stereotyping

Trump’s stereotyping should not have a place in healthy politics. 

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Stereotypes are often used as a means to discriminate and for that reason have acquired a reputation of being politically incorrect and untrue. Many political stereotypes are false or at least more untrue that people think.

For instance, there are the two classic political stereotypes: Republican voters tend to be rich and Democrats are more likely to identify as members of the LGBT community.

When Americans were surveyed about what they think is the percentage of LGBT Democrats and Republicans earning more than $250,000, they answered 32% and 38% respectively. In reality the numbers are just 6% and 2%, making clear how some political stereotypes have created wrong impressions.

Problems with stereotyping

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There are some basic problems with stereotypes. Firstly, some of them don’t emanate from observations, so they don’t involve any statistics and are totally false. Those kinds of stereotypes have been used a lot during Donald Trump’s political campaign. For instance, during his infamous presidential announcement speech, Trump made the baseless generalization that Latinos living in the US are rapists and they bring crime, adding that there might be some good people among them as well. Statistically speaking the exact opposite is true. Latinos living in the US are “good” people, while a small fraction of them is involved in criminal activities, just as it happens within any other racial group. Therefore, Trump’s generalization is false as it does not involve any statistical basis.

The second problem concerns the rest of the stereotypes that do involve a statistical basis. The issue is that stereotypes are not valid for every single individual of the group, since they are generalizations and not laws. Therefore, there is danger when applying generalizations to individual cases, as the individual may be an exception to the generalization.

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For instance, when Trump was addressing a Jewish audience in the past he implied that Jewish are better with money than others.

This stereotype might have a statistical truth, as many Jewish people hold successful positions in businesses. However, of course there are plenty Jewish individuals that are not particularly capable of dealing with money, so it is wrong to expect any single of them to be. Therefore, when stereotyping people should be aware they are describing a group norm rather than the characteristics of a specific individual.

Finally, stereotypes tend to be very persistent. A group of people may have changed its habits, so a stereotype may no longer have any statistical and predictive value. When stereotypes endure even after new learning has taken place then we enter the territory of prejudice and discrimination.

It’s all about how stereotypes are used

Stereotypes can be helpful or harmful depending on how they are used. Effective stereotyping allows people to understand and act appropriately in new situations, while stereotyping that involves bias, such as the one Trump uses, can be misleading and discriminatory. In politics, it is better to avoid the use of stereotypes as they affect the opinion of a huge number of people. When stereotypes start becoming racist, like those of Trump, they should be avoided. Stereotyping should not have a place in healthy politics.

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Manos Makrygiannakis

Manos is an alumni of Yale Young Global Scholars and is currently studying Economics at UCL.

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