Notes on perpetuating harmful stereotypes


Feature image by: Jack Fussell

“The truth is in the details.” ~ Stephen King

Most of us, no matter our ethnic or national background, can fall into the trap of stereotyping other people:

  • “the typical African villager,”
  • “her downcast Japanese eyes,”
  • “your average homeless person.”

Without thinking, we might refer to Hispanic people as all colorful, sombreroed and with big families. We might use metaphors that lock a race, religion or gender into an insulting cliché.

Stereotypes not only demean whoever is being written about, they indicate that the writer has not been willing to do his or her work – the hard work of observing and writing the details that make people come alive in a story, an essay, a poem or novel. And they rob the reader of the joy of connecting with those people and drawing their own conclusions about who they are meeting.

You can avoid stereotyping by educating yourself. Google: avoiding stereotypes in writing. You’ll find dozens of articles on what is regarded as offensive. Then, look at your own work. Where have you taken the easy route and avoided writing the details? Finally, carry a notebook with you and begin writing down detailed descriptions:

  • Our indigo-scarfed hostess stepped out of her thatched-roof hut.
  • Akane waved us over to a bank of computers and smiled. “This is where we make the magic.”
  • The girl was egret-skinny, beads woven into her hair. She looked me in the eye, grinned and said, “Bet you can spare a buck.”

And, of course, you may know the hurt of being stereotyped yourself. Many of us do.

Note: Matador Senior Editor David Miller talks in more detail about the above, and other issues, in Plight writing and travel ‘porn’.

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