Membership, Interests, and Cultural Identities
Who you are not only includes your primary and secondary identities, but also what you en joy doing and the groups with which you seek to align yourself. Culture often has a hand in shaping which groups and interests are important. For example, the television show Friday Night Lights depicted high school football as an integral activity in Texas, with towns rallyin g around, and individuals strongly identifying with, their towns’ teams and players. On the show, football players’ families proudly displayed team signs in their front yards; wealthy a nd influential boosters provided the team with financial support and perks, such as a Jumb otron screen; and most of the businesses in town closed down during games. A male growi
ng up in this culture may want (or at least feel pressured) to be a member of this group to r eap the many benefits of its membership, including elevated status in this particular culture . The reverse can also be true: An individual may shy away from a group or interest because it is negatively perceived by a culture. The same male may not want to be characterized as a “band geek,” for example, and decide not to join the marching band, even though he loves playing a musical instrument. How you choose to describe yourself enables you to highlight what you think is important a bout you, and this can include your memberships and interests as well as your primary and secondary identities. But your identity can also cause others to create a stereotype about y ou before they get to know you. Stereotypes are fixed opinions or preconceptions about so meone based on perceived characteristics or expectations of a group rather than factual inf ormation about the specific person. In other words, stereotypes are exaggerated perception s of similarities or differences among people. People in certain groups have some shared ex periences, so some stereotypes might contain a grain of truth. To some degree, we need cer tain stereotypes to cognitively organize all of the information we can receive at any given ti me via our senses. However, stereotypes become problematic when they cause us to look at all members of a group as similar and to ignore the unique differences among individuals. I t is best never to rely only on stereotypes when making judgments or forming an opinion b ecause many stereotypes are negative judgments or are based on ignorance or misinformat ion about a culture and its members. It is very difficult to ignore our stereotypes of other groups when communicating with othe rs or obtaining new social information about others. Social categorization is a natural phen omenon that occurs when we cognitively place others into social groups (Stangor, 2014). W e categorize others in order to use the least amount of mental energy necessary to gather th e most information possible (Hugenberg & Sacco, 2008). Our minds are simply trying to av oid complex, central processing of available information by making quick assumptions (Pet ty & Cacioppo, 1986). This is why we naturally stereotype. We then organize these categori es and the relationships among them into a schema or a mental structure that provides “def ault assumptions” when we have “incomplete information” (DiMaggio, 1997, p. 269). Recall the example earlier in the chapter of John’s judgment of Kiera’s lack of table manners. John may have already socially categorized Kiera as an American, and thus, when he witnessed h er poor table manners, he “fills in the blank” with the schematic belief that Americans have poor table manners rather than cognitively processing other reasons why Kiera may be eati ng this way. John is just saving mental energy by making this assumption. While these stere otypes are not true or fair, our brain develops them to more quickly process the world arou nd us, and it is our job to recognize, deconstruct, and act contrary to them— especially if they are harmful toward others. Try the following exercise: Picture someone named Garcia. Now picture someone named Cl aire. What do these two people look like? The people you pictured are based on your stereo types of what those names signify. Would you be surprised if Garcia was a 5-year- old girl with blond hair and Claire was a 66-year- old man? Table 3.1 contains some stereotypes about U.S. culture and some common Americ an interpretations. In your interactions with other people, have you encountered any of the se stereotypes or other stereotypes based on your cultural heritage, memberships, and inte rests?
Table 3.1: Stereotypes of American culture and common American interpretat ions
Stereotype of American culture
Americans are self-centered and uncaring or disinterested in others because they rarely ask them personal questions.