The Effects of Racial Stereotyping on an Individual’s Identity

Introduction

Racial stereotyping refers to the development of a fixed and generalized belief about a person or a group of people based on their racial characteristics (Chae et al. 789). The concept is commonly associated with negative beliefs about communities, grounded in an underlying assumption that its members share common characteristics. This practice stems from half-truths, assumptions, or inferences about a group of people, which are overgeneralized beyond reality.

The process can happen consciously or subconsciously and affects different facets of life, including one’s own identity. This essay contains discussions about the effects of racial stereotyping on an individual’s identity through its effects on decision-making, behaviors, emotions, and beliefs. These four key areas of assessment outline the main criterion for evaluating the impact of racism on individual identities.

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Effects on Decision-Making

Decisions often influence people’s identities because their cognitive processes are designed to support existing beliefs and practices. Consequently, communities tend to make decisions that support specific beliefs, which are rooted in their ideologies. From this background, research shows that racial stereotypes could be beneficial or harmful to one’s identity because they affect the quality of people’s decisions (Chae et al. 789). However, there is more evidence of the negative effects of racial stereotypes on people’s judgments than those supporting the contrary position. For example, Robinson suggests that most people who feel racially stereotyped make bad judgments compared to their counterparts who do not experience the same effect (551). Key behavioral indicators used to assess their decisions include eating habits, rational decision-making, focus, and temperament.

For example, on the issue of temperament, it was observed that racially stereotyped people tend to be more aggressive than those who do not have similar experiences (Robinson 551-553). Collectively, these pieces of evidence point to the negative effects of racial stereotyping on people’s decision-making. Given that some of these stereotypes have a lasting effect on their victims, poor decisions are likely to have a negative lasting impact on one’s own identity than a positive one.

Effects on Behavior

Human identities are often ingrained in social structures that are fuelled and propagated by people’s behaviors. Thus, behaviors are modeled on people’s identities because the effects of racial stereotypes on individual identity manifest through the same relationship. This is why it is important to evaluate the impact of racial stereotyping on one’s behavior as an indicator of its overall effect on identity. This phenomenon has been reported in human resource practices, where an applicant’s name becomes a determiner of whether a person will be hired, or not (Chae et al. 789).

The bias affects people’s behaviors in ways that encourage them to favor individuals who have attractive racial characteristics and deter those who have dissimilar ones from accessing opportunities of growth. The same bias is also observed in a social setting where a person subconsciously walks on the other side of the street after seeing someone who has “undesirable” racial characteristics coming towards them. Particularly, this behavior has been reported in research articles that have documented how African-American men are often “avoided” because they are stereotyped as being criminals or thugs (Chae et al. 789). It could explain why someone who subscribes to the same ideology would walk on the opposite side of a street when being approached by an African-American male.

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The article by Staples contains a real-life narration of how an African-American author had a difficult time adjusting to a new affluent community based on the perception that he was a “threat” to existing members. Additionally, he had negative experiences with taxi drivers, bouncers, and door attendants who treated him unfairly because of his physical characteristics (Staples). To cope with negative racial stereotypes, Staples had to change his behaviors and start to engage in “less threatening” behaviors. For example, he would have to wait for the lobby to clear out so that, when he walks in, it does not appear that he is following anyone.

Similarly, he started moving around late in the evening to avoid stares and anxious people who felt intimidated by his presence (Staples). Therefore, he wanted to camouflage his aura and “act normally” to make everyone in his surroundings comfortable. Collectively, these examples show that racial stereotypes affect people’s behaviors and, by extension, their identities because the latter is a product of human behavior.

Effects on Emotions

People’s feelings towards others are often influenced by their emotional states and well-being. Consequently, it is important to understand the effects of racial stereotyping on one’s identity from an emotional lens. Relative to this analysis, research shows that racial characteristics are predictors of people’s emotions (Simmons). For example, they affect emotional states when someone else walks past, sits, or strikes a conversation with people. The range of emotions that they experience when in such settings varies from relief to apprehension (Simmons). People may also exhibit anxious behaviors when they have to interact with a person from a different racial background based on what they believe about them.

Relative to people’s emotions about specific racial backgrounds, Staples draws attention to the negative impact that racism has on people of color. In his article, titled “Just Walk on By,” the author draws attention to assumptions about social norms that have been developed about African-Americans in the US. Simmons has also reported the same behavior in a Video titled, “How Students of Color Confront the Imposter Syndrome,” which discusses how members of the middle class and affluent communities behave when an African-American person relocates from another neighborhood to theirs. There is a sense of exclusion that such persons often experience when living in such communities because of the traditionally reinforced belief that people from African descent “do not belong.” These sentiments suggest that racial stereotypes generally hurt people’s emotions.

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Self-Reinforcing Beliefs

Research has shown that racial stereotypical behaviors tend to be self-reinforcing in the sense that the people who are being stereotyped act in a predictable manner to fit into their respective groups (Robinson 551). This behavior could be positive or negative, subject to the quality and impact of their beliefs and practices. Therefore, individuals tend to avoid the social cost of exclusion if they act differently. In this regard, they “play safe” and adopt beliefs that augur well with group thinking but do not present an accurate picture of their identities.

This phenomenon is explained as self-stereotypical behaviors whereby members of a community tend to band together when they feel that other people consider them “low status” (Simmons) It manifests as a self-fulfilling prophesy whereby members of a community behave predictably. For example, there is scientific evidence showing that children who grow up being taught that members of their community engage in illegal activities are likely to engage in the same behaviors at some point in their lifetime (Landor and Smith 797). Therefore, racial stereotypes reinforce one’s beliefs, thereby having both positive and negative effects on people’s identities.

Conclusion

The findings of this paper show that racial stereotypes have both positive and negative effects on people. Victims endure most of the negative effects, while those who are perpetrating the same vice may benefit from preserving the status quo. Whichever side of the argument one may support, there is overwhelming evidence suggesting that racial stereotypes harm individual identities. This is why most of the arguments presented in this document highlight the negative effects it has on people’s emotions, behaviors, decisions, and beliefs. Therefore, the insights provided in this paper highlight the importance of assessing the level of prejudices held against people, who have common racial characteristics.

To accomplish this goal, it is important to acknowledge that racial stereotypes still exist today and have permeated different facets of life. This step will be the first one in encouraging introspection to evaluate attitudes and beliefs that exist within communities that support these prejudices. It is also critical to evaluate how these stereotypes are formed and being perpetuated across generations to prevent further perpetuation of the problem. It is only through such conscious efforts of introspection that people can better master their identities without overcoming the burden of racism. The insights provided in this paper could help minimize racial bias in society by better explaining its effects on individual identity.

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Works Cited

Chae, David, et al. “The Role of Racial Identity and Implicit Racial Bias in Self-Reported Racial Discrimination: Implications for Depression among African American Men.” Journal of Black Psychology, vol. 43, no. 8, 2017, pp. 789-812.

Landor, Antoinette, and Shardé Smith. “Skin-Tone Trauma: Historical and Contemporary Influences on the Health and Interpersonal Outcomes of African Americans.” Perspectives on Psychological Science, vol. 14, no. 5, 2019, pp. 797-815.

Robinson, Michael. “Black Bodies on the Ground: Policing Disparities in the African American Community – An Analysis of Newsprint from January 1, 2015, Through December 31, 2015.” Journal of Black Studies, vol. 48, no. 6, 2017, pp. 551-571.

Simmons, Dena, director. “How Students of Color Confront Impostor Syndrome.Youtube, uploaded by TED. 2017. Web.

Staples, Brent. Just Walk On By: Black Men And Public Space. Ohlone. Web.

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