Readers, Writers, Texts

Constructing Racial Stereotypes

The character of Cousin Chin-Kee is an amalgamation of some of the worst stereotypes of Chinese-American people. This image is by cartoonist Gene Luen Yang.

Racial stereotyping is the act of classifying individuals or putting them into imaginary boxes based on their nationality, ethnicity or skin colour. It is the oversimplification of a person of a particular race. The problem of racial stereotyping occurs when one person’s behaviour is ascribed to a group’s tendencies instead of the causes of an immediate situation. While complicated, there are a few processes that you can look out for to help you determine whether the act of reducing individuals to racial stereotypes is occurring. These include: the ‘us and them’ dichotomy, caricature, metonymy and others. Read one or two of the articles below to find out how racial stereotypes are constructed:

Indigenous Americans

Portrayals of Native American people tend to fall into two categories: a negative portrayal in which indigenous people receive benefits, operate casinos, are untrustworthy, and are suggested to be “fake”. Meanwhile, more positive portrayals suggest native peoples are poor, live on reservations, are honest, in touch with nature, traditional in behaviour, and have supernatural sensitivities. For the purpose of our study it is important to realise that any portrayal – whether positive or negative – involves stereotyping Indigenous people as ‘outsiders’. In this section you’ll investigate texts that portray Native American people in a certain way.

Class Activity: Heap Big Stereotypes

Examine the following texts, all presenting images of or describing native American people. Work in small groups or pairs to note down what the stereotypes of these people are, and how they were created by various media techniques:

Representing Africa

Travel halfway around the world and you’ll find that things don’t much change when it comes to stereotyping. Before you read these articles and texts you might want to conduct a survey and compile the first ten things that come to mind when you think about Africa or African people. Be critical about what comes to mind. You might also like to see how many African capital cities you can name compared to, say, European capital cities. Depending on the results of these two surveys, you might agree that it is more important than ever to study the way Africa has been, and continues to be, represented in texts.

Class Activity: Preconceptions

Before you read the text Christmas in the Kalahari, ask yourself and each other the following questions. Then ask, how does the text throw light on the ethnocentrism and preconceptions of others:

  • What is a ‘preconception’?
  • Where do preconceptions come from?
  • How easy or difficult is it to change your preconceptions?

Learner Portfolio 1

Think about the way people from your country are stereotyped. Write a piece, using the satirical essay How To Write About Africa from the reading list above as a model, substituting your home country for Africa. Discuss with your teacher how the writer used language creatively for effect and try to mimic those techniques in your own writing.

Learner Portfolio 2

In November 2018, Dolce and Gabanna released a series of three adverts depicting Chinese people struggling to eat Western food. These adverts were supposed to promote a fashion show in Shanghai, but instead caused a social media furore which became a PR disaster. Look at the adverts in question and judge for yourself whether the ad campaign perpetuates racial stereotypes. Write up your findings in a one-two page Learner Portfolio entry.

Paper 1 Text Type Focus: Interviews

At the end of your course you will be asked to analyze unseen texts (1 at Standard Level and 2 at Higher Level) in an examination. You will be given a guiding question that will focus your attention on formal or stylistic elements of the text(s), and help you decode the text(s)’ purpose(s). Below are two interviews. Study the text conventions of this text type, including uses of language, presentational and structural features, and stylistic featues. Record your findings about the genre tropes and text conventions. Add this to your Learner Portfolio; you will want to revise text types thoroughly before your Paper 1 exam:

  • TBC

Body of Work: An Image of Africa

Called ‘the father of the African novel,’ China Achebe made waves with this essay in which he called Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness ‘bloody racist.’ He argues that the novel projects the image of Africa as ‘the other world’. As well as attacking Conrad personally, the essay brings to light damaging stereotypes of black people and how these continue to be perpetuated throughout the western world.

Towards Assessment: Individual Oral

“Supported by an extract from one non-literary text and one from a literary work, students will offer a prepared response of 10 minutes, followed by 5 minutes of questions by the teacher, to the following prompt: 

Examine the ways in which the global issue of your choice is presented through the content and form of two of the texts that you have studied. (40 marks)

This essay would be an ideal text to bring into your Individual Oral. The named author would be ‘China Achebe.’ You could explore the Global Issues of Culture, Identity and Community. You could successfully pair the essay with any literary text that considers aspects of race, nationality, or ethnicity. Speak to your teacher or use the following suggestions as a starting point: 

  • J.G. Ballard’s Empire of the Sun – consider the portrayal of the Japanese sergeant in part 2, or the depiction of the Chinese as seen through the eyes of western characters in part 1.
  • Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice – so many parts of this text could be used to explore the issue of race, but in particular, Act 4 Scene 1 (the courtroom scene) features some particularly ugly characterisations of Shylock by the Christian ‘gang’ – or Shylock’s famous speech in Act 3 Scene 1 would be an effective counterpoint to Achebe’s essay.
  • Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga – you could use this text to bring balance to Achebe’s assertions that Africa is depicted as a ‘foil’ to the west, as so many aspects of Tambu’s journey are universal. Alternatively, you could explore a passage from chapter 4 in which Tambu finds it hard to relate to her cousin Nyasha because she has been away for so long studying in Britain.
  • Broken April by Ismail Kadare – you could use the ideas put forward by Achebe to examine the presentation of those who live on the high plateau in this novel (chapters 1 and 2 contain plenty of descriptions of Albanian people). Alternatively, you could select an extract from chapters 3 or 4 that reveal the plurality of identities in Kadare’s work.

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