Stereotypes in American Society

I mentioned the stereotyping of Muslims in America by the American mainstream in the previous blog post. It is important to note that the stereotyping of a narrow segment of American society such as the Muslim community is part of a broader tendency on the part of the American mainstream to stereotype virtually every non-white ethnic and racial group in the United States. Virtually all immigrant communities can attest to having been stereotyped by the white mainstream in one way or another, in addition to having the African-American community be the first community of color to experience stereotyping by the white mainstream.

The term “stereotype” was coined in 1922 by Walter Lippmann, a Jewish-American journalist and writer who also advised a number of American presidents. Lippmann defined the term “stereotype” as a “distorted picture or image in a person’s mind, not based on personal experience, but derived culturally.” Furthermore, Lippmann argued that “the formation of stereotypes is driven by social, political, and economic motivations, and as they are passed from one generation to the next, they can become quite pervasive and resistant to change.”

But for the most part, the origins of a stereotype in the United States stem from the state apparatus itself. According to the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago:

“Historically, state actors have mobilized stereotypes in service of the social process that Lippmann calls “the manufacture of consent.” For instance, in times of war or economic hardship, governments have used stereotypes to reconfigure ethical landscapes and delineate new boundaries separating protagonists (the “in-group”) from antagonists (the “out-group” or “enemy”). Taken to a logical extreme, this sort of us-versus-them polarization ultimately enables members of the in-group to tolerate or even rationalize harming members of the perceived out-group.”

Thus, the American state apparatus plays a major role in the marginalization and stereotyping of communities of color. In turn, bringing forth an Islamic discourse through this blog was an attempt to shatter the stereotyping of Muslims on the part of state actors for both pedagogical purposes and for the safety of other Muslims living in American society. But the pedagogical designs of an Islamic discourse outweigh virtually everything else and in turn the pedagogical designs impact economic, political, and social life. As the medieval Persian and Islamic scholar Mulla Sadra wrote:

“Beware that the final ends and highest purposes behind the existence of love in the souls of the witty, behind their affection for the beauty of bodies, and behind their adornment of forms are to awaken the souls from the sleep of negligence and ignorance, to train them for a while and bring them from potentiality to actuality, to make them advance from corporeal things to spiritual ones and from there to the best of the permanent universal issues, and to provoke in them the desire for seeing God and experiencing the pleasures of the Garden.”

Many of us are aware of stereotypes and stereotyping. But at times, the origin and source of these stereotypes are obscured. Thus, I decided to shed light on how stereotypes have generally materialized in American society.

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