Stereotypes Story Putnam County, Fla.


Hispanics often resent stereotypes that such as that they are all illegal immigrants or backward and lower on the socio-economic scale (Valdes 2008, p. 88). In the past, the mass media often portrayed them in a similar manner to blacks, such as being violent or "hypersexual or childish" (Korzenny 2007, p. 146). In the 1970s, they strongly protested advertisements featuring the Frito Bandito and other images that showed them to be "short, fat, lazy, sleazy, [or] drunken" (Korzenny, p. 147).

Whites generally assume that the majority of poor people in the United States are black, and that many young blacks are unwilling to work. In a news story about single mothers in New York, for instance, accompanied by statistics of poverty, participants who saw it were more inclined to believe their own prejudices and stereotypes about blacks than factual information. In fact, statistical information had "no impact on subjects' belief about welfare recipients in general," but that a "vivid description" that placed welfare recipients in a negative light was far more believable to them. This is especially true with "the race of specific poor persons pictured in news stories" (Gilens 1999, p. 135). In a study called "Seeing is Remembering," Doris Graber found that "subjects were over twice as likely to remember visual themes as they were stories that were presented verbally," and that negative images of blacks and other minorities carried more weight than the spoken or written word (Gilens, p. 136). Studies that showed images of unemployed blacks and whites to white subjects found that whites were far more inclined to regard unemployment as a major problem when they saw others like themselves unemployed than they did with blacks. Shanto Iyongar observed that white audiences shown identical stories about poor blacks and poor whites were more likely to regard blacks as lazy, uneducated and unskilled (Gilens, p. 137).

Study after study has shown that white Americans harbor many negative stereotypes about blacks more than any other minority group. In states like Washington and Oregon, where only 6% of the poor are black, whites believed that nearly half of the poor were black. Even in states like Idaho, Nebraska and the Dakotas, where blacks are less than 1% of the poor, whites had similar stereotypes about poverty. Therefore, "even in places where poor blacks are virtually absent, whites perceive the…poor as a whole to be made up largely of African-Americans," their attitudes toward the black poor and unemployed are overwhelmingly less sympathetic than to the white poor (Gilens, p. 137). Whites with higher education are at least as likely to hold these views as those who did not graduate from high school, while whites are also likely to estimate that blacks are about 25% of the population rather than the actual figure of 12%. Newsmagazine editors were just as likely to believe that blacks were about 42% of the poor in the U.S. when the real figure is about 27%, and their magazines consistently portrayed the majority of the poor and homeless as black (Gilens, p. 144). Statistical or factual information have no effect on these stereotypes, which originate in childhood and mass media portrayals rather than real-life experience with blacks (Gilens, p. 138).

Even whites who are not aware of having consciously racist attitudes often have subconscious stereotypes that influence their attitudes and actions. Patricia Devine used subliminal messaging of words like "Blacks." "Negroes" and "Africa" with half of a group of white subjects while the other have received neutral messages before being shown a story about a man named "Donald" who engaged in various behaviors that "might or might not be judged to be hostile" (Gilens, p. 151). The half who had been primed with subliminal racial words perceived "Donald" as far more "hostile" than those who had only been shown neutral terms. Even those who had been less consciously racist were twice as likely to have a negative view of "Donald." Devine concluded that "most people in our culture are exposed to a set of stereotypes about blacks (and other social groups) that they internalize to various degrees" (Gilens, p. 152).

Nor are the origins of these racial stereotypes, particularly in regard to blacks, any great mystery. Every single stereotype about blacks being lazy, violent, aggressive, hypersexual, or unintelligent was already commonplace in the era of slavery from 1619-1865. They can all be found in Thomas Jefferson's Notes on Virginia, for example, including the stereotype that blacks have a natural talent for music and physical/athletic activities rather than intellectual work. These views were so widely shared that most whites simply accepted them without a second thought, and they are one reason that even free blacks in the North had no right to civil and voting rights and were kept in segregated schools and neighborhoods. Even after the abolition of slavery in 1865, segregation and exclusion continued for decades in the United States, and these attitudes were so entrenched that they proved extremely difficult to alter, even after the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Many whites are still influenced by these stereotypes today, despite the election of the first black president in 2008. Of course, there has been some change in the past forty years or the lection of Barack Obama would have simply been impossible -- and as late as 1960 or 1970 it would have been unthinkable in the United States.

Racial stereotypes about Hispanics and other minorities might not have been as severe and long lasting as those toward blacks. In part, this is true because Hispanics were a relatively tiny part of the population before 1965, at least outside the Southwest. To be sure, the U.S. annexed Texas in 1845 and then the northern half of Mexico in 1848, and even at that time white attitudes toward Hispanics were already very negative. One reason for this was because they were mostly Catholic while the majority of white Americans were Protestant, and hostility toward the Catholic Church and catholic immigrants was extreme from colonial times until well into the 20th Century. Hispanics were also seen as a 'mixed' race with black and Native American ancestry at a time when both groups were treated horrendously in the United States, and marriages or sexual relations between races was illegal. Indeed, the image of Hispanics as lower class, uneducated and superstitious peons has been a very persistent one in U.S. history, as well as the stereotypes that portray them as crude, violent and alcoholic. One explanation for this is that both blacks and Hispanic immigrants were generally treated as a menial, agricultural labor force, kept carefully segregated from white society and denied education or opportunities for advancement into the middle class. All of this has been changing in the past thirty years, but the persistence of impoverished black and Hispanic ghettos as well as the continued influx of menial workers from Latin America accounts for some of the persistence of racist stereotypes. Indeed, in U.S. history, issues of race, ethnicity and social class have always been intertwined in ways that have not been the case in more homogeneous societies like Japan and Western Europe.

White subjects who read the three stories presented at the beginning of the paper are therefore very likely to remember the race of the criminals mentioned in all of these, especially if the perpetrators are described as black. They are very likely to be less sympathetic to black victims and more understanding of a white police officer shooting a young black male that he believed to be hostile. Indeed, they are almost certainly going to regard blacks and Hispanics as 'naturally' more violent, threatening and aggressive than whites and more inclined to engage in criminal activity than 'regular' work. Whites will assume that blacks and Hispanics are more likely to be involved in gang activity and drug dealing than whites. If this were not the case, the white man in the first story who murdered a white woman would not have assumed that the best way to remove suspicion was to blame a young black male. It would be interesting indeed to observe how white readers would react to these stories when the racial identities of police, victims and criminals are altered between whites, blacks and Hispanics in a random way.


"Deputies Search for Robber Who Shot, Killed Woman.", December 15, 2008.

Gilens, M. (1999). Why Americans Hate Welfare: Media and the Politics of Antipoverty Policy. University of Chicago Press.

Hill, D. (2010). "Video: Teen Derrion Albert Attacked, Beaten to Death in Melee., December 9, 2010.

Kirst-Ashman, K.K. And C. Zastrow (2010). Understanding Human Behavior and the Social Environment. Brooks/Cole Cengage Learning.

Korzenny, F. And B.A. Korzenny (2007). Hispanic Marketing: A Cultural Perspective. Elsevier Butterworth-Heinemann.

Mindiola, T., Y. Flores and N.N. Rodriguez (2002). Black-Brown Relations and Stereotypes. University of Texas Press.

Valdez, M.I. (2008). Hispanic Customers for Life. Paramount Market Publishers, Inc.