ETHNIC STEROTYPES AND PREDUDICE REDUCTION IN NIGERIA: A SOCIO-PSYCHOLOGICAL APPROACH.
In social psychology, a stereotype is a thought that can be adopted about specific types of individuals or certain ways of doing things. These thoughts or beliefs may or may not accurately reflect reality. However, this is only a fundamental psychological definition of a stereotype. Within psychology and spanning across other disciplines, there are different conceptualizations and theories of stereotyping that provide their own expanded definition. Some of these definitions share commonalities, though each one may also harbor unique aspects that may contradict the others.
The term stereotype derives from the Greek words στερεός (stereos), “firm, solid” and τύπος (typos), “impression,” hence “solid impression”.
The term comes from the printing trade and was first adopted in 1798 by Firmin Didot to describe a printing plate that duplicated any typography. The duplicate printing plate, or the stereotype, is used for printing instead of the original.
Outside of printing, the first reference to “stereotype” was in 1850, as a noun that meant “image perpetuated without change.” However, it was not until 1922 that “stereotype” was first used in the modern psychological sense by American journalist Walter Lippmann in his work Public Opinion.
A “stereotype” is a generalization about a person or group of persons. We develop stereotypes when we are unable or unwilling to obtain all of the information we would need to make fair judgments about people or situations. In the absence of the “total picture,” stereotypes in many cases allow us to “fill in the blanks.” Our society often innocently creates and perpetuates stereotypes, but these stereotypes often lead to unfair discrimination and persecution when the stereotype is unfavorable.
For example, if we are walking through a park late at night and encounter three senior citizens wearing fur coats and walking with canes, we may not feel as threatened as if we were met by three high school-aged boys wearing leather jackets. Why is this so? We have made a generalization in each case. These generalizations have their roots in experiences we have had ourselves, read about in books and magazines, seen in movies or television, or have had related to us by friends and family. In many cases, these stereotypical generalizations are reasonably accurate. Yet, in virtually every case, we are resorting to prejudice by ascribing characteristics about a person based on a stereotype, without knowledge of the total facts. By stereotyping, we assume that a person or group has certain characteristics. Quite often, we have stereotypes about persons who are members of groups with which we have not had firsthand contact.
Television, books, comic strips, and movies are all abundant sources of stereotyped characters. For much of its history, the movie industry portrayed African-Americans as being unintelligent, lazy, or violence-prone. As a result of viewing these stereotyped pictures of African-Americans, for example, prejudice against African-Americans has been encouraged. In the same way, physically attractive women have been and continue to be portrayed as unintelligent or unintellectual and sexually promiscuous.
Stereotypes also evolve out of fear of persons from minority groups. For example, many people have the view of a person with mental illness as someone who is violence-prone. This conflicts with statistical data, which indicate that persons with mental illness tend to be no more prone to violence than the general population. Perhaps the few, but well-publicized, isolated cases of mentally ill persons going on rampages have planted the seed of this myth about these persons. This may be how some stereotypes developed in the first place; a series of isolated behaviors by a member of a group which was unfairly generalized to be viewed as a character of all members of that group.
An ethnic stereotype, national stereotype, or national character is a system of beliefs about typical characteristics of members of a given ethnic group or nationality, their status, society and cultural norms. National stereotypes may be either about their own ethnicity/nationality or about others. Stereotypes about their own nation may aid in maintaining the national identity.
Various anti-national phobias and prejudices operate with ethnic stereotypes.
Ethnic stereotypes are commonly portrayed in ethnic jokes, most of which usually considered to be offensive in various degrees.
STEREOTYPES AND PREJUDICE IN NIGERIA
Stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination are understood as related but different concepts. Stereotypes are regarded as the most cognitive component and often occurs without conscious awareness, whereas prejudice is the affective component of stereotyping and discrimination is the behavioral component of prejudicial reactions. In this tripartite view of intergroup attitudes, stereotypes reflect expectations and beliefs about the characteristics of members of groups perceived as different from one’s own, prejudice represents the emotional response, and discrimination refers to actions. Understanding the nature of prejudice, scapegoating, stereotypes, and discrimination is the first step in combating these practices. All of us have prejudices about members of groups different from ourselves. We should, however, recognize that we are not acting fairly if we treat people differently because of these stereotypes and prejudices. Each one of us deserves to be considered a unique human being.
Although related, the three concepts can exist independently of each other. According to Daniel Katz and Kenneth Braly, stereotyping leads to racial prejudice when people emotionally react to the name of a group, ascribe characteristics to members of that group, and then evaluate those characteristics.
Possible prejudicial effects of stereotypes are:
• Justification of ill-founded prejudices or ignorance
• Unwillingness to rethink one’s attitudes and behavior towards stereotyped groups
• Preventing some people of stereotyped groups from entering or succeeding in activities or fields[
Ethnicity is one of the keys to understanding Nigeria’s pluralistic society. It distinguishes groupings of peoples who for historical reasons have come to be seen as distinctive–by themselves and others–on the basis of locational origins and a series of other cultural markers. Experience in the postindependence period fostered a widespread belief that modern ethnicity affects members’ life chances. In Nigerian colloquial usage, these collectivities were commonly called “tribes.” In the emergent Nigerian national culture, this topic was discussed widely as “tribalism,” a morally reprehensible term whose connotations were similar to American terms, such as “discrimination,” “racism,” or “prejudice.” Nigerian national policies have usually fostered tolerance and appreciation for cultural differences, while trying at the same time to suppress unfair treatment based on ethnic prejudice. This long-term campaign involved widespread support in educated circles to replace the term “tribe” or “tribal” with the more universally applicable concept of ethnicity. Nevertheless, older beliefs died slowly, and ethnic identities were still a vital part of national life in 1990.
The ethnic variety was dazzling and confusing. Estimates of the number of distinct ethnic groupings varied from 250 to as many as 400. The most widely used marker was that of language. In most cases, people who spoke a distinct language having a separate term for the language and/or its speakers saw themselves, or were viewed by others, as ethnically different. Language groupings were numbered in the 1970s at nearly 400, depending upon disagreements over whether or not closely related languages were mutually intelligible. Language groupings sometimes shifted their distinctiveness rather than displaying clear boundaries. Manga and Kanuri speakers in northeastern Nigeria spoke easily to one another. But in the major Kanuri city of Maiduguri, 160 kilometers south of Manga-speaking areas, Manga was considered a separate language. Kanuri and Manga who lived near each other saw themselves as members of the same ethnic group; others farther away did no
Prejudice has become profitable in Nigeria. Its boom season for ethnic entrepreneurs and, indeed, for sundry purveyors of hate. These traders in prejudice do not inhabit any special corners of Nigeria. They are everywhere and they profit from nearly everything. They cut across generations, class, gender, and creed. Nothing escapes their attention and everything is sooner or later an ethnic conspiracy or an excuse for a slur on an identity group
Prejudice and stereotyping are biases that work together to create and maintain social inequality. Prejudice refers to the attitudes and feelings—whether positive or negative and whether conscious or non-conscious—that people have about members of other groups. In contrast, stereotypes have traditionally been defined as specific beliefs about a group, such as descriptions of what members of a particular group look like, how they behave, or their abilities. As such, stereotypes are cognitive representations of how members of a group are similar to one another and different from members of other groups. Importantly, people can be aware of cultural stereotypes and have cognitive representations of those beliefs without personally endorsing such stereotypes, without feelings of prejudice, and without awareness that such stereotypes could affect one’s judgment and behavior. Prejudice and stereotyping are generally considered to be the product of adaptive processes that simplify an otherwise complex world so that people can devote more cognitive resources to other tasks. However, despite any cognitively adaptive function they may serve, using these mental shortcuts when making decisions about other individuals can have serious negative ramifications. The horrible mistreatment of particular groups of people in recent history, such as that of Jews, African Americans, women, and homosexuals, has been the major impetus for the study of prejudice and stereotyping. Thus, the original conceptions and experiments were concerned almost entirely with conscious, negative attitudes and explicitly discriminatory actions. However, as the social acceptability of prejudice and stereotypes has changed, the manifestations of prejudice and stereotypes have also changed. In response to these changes, and given that people who reject prejudice and stereotyping can still unwittingly internalize stereotypic representations, the study of prejudice and stereotyping has recently moved to include beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors that could be considered positive and not obviously or overtly prejudiced. Importantly, even when prejudice and stereotypes are ostensibly positive (e.g., traditional women are wonderful and adored), they preserve the dominance of powerful groups: they not only limit the opportunities of stereotyped groups but also produce a litany of negative outcomes when those group members defy them. Because of these new conceptions of bias, there have also been methodological adaptations in the study of prejudice and stereotyping that move beyond the conscious attitudes and behaviors of individuals to measure their implicit prejudice and stereotypes as well. This article gives a quick tour through the social psychological study of prejudice and stereotyping to inform the reader about its theoretical background, measurement, and interventions aimed to reduce prejudice.
• Alí, Maurizio. (2010). Medios de comunicación, asuntos étnicos e intercultura en Colombia. En Revista Razón y Palabra, 74 (nov.2010/ene.2011). México DF: ITESM Campus Estado de México. ISSN 1605-4806.
• Macrae CN, Stangor C, Hewstone M.(eds.) “Stereotypes and stereotyping.” Guilford Press, 1996.