Participants will recognize the widespread use of stereotypes.
Large sheets of newsprint, tape, markers, and wall space or other surfaces to which
newsprint may be taped.
Before the presentation, label the top of each sheet of newsprint with the name of a different type of person or group. Try to include a variety of dimensions of diversity. Examples may include Women, Men, Teenagers, African American Males, Asian Americans, Latino Americans, Catholics, Christians, Jews, Arabs, Moslems, Amish People, Wealthy People, Poor People, The Homeless, People on Welfare, People with a physical challenge, Californians, Southerners, People 75 Years and Older, People Who Live in the Country, People Who Live in the City, and others. Fold each sheet and tape the sheets on the walls or other surfaces in a manner that does not reveal the label. Leave enough space between them so that small
groups can form around each sheet.
You may choose to introduce this activity with a brief discussion about culture and its impact on our behavior. Be sure to point out that culture is something we begin learning as very young children, that the rules of our culture are often not written but are learned from those around us, and that as children we generally accept these rules without question. Tell participants you want to engage them in an activity called “What Do You Know or What Have You Heard?” Begin unfolding the posted newsprint sheets so that the labels are revealed. Tell each participant to circulate around the room to each sheet of newsprint and, with a marker, write one thing that they either “know” or that they have heard about the people or group identified by the label. Emphasize that what they write can be something that they know or something they have heard. Allow enough time for each participant to add a thought to each list. Then invite participants to take a few minutes to observe the completed lists.
Ask participants the following questions:
- What do many of the comments we have written on the lists represent?
- Are they all true?
- Where did they come from? (Responses might include parents, friends, teachers, books, the media, and others.)
- Lead a discussion about stereotypes and the fact that we become conditioned to think about stereotypes on an almost automatic basis when we see or hear about someone whose background is different from our own. We all use stereotypes at one point or another. The important thing is that we begin to become more conscious of the fact that we are often thinking “on automatic.” We must stop to ask ourselves if what we are thinking is a fact or a stereotype.