Stereotyping is a risky, offensive, and non-productive exercise. Ethnic jokes may be humorous, but are built on a foundation of misinformation and bias.
How often have you heard something like..."Well, all Asians look alike to me! I can't tell one from another. Our strategy worked in Japan, so it should be fine in all the other Asian countries." A business strategy based on this assumption is doomed to fail.
Webster's New World Dictionary defines stereotypes as:
" ... an unvarying form or pattern; a fixed or conventional notion or conception, as of a person, group, idea, etc., held by a number of people, and allowing for no individuality, critical judgment..."
The term stereotype was first used in the
18th century to describe a printing process designed to duplicate pages of type.
"Stereotype means to cast a person in a preset mold -- to deny individuality. The word comes from a copying process invented in 1725."
The Engines of Our Ingenuity, John H. Lienhard, University of Houston
In the 19th century, psychiatrists began to use the term to describe a type of persistent and repetitive behavior and unchanging mode of expression.
A lack of awareness and misinformation are the foundation of many cross-cultural conflicts. In order to assist us in better understanding someone from a different cultural background, we often make generalizations and assumptions that classify people by putting them into groupings that are familiar to us.
Generalizations can be helpful in the process of learning to understand other cultures.
Generalizations become dangerous when they result in negative stereotyping - unrealistic and exaggerated characteristics of a group of people.
Cultural awareness begins by understanding yourself, then learning to understand others.