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The original definition of a stereotyping was printing by means of a solid block of type, an image that was perpetuated without change. Anything that fit onto a single sheet, such as letters, posters and the like. Only 100 years later did it come to mean preconceived and oversimplified notions of characteristics typical of persons or groups. We all know that prejudging people is ignorant and narrow-minded, but that’s stereotyping stereotyping, isn’t it? 

Stereotyping is an efficient way to categorize people

Merriam-Webster says stereotypes are standardized mental pictures, oversimplified opinions and prejudices that hold to be true that all members of a given group share the same characteristics. Stereotyping is a very human way of taking shortcuts. It simplifies things for us by reducing the amount of mental effort we have to expend. The downside is that stereotypes are usually prejudicial and only occasionally positive, such as the stereotype that Indian kids are great spellers, supported by the fact that they dominate the Scripps National Spelling Bee year after year.

Some psychologists say stereotyping is a natural reaction from our tribal days, when we relied on our group for safety. Animals do it all the time. Lions don’t see individual zebras – they see lunch.

For a very long time, TV and film showed us women in stereotyped roles, mostly as housewives

June Cleaver, Donna Reed, Harriett Nelson and Margaret Anderson all wore pearls while cooking, cleaning and vacuuming. There was the occasional female professional, perfectly played by Katharine Hepburn in Woman of the Year, Adam’s Rib and Desk Set. But more of the roles for women were showgirls, gold-diggers and adventuresses who sought financial and social advancement by unscrupulous means.

Central Casting was an employment agency that supplied supporting characters and extras to moviemakers

The Wall Street Journal says the term central casting is “Hollywood lingo for characters that look the part.” Individuals who played stereotypes became known as character actors. Their faces were instantly recognizable by moviegoers but not their names. 

Can you match the faces of these character actors with their names?

New stereotypes

If you’ve had the television on during the past few years, you’ve probably noticed that the criminals portrayed by actors in television commercials for security products and services are invariably Caucasian.


Most of us think stereotyping is a bad thing, but as George and Ira Gershwin would say, “It Ain’t Necessarily So.” The song is from the musical Porgy and Bess, set in Catfish Row, Charleston, SC and described by George as a folk opera.

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