Can We Completely Avoid Stereotyping?

Sep 16

Two Perspectives on Stereotyping

Dr. Amit Nagpal, New Delhi, India, and

Janet Smith Warfield, J.D., Florida, USA


Dr. Amit Nagpal’s Perspective

In the increasingly assertive society we live in, it becomes important to choose our words carefully, especially when we stereotype. If I talk of Indian society, we are jam-packed with stereotypes, which are slowly being broken by the pioneers with lots of difficulties and opposition. A woman should be doing X, a lower caste person should do Y; all Punjabis are like this and so on. But unfortunately the same people who get irritated with one stereotype, they believe and talk of other stereotypes.

When women act in a feminist way (getting over-assertive at times), I understand the pain which is behind it and the stereotypes that create that anguish. And on top of that we strongly stereotype, “All North-Indians are like that, all South Indians are like that, all small town people are like that”; in fact the painful list is never ending. I have always requested people to at least replace ‘all people’ with ‘most of the people’. Personally I have been a victim of stereotyping myself, as I do not fit into the traditional definition of Indian male nor do I want to. The metro sexual man who does baby-sitting, who is sensitive rather than macho, who may want romance as part of sex, such a man is still emerging in the Indian society, slowly being recognized by the media at least in metro cities.

Even in the western society where women are now more or less treated as equals, we have books coming, “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus”. If a man has come from Venus to earth, what does he do? If one does not belong to the stereotype, one may feel like a washerman’s dog, who belongs nowhere because a washerman needs a donkey and not dogs. (My due sympathies to all the dogs of the washermen).

Yes stereotypes help us in quick decision making, yes stereotypes still exist practically and cannot be eliminated altogether, but can’t we be a little more sensitive in our language and behavior, so that the people who do not belong to the defined stereotype don’t suffer or end up protesting  (sometimes ending up using violence to avenge years of suppression)? Another simple way is to define qualities rather than people. (It may have its own complications though.) For example each human being is made up of masculine and feminine qualities. Once I jokingly wrote on Facebook, “There are four genders in the society today, male, female, and masculine female and feminine male, so let us not stereotype” In fact it may be difficult to define masculine female because the degree of masculinity may have huge variance.

In a way stereotyping is injustice but then injustice is a part and parcel of our society. It is also the law that when the frustration level due to injustice reaches its peak, it results in violence and revolutions. Sadly, when it comes to stereotyping, the humanity (or should I say most of the humanity rather) needs sensitivity training.


Janet Smith Warfield’s Perspective

Of course we can’t completely avoid stereotyping, unless we want to stop talking completely. Words automatically create stereotypes: black versus white, tall versus short, fat versus thin. Words automatically divide and classify our sensory data. Words automatically simplify so we can understand and communicate.

But let’s look for a minute at:

  1. The intention behind creating a stereotype
  2. The emotional content we give it.
  3. The experiential context of the stereotype

If you are in Tampa and ask for directions to Sarasota, your intention is to go from Tampa to Sarasota. Perhaps Paul tells you to drive 60 miles south on I-75 until you see a tall, fat, black post on the left side of the road. Paul is aligned with helping you fulfill your intention. The words, tall, fat and black have no emotional content. The experiential context is giving and receiving information in order to achieve a mutually desired result.

On the other hand, if a murder has been committed in Tampa and the police are looking for a tall, fat, black man because that is the description witnesses have given them, the intention is to catch and restrain a violent man so he doesn’t continue to act out his anger. The experiential context is safety for all members of the community. The emotional content is huge, and it is different for each person involved.

For the victim’s family, it is grief and rage. For the murderer, perhaps it is guilt and fear. For any innocent tall, fat, black man stopped and questioned by the police, it may be frustration, anger, and feelings of victimization and unfair treatment. For the policemen, the intention may simply be to do their job and create a safe community. On the other hand, for some of them, the intention may be cloaked in unconscious anger, vindictiveness, and stereotyping of all tall, fat, black men as bad.

It’s when we separate human from human and project hate, judgment, blame, rage, and vindictiveness out into the world against our fellow man that stereotyping becomes a problem. When our aligned intention is to communicate and collaborate to co-create non-violent communities, there is no negative emotional content, the experiential context is informational, and stereotyping is simply not an issue.


Janet Smith Warfield works with wisdom-seekers who want understanding and clarity so they can live peaceful, powerful, prosperous lives. Through her unique combination of holistic, creative, right-brain transformational experiences and 22 years of rigorous, left-brain law practice, she has learned how to sculpt words in atypical ways to shift her listeners into experiences beyond words, transforming turmoil into inner peace. For more information about Janet, go to;;

Copyright © 2011 – Janet Smith Warfield. All rights reserved.


3 Responses to “Can We Completely Avoid Stereotyping?”

  1. Lorraine says:

    Great dialogue on both sides.

    I am more in sync with Janet’s positioning, however I have not had the experiences that her counterpart has had.I have had an Indian exchange student so understand to some extent the positioning difficulties, especially caste-related and gender. She was Brahmin. It was interesting to hear her describe her ‘other members of society’ and she really tried to be inclusive and non-judgemental, but the predisposition was still there to stereotype.

    I believe that some of this general ‘learning’ is a generational thing — every generation, exposed to more inclusive teaching will be more accepting. That being said, stereotypes are being created daily and the more visible they are, the easier it is to pass judgement. We cannot always govern our tongue to be inclusive; language is a very amorphous thing and people’s moods govern how they receive the information. I speak several languages and in each, there are variations in how to express the same concept. They are in some cases completely different and if translated directly, downright abusive or derogatory, especially if spoken to someone not familiar with the culture or the language or the intent.

    In my opinion, it comes back to being centered and open and filtering the information/language coming at us in order to assess their true meaning.

    That can only happen when one is themselves comfortable with their understanding of the world and their place in it, and loving without prejudice (very difficult, but doable with constant evaluation of your reactions and practice).

    example: My mother is a typical person of her generation. She will start a sentence about someone like this —

    ‘So and so is black/native/jew/gay, but they are so nice/polite/whatever anyways’.

    Often she drops her voice when she says black/native/jew/gay, etc… as if it is dirty word.

    My comeback is usually, ummmm why did you drop your voice and what does their race/gender/sexual orientation have to do with their being nice?

    Usually I get no response — she just clams up and I can see the gears grinding, but no matter how many times I come back to her with that response, it still happens time and again.

    It is to a large extent a generational thing. I have learned to move beyond what my mother was conditioned to think (and she has long since stopped learning — God knows I have tried! 🙂 ) . And I have my own prejudices, but at least I recognize them and work against them. The stereotypes I grew up with were first my parents’ and then those that encountered along the way through my peer groups, the media, etc. It is wholly up to me to conquer those perceptions.

    To whit, it is everyone’s responsibility to become inclusive in their INTENT. Language is what it is. INTENT needs to be broadcasted clearly and then, to some extent, the language is secondary.

  2. Bail Bonds says:

    Tweeted This Post ; )…

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  3. Dr Ram Dhurjaty says:

    As human beings we work with models of all that is around us, consciously or subconsciously. Naturally, this leads to stereotyping based on our own models. Often, it is akin to six blind men looking at an elephant (through different lenses). Often this is due to illogical thinking thereby creating false generalizations. Take for instance, the following scenario (modified from ancient Indian logic): A crow sits on a branch of a tree and the branch breaks. The logical conclusion would be that the weight of the crow caused this(particular) branch to break. Let us look at some of the other generalizations, each more severe than the previous one, that can be derived from this observation: 1) Whenever a crow sits on a branch, it breaks or 2) A broken branch implies that a crow sat on it or 3) If you see a crow a branch will break and hence if we see a crow it will lead to broken branches and, therefore, every crow is bad (stereotype). Stereotypes may, paradoxically help people to have structure under limited conditions (such as being confined to a village) but become encumbrances when these are generalized, globally. The best way to handle stereotypes is to admit that we do stereotype and the circumstances that generated this stereotype may not be relevant both temporally and spatially.

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