Managing the Cultural Mix II: How Do We See One Another?

By Bennie Crane

Let’s examine stereotypes. For our proposes, these are defined as standard mental pictures held in common regarding members of a group and representing an oversimplified opinion, prejudiced attitude, or uncritical judgment. In the absence of factual information, we have nothing else to rely on but stereotypical information, which, although unreliable and many times false, is the only information available to us.

Racial profiling, on the other hand, is defined as taking action toward members of a group based on the stereotype information available for the group. Such action is based on unreliable information and is illegal.

Stereotyping people is normal for human beings. Once, as I watched a group of workshop students read the text in the “Racial & Gender Stereotyping Exercise” below, I found it interesting to see many of them smiling. This was interesting because this is usually a very sobering topic in which participants tend to become sensitive and apprehensive. On reflection, though, it became clear to me that most people had been so involved in developing perceptions of others that they are surprised to find that the others were also developing perceptions of them, as if to ask: Am I that obvious? In many instances, participants found such perceptions amusing.

Below is the description of and a small sample of the stereotyping exercise taken from Personal Empowerment: Achieving Individual and Departmental Excellence. It is an awareness-development exercise that can be useful in shedding light on the racial and cultural barriers in fire departments or any variegated institution. Please consult the text for the complete list of the corresponding stereotypes.

Racial & Gender Stereotyping Exercise
How Do We See One Another?

Assignment: Determine how we see ourselves, and how others see us. Do we all see each other and ourselves the same way?

Methods: The participants are to answer the following questions. How do whites view themselves? How do blacks view themselves? How do Latinos view themselves? How do women see them selves?

How do whites view blacks, Latinos, and women?

How do blacks view whites, Latinos, and women?

How do Latinos view Whites, Blacks, and Women?

How do women view blacks, Latinos, and whites?

What are your pet peeves with blacks, whites, Latinos, or women?

System: To protect the identity of the participants, a system of colors was developed to note their race and gender. No names were used in this exercise.

Blue = White males
Red = Women
Green = Black males
White = Asian
Black = Latinos
Yellow = TBA

I have included a sampling of the stereotypes listed in each group.

Section 1: How We See Ourselves

Blacks on Blacks

  • Religious

  • Very proud

  • Intelligent

  • Hard workers

  • Sense of independence

  • Oppressed/not trusted

  • Unequal recognition

  • Have to work twice as hard

  • Becoming recognized

Whites on Whites

  • Higher morals

  • Family unity

  • Victims of Affirmative Action

  • Fear of racial violence in Chicago

  • Sunburn easy

  • Trusted more

  • Respect the property of others

  • Respect the rights of others’ religion

  • Klan Plan

  • Resent minorities

Latinos on Latinos

  • It is great to be Hispanic

  • Respect wives and mothers

  • Can deal with all races

  • Rich culture

  • Hard working

  • No confusion on Father’s Day

  • Good looking

  • Beautiful country

  • Minorities’ minority

  • Outsiders without a cause

Women on Women

  • Tries to look her best (looks are important)

  • Motherhood – Child bearing

  • Trying harder

  • Image

  • Has to show more compassion and sensitivity

  • Must balance family vs. career

  • Opening opportunities

  • More aware of capabilities and potential

  • Guilt and confusion of role family vs. career

  • Competition between women

How We See Others

Blacks on Whites

  • Better job

  • Unity

  • Feels superior

  • Better opportunities

  • Racist

  • Well-informed

  • Power, leaders

  • Arrogant

  • Advantaged, privileged, and egocentric

  • Target group (male)

  • Aggressive

Blacks on Latinos

  • Unity

  • Aggressive

  • Pride

  • Closer to culture

  • Hard laborer

  • Isolated (black, white)

  • Disadvantaged (jobs)

  • Togetherness (religion)

  • Strong family background

  • Latinos equal to blacks

Blacks on Women

  • Emotional

  • Sensitive

  • Dedicated

  • Self-conscious

  • Aggressive

  • Disadvantaged (blacks)

  • Privileged (whites)

  • Loving

  • Strong

  • Intellectual

Latinos on Blacks

  • Stylish

  • Compassionate To other minorities

  • Identification with other struggles & causes

  • Streetwise

  • Very artistic

  • Okay to be black

  • Very rhythmic

  • Have to work much harder

  • Feelings toward society

  • Not given the chance to try in society

Latinos on Whites (WASP)

  • Lives off parents

  • Mamas’ boys

  • Better education and jobs

  • No set traditions to hold them back

  • More liberal

  • More accepted in life

  • Trusted more

  • Small families

  • Money-oriented

  • Good surroundings

Latinos on Women

  • Use sex as a tool for opportunity and punishment

  • More choice in clothing

  • Very sensitive

  • Persuasive

  • Adaptable to changing times

  • Left behind

  • Has to work much harder to compete in society

  • Confused on role in society

  • Have to be overachiever in the workplace

  • Speak out

Whites on Blacks

  • Less pressure for success

  • Easier to get public, financial, and federal aid

  • More excuses for failure

  • Prejudged, whether good or bad

  • Lack of family structure

  • Recipient of affirmative action

  • Don’t sunburn easily

  • Don’t have to account for actions

  • “Nobody respects me”

  • Are good breakdancers

Whites on Latinos

  • Strong family structure

  • Good with spray paint

  • Hard workers

  • Fear of gangs

  • Language barriers

  • No one is going to push me around

  • Overload car springs (14 per car)

  • Low paid, hard workers

  • Healthy eaters (40 ways to cook a bean)

  • Sports

Whites on Women

  • Guys pay on dates

  • Affirmative action (special considerations)

  • Easier to show emotions

  • Manipulative

  • PMS

  • “Hope I don’t break a nail picking up a stretcher”

  • Have to work harder to prove myself

  • Family-oriented

  • Sexually harassed in order move up the corporate ladder

  • Favoritism because of gender

Women on Whites

  • Macho

  • The support system of the family structure

  • Follow in fathers’ footsteps

  • Male chauvinist

  • Have more opportunity

  • Family expectations higher

  • Sexual

  • Self-controlled

  • Double standards

  • Pressured to be competitive, aggressive, and successful

Women on Blacks

  • Macho

  • Desire to do better than their fathers’ did

  • Anger

  • Compete with the white male

  • Smug — minority quotas

  • More violent

  • Weaker family structure

  • More pride with achievement

  • Emphasis on material items

Women on Latinos

  • Macho

  • Environment — Culture

  • Loud in dress and manner

  • Loud appearance

  • Defensive

  • Try harder: caught between blacks and whites

  • Macho

  • Family-oriented

  • Protective

After the workshop, the participants read the list of stereotypes and were invited to add additional stereotypes to the appropriate lists. The participants agreed that there was some basis for each of the items on the various lists, but also said that none of them applied to all members of any one group.

In the next installment of this series I will discuss responsibility of the individual and affirmative action.

Bennie L. Crane is a field instructor with the University of Illinois Fire Service Institute. A popular speaker and certified facilitator, Crane began his fire service career with the Chicago Fire Department in 1961 and retired as district chief in 1995. He is the author of Personal Empowerment: Achieving Departmental and Individual Excellence from Pennwell’s Fire Engineering Books.

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