Stereotypes of groups within the United States

Stereotypes exist of various groups of people as found within US culture. These stereotypes may be disproportionately well known to people worldwide, due to the transmission of US culture and values via the export of US made films and television shows.

Ethnic groups

Native Americans

There has long been an admiration of Native Americans as fitting the archetype of the noble savage within European thought, stemming from a cultural sympathy grounded within the post-Enlightenment theory of primitivism.[1][2] These positive portrayals of Native Americans as being noble, peaceful people, who lived in harmony with nature and each other continue within modern culture, e.g. the 1990 film Dances with Wolves.

Over time, as settlers spread west, Native Americans were seen as obstacles and their image became more negative. Native Americans were portrayed in popular media as wild, primitive, uncivilized, dangerous people who continuously attack white settlers, cowboys, and stagecoaches and ululate while holding one hand in front of their mouths. They speak invariably in a deep voice and use stop words like "How" and "Ugh".

In drawings, their skin color was depicted as deep red. In westerns and other media portrayals, they are usually called "Indians". Examples of this stereotypical image of Native Americans can be found in many American westerns until the early 1960s, and in cartoons like Peter Pan. In other stereotypes, they smoked peace pipes, wore face paint, danced around totem poles (often with a hostage tied to them), sent smoke signals, lived in tepees, wore feathered head-dresses, scalped their foes, and said 'um' instead of 'the' or 'a'.

As colonization continued in the U.S., groups were separated into categories like "Christians" and "civilized" against "heathen" and "savage". Many Whites view Native Americans as devoid of self-control and unable to handle responsibility. It is thought that such ideas about Native Americans form the ideology that is used today to justify the disparity between Whites and Native Americans.[3] Today, a 19th-century stereotype of Native Americans lives on for many people . Modern Native Americans as they live today are rarely portrayed in popular culture.

Native Americans were also portrayed as all-bring fierce warrior braves—often appearing in school sports teams' names until such team names fell into disfavor in the later 20th century. Many school team names have been revised to reflect current sensibilities, though professional teams like the Kansas City Chiefs, the Atlanta Braves, the Cleveland Indians and the Washington Redskins continue. Some controversial upper-level Native American team mascots such as Chief Noc-A-Homa and Chief Illiniwek have been discontinued; others like Chief Wahoo and Chief Osceola and Renegade remain.

Native American gaming has been expanding since the 1970s, and was formalized in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. It has become a modern stereotype that a Native American must either own a casino or be in the family of one who does.

African Americans

Early stereotypes

In centuries before and during the first half of the 20th century black people were often depicted by Whites as dumb, evil, lazy, poor, cannibalistic, smelly, uncivilized, un-Christian [4] people. The early British colonists brought these ideas with them to the Americas, and their negative stereotypes persisted in the newly formed United States, and other former British possessions, once the period of British colonialism ended.

White colonists commonly believed that black people were inferior to white people. These thoughts helped to justify black slavery and the institution of many laws that continually condoned inhumane treatment and perpetuated to keep black people in a lower socioeconomic position.[4]This was especially true for how whites treated black females, often labeling them with lewd adjectives. This became known as the "Jezebel stereotype", after the infamous Phoenician Queen Jezebel. The British colonists arriving in Africa for the first time in the 1500s were the first to create and spread this stereotype, and this stereotype was used to justify rape and forced procreation of black women by white men.

Black people were usually depicted as slaves or servants working in cane fields or carrying large piles of cotton. They were often portrayed as devout Christians going to church and singing gospel music. In many vaudeville shows, minstrel acts, cartoons, comics and animated cartoons of this period they were depicted as sad, lazy, dimwitted characters with big lips who sing bluesy songs and are good dancers, but get excited when confronted with dice games, chickens or watermelons (examples: all the characters portrayed by Stepin Fetchit and black characters in cartoons like "Sunday Go to Meetin' Time" and "All This and Rabbit Stew").

A more joyful black image, yet still very stereotypical, was provided by eternally happy black characters like Uncle Tom, Uncle Remus and Louis Armstrong's equally joyous stage persona. Another popular stereotype from this era was the black who is scared of ghosts (and usually turns white out of fear). Children are often pickaninnies like Little Black Sambo and Golliwog. African American Vernacular English speech was also often used in comedy, like for instance in the show Amos 'n' Andy.

Another stereotype was that of the savage. African black people were usually depicted as primitive, childlike, cannibalistic persons who live in tribes, carry spears, believe in witchcraft and worship their wizard.

Modern stereotypes

Since the 1960s, the stereotypical image of black people has changed in some media. More positive depictions appeared where black people and African Americans are portrayed as great athletes and superb singers and dancers. In many films and television series since the 1970s, black people are depicted as good-natured, kind, honest and intelligent persons. Often they are the best friend of the white protagonist (examples: Miami Vice, Lethal Weapon, Magnum Force, Walker, Texas Ranger, The Incredibles).

Some critics believed this political correctness led to another stereotypical image where black people are often depicted too positively. However those who boycott Political Correctness for its often hypercritical behaviour, say that it’s only replacing one negative stereotype with another. Spike Lee popularized the term magical negro, deriding the archetype of the "super-duper magical negro" in 2001 while discussing films with students at Washington State University and at Yale University.[5][6]

The stereotype of unintelligent African-Americans continues to this day, particularly when junxtaposed with images of African-American athletes.

White Americans

Hispanic and Latino Americans

Italian Americans

Arabs and Muslims

South Asians

East Asians

West and Central Asians


Social groups



See also


  1. ^ Anthony Pagden, The Fall of the Natural Man: the American Indian and the origins of comparative ethnology. Cambridge Iberian and Latin American Studies.(Cambridge University Press, 1982)
  2. ^ See Paul Hazard, The European Mind (Cleveland, Ohio: Meridian Books 1937, 1969): 13-14, and passim.
  3. ^ Malcolm D. Holmes and Judith A. Antell
  4. ^ a b Hurst, Charles E. Social Inequality: Forms, Causes, and Consequences. 6. Boston: Pearson Education, Inc, 2007
  5. ^  
  6. ^ Gonzalez, Susan. "Director Spike Lee slams 'same old' black stereotypes in today's films". Yale Bulletin & Calendar ( 
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