In the movie Wall Street, greed is good. In writing fiction, stereotypes fill an important role. Enter the word “stereotypes” in Google and you’ll be blasted with a long, long list of articles decrying the negative influence of stereotypes. However, every writer uses them, consciously or not, because they summarize volumes of description and provide a general frame of reference.

The fact is, many stereotypes have a kernel of truth.

A reviewer of one of my books accused the story of relying upon every negative stereotype for some of the characters. However, what that reviewer doesn’t know is that the characters in question are based upon actual experience and real people who conform to that stereotype. The reviewer also neglects to mention the prominent presence of characters in that book who defy the stereotypes.

An blog published by Nova Southeastern University by Dr. Donovan A. McFarlane confirms that kernel of truth upon which stereotypes are built: “In fact, what many people hold as stereotypes sometimes prove to be social experiences despite them being generalized across entire groups or populations.”

Cogito’s Thoughts associate stereotyping with “the ability to notice and extrapolate patterns in seemingly unpredictable and inconsistent chaos.” In other words, stereotypes exhibit humanity’s ability to generalize which proves useful in criminal profiling. The blog further states: “Social stereotypes are no different than those of the physical sciences that have evolved technological understanding… psychologists and sociologists do it. The difference though is the fact that you and I don’t have Ph.D.’s in the subject matter. That fact alone is what turns us from being taken seriously as objective scientists to being taken as bigots.”

For instance, let’s veer off the subject of people and jump over to stereotypes regarding dogs. According to an article published on October 10, 2016, in DogsBite.org, “There are at least 10 peer-reviewed studies published in medical science journals since 2009 that show a higher frequency of pit bull injuries than all other breeds of dogs in retrospective reviews of level I trauma centers. As of 2016, all major geographical regions in the U.S. are reporting these same findings as well: northwest, west, southwest, south, southeast, midwest and northeast.”

Pit bull fans assert that their favorite breed is no more aggressive than any other breed. Indeed, they provide myriad examples of pit bulls protecting their families and gently interacting with family members. The media have used such statistics to build a fearsome stereotype that has led municipal governments across the USA to ban the breed, levy heightened restrictions and obligations on people who own pit bulls, and require categorization of any dog with a blocky head and phenotype that resembles a pit bull as a pit bull.

People accept stereotypes and prejudices when they conform to their own preconceived notions and biases. Stereotypes become problematic when they are assumed correct and complete without testing for validity. The complexity of humanity will always produce individuals who break stereotypes, who rise above them, and who will never fit the generalizations. Psychologist Steve DeBerry concurs: “The notion of stereotypes have taken a bad rap lately, but they do exist and are a valid construct. The mistake people make is in relying only on the stereotype and not including other information.” DeBerry also warns that people “must also pay attention to the source of the stereotype…from whom or where it is coming from.”

One cannot deny that stereotypes may and have been used in derogatory fashion to dehumanize and castigate entire groups of people by those to whom such groups appear a threat. Fears about one’s safety, prosperity, purity, or superiority cater to using stereotypes that subjugate entire groups of people.

Stereotypes assist in making quick judgments when one has little time to acquire sufficient information to form an educated opinion. The caution comes when, given the time, we do not test those opinions for validity and alter our understanding based on that additional information.