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Social Sciences: African American Stereotypes


Dating back to the colonial years of settlement, stereotypes have been part of America especially after inheriting slavery. Stereotypes of African Americans can be traced back to as early as in the first films and were modernized throughout film history. African Americans are citizens or residents of the United States with at least partial descent from any of the indigenous populations of Sub-Saharan Africa. Stereotypes can be described as sets of generalized and simplified beliefs attributed to a discrete group. For instance, Welch (2007) observes that a young black man is perceived as “a criminal threat among the public in the contemporary American society” (p. 286). For many years, African Americans have been subjected to different types of stereotypes; media, gender and racial among others.

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Media stereotypes

In a modern capitalist society, mass media has become one of the main sources of popular culture. Our socialization is hugely dependent on the media. Hence, the media and especially television plays a major role in stereotyping of the African Americans since it is an alternative regularly used to effect change in the society. This has raised eyebrows as it has a great influence on the viewer’s perception about those being stereotyped. Carter, (2008) asserts that “portrayals of African Americans on television may have an influence on viewers and their perceptions about African Americans in general” (p. 251).

In addition, on the issue of how the media portrays Blacks and crime, Welch 2007 observes that “the media provide readily accessible depictions of criminality, which may help to shape perceptions about crime and subsequent justice practices” (p. 281). Although the stereotypes shown on television are generally falsified, they are quite well accepted by the viewers as the truth without considering how true they may be.

The viewers who watch such shows on a regular basis do not readily recognize the biased content being presented to them. Thus, mass media play some role in the evolution and sustainment of stereotypes because by portraying negative stereotypical representations of African Americans, they present oversimplified images hindering the interaction that could foster unbiased and constructive relationships between Whites and Blacks.

Gender role stereotypes

Stereotypes are not only focused on mass media but also on gender roles. Gender role stereotyping arises when one is thought to be inferior or different basing on their sex. For instance, perceiving a woman as a home-maker based exclusively on the concept that she is a woman and without knowing any extra information concerning her so as to determine her occupation. To some extent, gender role stereotypes have resulted in perceiving women as passive, weak, frivolous and overmodest.

However, Smith & Craig-Henderson (2010) contend that African American women “appear to believe that it is acceptable for women to no longer adhere to traditional gender role stereotypes” (p. 68). They also add that the women “concurrently believe that men are still obligated to fulfill the more positively valued masculine stereotypes” (p. 68). This sentiment is noetic given that it renders African American women with more domestic and career exemption, while at the same time ensuring that men continue to protect and provide for them.

Racial stereotypes

History has it that racial stereotypes have been in existence from the onset of slavery to date. Racial stereotypes also known as ethnic stereotypes are popularized representations of an ethnic group that is composed of what is perceived to be typical traits of group members. African Americans who are majorly dark- skinned are typified by the lighter skinned or whites so as to show how inferior the Afro-Americans are. This type of stereotypes is not only seen as negative but also hurting since “nationalist ideologies are associated with a hypersensitive attention to racism and oppression and the perception that racism is unique to African Americans’ experiences” (Hunter and Joseph 2010, p. 505).

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Moreover (Sigelman & Tuch, 1996) as quoted by Welch (2007) reveal that “Blacks are more likely than other racial or ethnic group to be characterized by Whites as violent, more likely to abuse drugs, and more likely to engage in crime than are Whites” (p. 278). Stereotypes of this kind have led to creation of perceptions of the racial minorities as managerially unfit and incompetent. In as much as the rights of African Americans were provided for by the law, more efforts are being made by them in order to get rid of stereotypic connotations for instance promoting the black culture using rap songs.


In conclusion, stereotypes will never be done away with as long as different races and cultures are in existence. This explains why stereotypes have been and will always be part and parcel of human life. Consequently, since America as a country has diverse races and cultures, it still has some miles to cover in defeating its legacy of stereotyping. There is a raging debate between the pro-stereotypes who feel that they are useful in making known social interaction and on the other hand the anti-stereotype who view them as a form of oppression and discrimination.

Reference List

Carter, N.M.P. (2008). The Perceived Realism of African American Portrayals on Television. The Howard Journal of Communications, 19, 241-257.

Hunter, C.D. Joseph, N. (2010) Racial Group Identification and Its Relations to Individualism/ Interdependence and Race-Related Stress in African Americans. Journal of Black Psychology, 36(4), 483-511.

Smith, K., Craig-Henderson, K. (2010). Cognitive Distraction and African American Women’s Endorsement of Gender Role Stereotypes. Current Research in Social Psychology, 15, 62-71.

Welch, K. (2007). Black Criminal Stereotypes and Racial Profiling. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 23, 276-288.

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