HAYES Mismeasurement by race, class, and gender

This research topic submitted by Sarah Reilly and Karyn Oetting (oettinke@mivx1.miamioh.edu) on 2/26/98.

Karyn Oetting and Sarah Reilly
Stereotypes Supporting the Status Quo by Creating a Self-fulfilling Prophecy

American society is clearly divided into a hierarchy across lines such as gender, race, and socio-economic background. For sociobiologists, a pressing question has been the role of genetics in the seemingly universal stratification of humyns along race, class, and gender lines. Social Darwinism has argued that people of color, poorer people, and womyn are genetically inferior to affluent, white men. However, it has since become generally accepted in the scientific community that Social Darwinism is wrong, and superior/inferior roles are actually actively taught social hierarchies--not the result of genetic predisposition.
We believe that the existing social hierarchy is in the best interest of the affluent white male, and therefore, a society dominated by affluent white men (patriarchy) will work hard to keep the hierarchy intact. One way our society is kept stratified is by instilling a system of hegemony, in which learned characteristics--such as the inferiority of blacks or womyn to whites or men--are so prevalent that members of society accept the characteristics as natural and normal. As a result, affluent white males are raised to believe they are naturally superior to people of color, womyn, and blue/pink collar workers, and, conversely, people of color, womyn, and blue/pink collar workers are raised to feel they are naturally inferior to white men. A common manifestation of hegemony are stereotypes based on race, class, and gender. When humyns are stereotyped according to race, gender, class, we tend to accept these stereotypes as “normal” and “right” because we are never told things can be any other way. As a result, people in the society believe the stereotypes to be true. Some classic examples of this sort of gender, racial, and socio-economic stereotyping have been the popular myths that womyn and girls are not good in math and science; that Latinos are lazy and intellectually inferior to whites; or that all African-Americans are poor. As consequence of the existence of these stereotypes, and people believing them to be true, the problem of a “self-fulfilling prophecy” emerges. The “self-fulfilling prophecy” is based on the idea that if a person is told s/he is inferior, or that s/he cannot succeed at the same things white males accomplish, or that s/he is “naturally” predisposed to being good at certain things, then s/he will accept the stereotype as truth, and make no attempt to challenge the assumption.


To study the effect of stereotypes we need to come at the issue from several directions. We intend on conducting studies of students at Miami to determine stereotypes people already have; observing the evidence of stereotypes in popular culture through the media’s representation of womyn and people of color, particularly in advertising and film; observing the way stereotypes are propagated through white supremacist literature (as an extreme example of mismeasurement by race and gender); and looking at studies conducted on the ways that environment influences ones self image (i.e. studies of twins raised in separate homes and of adopted children).
In the studies we will conduct on Miami student we are seeking to determine whether someone’s social status influences the way they view their ability to succeed in main stream society. To do this we will ask questions similar to the following.
-What is you race?
-Are you male or female?
-What is you’re family’s income?
-What class would you place yourself in?
-What class you consider most of your friends?
-Did you grow up in an urban or rural setting?
-Did your parent and/or grandparents attend university?
-Do you have bothers or sisters that have or will attend university?
-At what age did you begin school?
-Do both of your parents work full time jobs?
-If not what’s the break down?
-Did you always assume you were going to college?
-Did your parents always assume you were going to college?
-Does the same hold true for most of your friends?
-Would you consider your elementary and/or high school to be diverse in race?
-How often did your family take vacations?
-What kind of grades did you get in school?
-Were good grades expected by your parents?
-What range income do you expect to receive in future employment?
-What range income do your parents expect you to receive?
-What range in come do you think the majority of your peers expect to receive?

We are also interested in determining if our subjects expect people of high social status to be in positions of power. Positions of power can include: influential leaders, celebrities, athletes, governmental officials, etc. We also want to see if our subjects take womyn and people of color seriously as potential successful leaders. Questions we might ask to establish inherent prejudice are:
-Name your 5 favorite actors/actresses.
-Name your 5 favorite sports heroes.
-Name the 5 most influential figures in recent history.

The following questions are designed to determine what words people use to describe others in certain positions which are usually associated with specific genders and races, and to determine whether the word they use have masculine or feminine connotations.
-What are traits of being a good business person?
-What are traits of being a good parent?
-What are traits of being a good teacher?
-What are traits of being a good mother ?
-What are traits of being a good father?
-What are traits of being a good statesperson?
-Why is racial equality important?
-What do you consider sexual harassment?

In looking at media representations of people of color, in advertising we want to see what kind of positions they are given when they adds are directed at different social groups. Are they given more dominant positions or more subservient positions? Does their portrayal change when the adds are directed at other people of color or at a primarily white audience or does their position remain the same regardless of target audience? In looking at film we are interested in looking at the same issues, concentrating not only on who the perceived audience is for the film, but also who is involved in the production and direction of the film. Some genres we intend to look at are the new “ghetto” films, older historical drama, and the main stream romantic comedy.
In looking at racist propaganda we want too see what stereotypes white supremacists embellish to convey their messages of hatred and violence. Perhaps we can see if there are links any links this extreme form of overt hatred and intolerance and main stream media portrayal of minorities.

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Zhang, Jie, “Patterns of Physical Preference Among Races: A Preliminary Study with College Students,” Perceptual and Motor Skills, 1996, v83, p901.

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