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A stereotype is a generalization or assumption about a group of people based on perceptions of the group's traits. Stereotypes can be positive (as in, "all members of Group X are smart and successful"), but are most often negative (as in, "all members of Race Y are lazy").

Regardless of the "positive" or "negative" nature of the stereotype, the problem with stereotyping is that it has the practical effect of forcing one's own perceptions of a group onto its members, who will not all share the trait being imputed to them. Negative stereotypes can be damaging.

Many outside the United States have a stereotype that all Americans are wealthy. While many Americans are rich, particularly compared to the rest of the world, by no means are all Americans wealthy. Seung-Hui Cho murdered 32 people at Virginia Tech based in part of his stereotype of them as "rich kids," when many were not.

Political correctness is an attempt to ban all stereotypes from speech, even stereotypes useful to guard against danger. For example, political correctness opposes any type of profiling based on national origin, ideology or religion, even if the profiling would make it easier to screen and stop terrorism. Under this view, airports must consider an 80-year-old nun to be as likely to be a terrorist as a group of 20-year-old male Islamic radicals.

Psychologists have shown that stereotypes are nonetheless helpful for human beings - it helps cut down on the information to be processed if the brain can make assumptions about a person upon first meeting, thus preserving processing power.[1] As a result, stereotyping is unlikely to disappear.

Stereotypical language in mainstream media

See also: Fake news

Examples of stereotypical language which, rightly or wrongly, have been used by mainstream media and attribute the characteristics of a limited number within a group to all members of a larger group are:

  • "You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

The statement, "these communities" and "it's not surprising then they get bitter" means the characteristics of clinging to guns, religion, and racism are being applied to all residents of Pennsylvania small towns as well as small community's throughout the Midwest.

  • "When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people."

The important qualifier "some, I assume, are good people" limits the subject being discussed to criminals and rapists within a larger group of Mexicans, and hence is not a stereotypical statement of all Mexicans or Mexican immigrants.

  • "to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic — you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up. He has given voice to their websites that used to only have 11,000 people — now how 11 million. He tweets and retweets their offensive hateful mean-spirited rhetoric. Now, some of those folks — they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America. But the other basket — and I know this because I see friends from all over America here — I see friends from Florida and Georgia and South Carolina and Texas — as well as, you know, New York and California — but that other basket of people are people who feel that the government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures, and they’re just desperate for change."

The statement claims that about 24% of the American electorate are racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, and Islamaphobic, and among that group are certain "irredeemables."

  • Q. "They say you oppose legalizing weed."
  • A. "That's not true. Half my family's from Jamaica. Are you kidding me?"

The answer assumes the listener is a racist who stereotypically applies the notion of Jamaican heritage to drug use.