Racism and Stereotypes

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Arianne Hickman
05/05/11 ESS 320
Racism & Stereotypes

“Sport provides a particularly public display of relations of dominance and subordination....The point of sport is to display publicly the processes of challenge and struggle between two sides alleged to begin in equal terms but determined to produce and sustain relations of dominance vis-à-vis one another. Moreover, sport as a meritocracy based on skill quietly reaffirms our national common sense; individuals who work hard and possess the right stuff will always prevail. Turned on its head, this lesson becomes even more insidious: those who are at the top must have risen to the top through fair means and thus deserve their position. In contrast, those not at the top do not possess the requisite talent for such privilege. Even the runner-up is a loser”(Wulfemeyer & Rada, 2005). Sport provides an objective measure to evaluate the performance of a player and/or a team. There are countless statistics for athletes in every sport, which are evaluated on a daily basis. Statistics show how well an athlete performs and how good of an player they truly are. As an athlete, talent is all that should matter and be looked at when making a judgment of whether they are good or not, unfortunately this does not always hold true today. Stereotyping, racism, sexism and all those negative aspects of life, which were thought to have diminished over the years, are still prominent and portrayed through the media to this day.

Stereotyping is the process of imposing characteristics on people based on their perceived group membership (Harrison, 2001). Based on stereotypical beliefs, we make social assumptions and make judgments on our knowledge of the perceived traits of those that fit into social categories. Viewing groups in terms of stereotypes is the brain's way of filling in missing information about individuals we know little about by superimposing perceived traits of the group to which they belong. This is an efficient adaptation of the human mind to allow us to get out of “getting to know” everyone we encounter. Humans have neither the cognitive capacity, time, nor the desire to process all of the information available to us. We therefore use our cognitive space as efficiently as possible by categorizing and compressing information in an attempt to store more (Rose & Christina, 2006).

When stereotypes are based on a wealth of accumulated social and factual knowledge and are not used to make trait assumptions about individual group members, they are generally accurate and pose few problems. It is when stereotypes are based on false, misleading, or limited information that they become problematic. While most stereotyping, even the problematic variety, can be considered harmless it holds potential for quick activation if circumstances and situations present themselves (Harrison Jr., 2001).

Sport and physical activity provide an abundant ground for the development, utilization, and prolongation of stereotypes. Racial stereotypes regarding the abilities of African Americans and Europeans are very much prominent in the realm of sport and physical activity. These stereotypes have been fueled historically by theories developed to explain the perceived performance differences between African Americans and European Americans. Many years of theorizing and hypothesizing about the natural physical abilities of African American athletes have shaped the thinking of entire populations. These seemingly scientific theories and hypotheses have formed the origin of today's African American athlete stereotype (Armstrong, 2011). The former United Nations' Secretary General, Kofi Annan was quoted saying “sport is a universal language that can bring people together, no matter what their origin, background, religious beliefs or economic status” (United Nations, 2005) but this was not always the case....
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