A new study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, “The insidious (and ironic) effects of positive stereotypes” explores just how positive stereotypes can be harmful. What they found was that not only are they harmful, but they can actually be worse than negative stereotypes!
The study used four methods to test how negative vs positive stereotypes affected people’s perceptions. It found that since positive stereotypes tend to “fly under the radar” for most people, that they aren’t perceived as a problem and even promote acceptance of negative stereotypes by promoting the idea that biologically, people of another race are inherently and naturally different from each other.
Most research on positive stereotypes has focused on how exposure to and awareness of them impacts stereotyped group members. For example, positive stereotypes have been shown to: hinder performance in the stereotyped domain (Cheryan & Bodenhausen, 2000), lead stereotyped group members to dislike those who utter these stereotypes (Czopp, 2008), increase the likelihood that positively stereotyped group members will be pigeonholed into certain career and intellectual tracks (Czopp, 2010), and cause targets of the positive stereotype to be held to unfairly high expectations within the stereotyped domain (Ho, Driscoll, & Loosbrock, 1998).
This study really solidifies what many of us already know, that in light of an ever increasing call for equality and political correctness, racism still exists, it’s just a lot more subtle. This means that vigilance must remain if we are to truly fight for equality for everyone.
Although oppression dehumanizes both parties and stifles their humanity, the oppressed has to lead the struggle for a fuller humanity for both. The oppressor, who is himself dehumanized because he dehumanizes others, tries to hang onto his power and dehumanizing practices. (32) When the oppressed seek to regain and deepen their humanity, they must not in turn oppress the oppressors, but rather help to restore the humanity of both. (28) The contradiction between the two classes is resolved by the appearance of a new kind of human being, one in the process of liberation. It’s not possible to eliminate oppression just by a shift of roles in which the oppressor becomes the oppressed and vice-versa. (42) In such change we can’t say that one person liberates himself, or another, but that people in communion liberate each other. (128) –Paulo Friere, Pedagogy of the Oppressed