Opinions, Column

Analyzing Stereotypes, A Slippery Slope

Here we are. Christophe and Eric. Friends. Roommates, actually.

Christophe: Eric is probably the person most like me at Boston College. We think in the same way, we laugh at the same things, we enjoy the same things. We both love The Office. Eric is Asian. I’m white. It’s not a big deal, I don’t see him differently. I see him as Eric, as cheesy as that sounds.

Eric: Yes, Christophe and I share similarities. But we’re also different. He’s a math and economics majors, and I’m a finance and entrepreneurship major. Throughout high school, he ran for the cross country team while I spent my time dedicated to my school’s basketball team. To this day, he runs around the Res at night while I search for pick up games in the Plex.

Christophe: Alright, yes we have differences. But we know that because we’ve spent a lot of time together. We know each other. I don’t know about Eric, but at this point in our friendship I never really make assumptions based on his race. I don’t need to. I know him.

Eric: But not everyone knows me, and not everyone knows Christophe. Let’s just say we’re both at the Plex one night, and teams are getting picked for a game of basketball. Standing with his lanky, white, 6 foot 2 frame, a lot of people might automatically assume that he’s a better basketball player than me and my 5 foot 10, asian frame. The hypothetical captains would probably pick him over me—because of stereotypes, because of what people generally think about basketball and race and players of certain races. Of course, they’d be making a terrible decision. Christophe’s one of the worst basketball players I’ve ever seen—all 6 foot 2 of him.

Christophe: Well. I don’t know if I would go that far. But yes, he has a point. He’s a lot better than me at basketball, even though there are more white guys than Asian guys in the NBA. Would you look at that: stereotypes don’t always apply. And I mean, if a random person on the street were given a picture of me and Eric and asked who was better at math, the person would probably say Eric. Because he’s Asian, and Asians are obviously good at math. But I’m considerably better than him at math. I would understand, though. I’m completing my B.S. in math, and half the students in my upper-level class are Asian. That’s very disproportionate to the BC population. But it’s a fact, and it’s hard to ignore.

Eric: Clearly, we both defy very common stereotypes. We’re both evidence that not everything you might see in movies or read about in books regarding people and the differences between people of varying races is necessarily true. Of course, this is not anything new. Today, there are more and more discussions pertaining to the dangers of stereotypes, their inherently offensive nature, and often times, how we can try to avoid them in our everyday lives.

Christophe: But let’s say this. Say I had to guess between who did better on a math test, a white guy or an Asian guy. And say I get 1000 dollars if I guess correctly, and I lose the same amount if I’m wrong. The stakes are high, and the only piece of information I have is their respective races. Well, I myself often defy the stereotype as people incorrectly assume that all Asians are better at math than me. But now, I’m the one who has to make an assumption, one way or another. To be honest, I think I would choose the Asian person. That seems incredibly hypocritical, especially considering all the assumptions that are made about me. And here, I am, doing the same thing. But the stakes are high. I would think of the statistics, and base myself on the only information I have.

Eric: I would’ve done the same thing if I were one of those hypothetical basketball captains at the Plex. I would’ve picked Christophe over myself, because of my experience from my years as a basketball player. If we’re really being honest, I would’ve picked the black kid in front of Christophe if there was one there. Again, in my experience, I’ve generally found that more often than not, the black basketball players are some of the best on the court. Statistically, the majority of both Division 1 and NBA basketball players are black. And there are many, many more white basketball players than Asian ones. A lot more Christophes than Erics. So if I were a captain picking teams, would I pick against myself? If I base the decision on statistics, on the information (or lack of) about the players that I have, I think I ultimately would.

Christophe and Eric: We both suffer from stereotypes. Both of us feel like we have to prove ourselves. But when it’s our turn to make assumptions, we fall into the same patterns. This might show why stereotypes are so deeply rooted in society. It could also show that we as humans will make assumptions based on whatever little information we have. Of course, the best solution in every case is to get to know every individual better, rendering stereotypes obsolete. But often times, we’re put in positions where we need to make an assumption. Basketball captains can’t interview every player on the court and see what their past experiences are.

The examples and decisions we brought up might sound plausible and benign, but what about when we apply the same rationale regarding stereotypes on a larger scale, with higher stakes? Police brutality related to racial profiling has garnered national attention in the past few years.  So are we to condone this use of stereotypes, this racial profiling many police officers practice when lives are on the line? Of course not. Many of these cases are instances of racism in its purest form. Furthermore, the wide majority of stereotypes are not even true. But where is the line drawn? Are we being blatantly hypocritical by acting on even the slightest of racial stereotypes, while we condemn others? Is picking the white kid over the Asian in the Plex also a form of racism, or is it just the smart thing to do? There is undeniably a lot less at stake, as a simple basketball game is pretty insignificant. But this type of action shows the clear irony in the way we view racial profiling.

There is a line that divides these these two cases, as the basketball captain’s actions could be defended while the police officer’s cannot. But it’s tough to say exactly where that line is. One thing is for sure: stereotypes are a huge part of our daily lives, and it’s time to ask ourselves: are the little generalizations we make planting the seeds of a slippery, dangerous slope?


Featured Image by The Associated Press

Christophe Bernier & Eric Zhang are op-ed columnists for The Heights. They can be reached at [email protected]

November 11, 2015

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