“Whether we’re talking about race or gender or class, popular culture is where the pedagogy is, it’s where the learning is.” – Bell Hooks

Image your standard morning. You wake up, and what is the first thing you do – look at your phone? Turn on the radio or TV? As soon as we wake up, we are bombarded with information that comes in all sorts of mediums. We spend our lives absorbing information that feeds into our subconscious. Dictating us on what we like, what we don’t like, how we should act, think, or what we should believe. 

Most mediums are designed to spark enjoyment and act as an escape from modern-day stresses. But this isn’t the case for all, in fact, it can act as quite the opposite. Pop culture has been said to be one of the key drivers in reinforcing stereotypes – as it relies on outdated assumptions when portraying particular characters. Eg: if an Asian person is cast in a movie or tv series, they tend to be depicted as sensible but lacking in social skills – or the complete opposite – where they are depicted as wild and flashy (you only need to watch The Hangover and Crazy Rich Asians to see these stereotypes come to life!). 

According to an article published in Forbes entitled Overcoming The Angry Black Woman Stereotype, for Black women the stereotype that has been pushed upon them carries negative connotations such as anger, sass, a bad-temper and hostility. 

Evidence of this can be found in certain publications when documenting public figures such as Serena Williams, Michelle Obama, Jemele Hill and Shonda Rhimes to name but a few. You may ask – where did this stereotype come from? Well, it is believed to have stemmed from a radio show dating back to the 1950s. And yet, pop culture still depicts this type of stereotype today, almost 70 years on. So what can we do to stop this type of stereotype from persisting? And other stereotypes that follow suit? 

Try and become more aware of the fact that this type of stereotyping still exists. Spend some time thinking about your own bias and if you have ever stereotyped a person based off of your own presumptions. Challenge it and educate yourself on how relying on a stereotype can be very detrimental to both the person and you.

Activities to try with your team

  • In your next team meeting or all hands. Make a point of allowing each member to voice if they have ever felt like a colleague or senior member has judged them before getting to know them, based on their own assumptions. How did that make them feel?
  • Re-framing constructive feedback through the lens of bias. Reflect on a time when a candidate who was from a different background to you has passed through your recruitment pipeline – did you check your bias in that instance?
  • Think about your last 1:1. Have you witnessed stereotyping at work? How did you handle it? Did you feel there was a way for you to escalate this and reach a resolution?

New habits to make a difference

  • Spend some time researching where these stereotypes have come from. It might shock you.
  • Listen to podcasts that address this issue to broaden your awareness of the issue or listen to podcasts that challenge narratives and broaden your perspectives e.g. George the Poet’s podcast.
  • Explore ways to challenge stereotyping both in your workplace and personal life e.g. stereotypes about mothers, stereotypes about young Black men.

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