of race, John Hoberman writes that the prominence of African American athletes encourages a de-emphasis on academic achievement in black communities.[9]

In a 1997 study on racial stereotypes in sports, participants were shown a photograph of a white or a black basketball player. They then listened to a recorded radio broadcast of a basketball game. White photographs were rated as exhibiting significantly more intelligence in the way they played the game, even though the radio broadcast and target player represented by the photograph were the same throughout the trial.[10] Several other authors have said that sports coverage that highlights 'natural black athleticism' has the effect of suggesting white superiority in other areas, such as intelligence.[11]

Patricia J. Williams, writer for The Nation, said this of Jar Jar Binks, a character from the 1999 and 2002 Star Wars films The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, respectively: "...intentionally or not, Jar Jar's pratfalls and high jinks borrow heavily from the genre of minstrelsy. Despite the amphibian get-up, his manchild-like idiocy is imported directly from the days of Amos 'n' Andy." Many aspects of Jar Jar's character are believed to be highly reminiscent of the archetypes portrayed in blackface minstrelsy.[12]

However, negative stereotypes still exist. The Jezebel stereotype that affected African American women many years ago continues to affect them today. For instance, White society brought the Jezebel stereotype into the film industry in the 1970’s through Blaxploitation films. Prior to this time, due to a more conservative media climate, cinematic portrayals of African Americans were restricted to Mammy, Tom, Mulatto, and Picaninny characterizations. Blaxploitation films, an industry governed by white society, looked to package and sell movies with “blacks fighting the ‘White establishment,’ resisting police corruption, acting assertively, and having sex lives.” As we know, sex sells especially in movies and the perfect character to bestow the black heroes with street credentials was the Jezebel character, or the “sexual fodder” of the hero. With time, the name has shifted from Jezebel, which has more biblical ties, to names like “bad-black-girls,” “black whores,” “black bitches,” among others. Once again, white society portrays African American women in a sexualized way, and economically benefits from doing so. In fact, in 2001, Halle Berry won an academy award for her role as Leticia Musgrove in Monster’s Ball. Leticia, due to her overwhelming sexual desire, has a sexual relationship with a white racist jailer who executed her former husband. Halle Berry was therefore awarded for her portrayal of an African American women who through her actions showcases her inability to control her sexual appetite and her soullessness by societal standards. These movies were very successful and provided many African American women with acting jobs. However, through continuous replications of this stereotype, African American actors remained limited in the roles they could acquire. The reproduction of this image has also engrained the Jezebel into the minds of most of humanity and leads to further projections of the stereotype. Another perfect example is twerking.

White Americans[edit]

Hispanic and Latino Americans[edit]

Italian Americans[edit]

Arabs and Muslims[edit]

South Asians[edit]

East Asians[edit]

West and Central Asians[edit]


Social groups[edit]


Main article: Redneck


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Anthony Pagden, The Fall of the Natural Man: the American Indian and the origins of comparative ethnology. Cambridge Iberian and Latin American Studies.(Cambridge University Press, 1982)
  2. ^ See Paul Hazard, The European Mind (Cleveland, Ohio: Meridian Books 1937, 1969): 13-14, and passim.
  3. ^ Malcolm D. Holmes and Judith A. Antell
  4. ^ a b Hurst, Charles E. Social Inequality: Forms, Causes, and Consequences. 6. Boston: Pearson Education, Inc, 2007
  5. ^ Okorafor-Mbachu, Nnedi. "Stephen King's Super-Duper Magical Negroes". Strange Horizons. 
  6. ^ Gonzalez, Susan. "Director Spike Lee slams 'same old' black stereotypes in today's films". Yale Bulletin & Calendar (Yale University). 
  7. ^ The Portrayal of Race, Ethnicity and Nationality in Televised International Athletic Events
  8. ^ Jackson Assails Press On Portrayal of Blacks (NYT)
  9. ^ Darwin's Athletes: how sport has damaged Black America and preserved the myth of race By John Milton Hoberman
  10. ^ "White Men Can't Jump": Evidence for the Perceptual Confirmation of Racial Stereotypes Following a Basketball Game Jeff Stone, W. Perry, John M. Darley. Basic and Applied Social Psychology 1997, Vol. 19, No. 3, Pages 291-306
  11. ^ The Ball Curve: Calculated Racism and the Stereotype of African American Men Ronald E. Hall Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 32, No. 1 (Sep., 2001), pp. 104-119
  12. ^ Patricia J. Williams: "Racial Ventriloquism". The Nation. June 17, 1999. Retrieved June 11, 2006. [dead link]