“Stereotypes have some truth to them” has some truth to it but not in the way people think. That truth is not about the stereotyped but the stereotyper.
First, stereotypes are kept alive by confirmation bias: We notice the few examples that fit the stereotype and overlook the ton of examples that do not. This has been proved by studies.
For example, here are two stereotypes that I used to think had some truth to them:
- Black women are harder to get along with than white women.
- Asians are more serious about their studies than whites or blacks.
So when I argue with my wife, it “proves” the first one true – even though I have never been with a white woman!
Or when I go to the library and see Asians there I think, “See how studious they are!” – even though there are way more blacks and whites there doing their homework!
That is confirmation bias. Stereotypes are not based in fact but instead make you blind to the facts.
Second, stereotypes can be made up out of thin air.
For example, black people are supposed to love watermelon way more than anyone. But when I looked it up on the Internet it was Asians who ate the most watermelon by far of anyone in America. Blacks do eat more watermelon than whites but the difference is so slight – like a slice more a year – that no one would notice it.
Or: Some white people say that there are all these black rapists on the loose going after white women. They said the government numbers proved it! But when I looked at the numbers for myself I found out that they had imagined the whole thing!
Or: When I read about the Mammy stereotype I found out it was made up by white people in the early 1800s to defend slavery! Made up.
Third, whites know so little about black people they must be talking about themselves.
Whites keep themselves apart from blacks. So much so that they seem to get most of what they know about blacks from television. But television is put together by other whites who, if anything, know even less about blacks since they can afford to keep themselves even more apart. The blinder leading the blind.
In effect black people become a canvas on which white people paint their fears and self-serving lies. So stereotypes often become this strange mirror of white people:
- Whites got rich off of black slave labour. So blacks are pictured as not wanting to work hard, as being a drain on society.
- White men raped black slave women in such huge numbers that Black Americans are now 15% white. So black men are pictured as dangerous rapists.
- White men use to kill blacks without fear of the law. So black men are seen as violent and dangerous without fear of the law.
- Whites repeatedly broke their treaties with American Indians, so now “Indian giver” means someone who takes back what he promised.