“Not to stereotype but….”
How many times in our life have we said this, or have heard this coming from our friend’s mouth? We say it as a precautionary disclaimer to let others know that “no, I don’t stereotype people” yet the words or phrase following right after these four words are ALWAYS stereotypical – no matter what you preface it with. Somehow, but adding these words in front of what we are about to say, we seem to be redeemed from the negativity that comes from stereotyping others.
In my last post, I wrote a little about how our behavior defines us to others who don’t know us, called the Fundamental Attribution Error. In this post, I wanted to touch upon how looks too can define us. In the instance of juvenile kids and gang members, [as well as hundreds of other groups], stereotyping can lead to a hindrance of many opportunities for them to succeed away from their gang/criminal life. With Homeboy Industries as well as working with this study at USC, I have come across so many individuals who fit the stereotypical gang member look: Shaved head, tattoos, baggy dickies, cortez shoes, white tees, and, for the most part, a minority. If a reformed gang member or juvenile youth is trying to get a job and their life “on track” how would they do so looking the way that they do? It is incredibly hard for them because of their appearance alone.
I found this on a website for a newspaper that caters to East L.A communities. What is interesting about this, is that this local paper is owned by Latinos, the group that is mostly affected by gang membership. The poster [courtesy of the Santa Ana Police Department] shows parents/guardians “signs” of how you can tell if your child is a tagger. Granted, taggers do fit this appearance, I feel that an ART student would also fit this *maybe besides the bandanna.
I mean, I fit this appearance when I was taking my Graphic Design class not to long ago. I carried a backpack/bag that carried my art supplies, including a fat markers and a black book for practice….. I EVEN HAD THE CHUCKS, JEANS AND SWEATER GOING! So, by that appearance, would I be considered a tagger? Hmm….
With these examples, we can see stereotype threat happening. Stereotype threat occurs when a stereotype hinders an individual from reaching their full potential. Common examples of stereotype threat are: women not being good in the math and sciences, or white men performing less on a basketball court. When you make a stereotype salient to the group, they will perform significantly less than when the stereotype had not been made salient.
Therefore, linking this back to reformed gang members, one should be able to see why it is hard for them to become successful in the eyes of society. By their appearance and association with gangs, they are automatically put into a category that does not have a lot of expectations. AND, since they know that society does not accept them for who they have become, they no longer try hard to impress others. Time and time again, I have heard many of the individuals that I have worked with say things that support this idea. They know that because they look the way that they do, as well as because of the things that they have done in the past, people will not give them a chance and expect a lot from them. Maybe what I’m trying to say is, like I will be continuing to do so, let’s try to look past appearances. Many of these kids and young adults have crazy talents that many of us would be jealous to have!