Throughout this unit, we'e examined and discussed the many myths present in our culture. Stereotypes can function as myths since they attempt to explain certain behaviors and define experiences. Stereotypes can be positive or negative, but they are always dehumanizing since they reduce whole groups of people to a single, largely inaccurate, definition. Since stereotypes are so present in our culture, it may be difficult to put them aside. They contribute to our prejudices and biases. Your project will ask you to develop this line of thinking as you consider the following:
1. Identify an idea or event from twentieth or twenty-first century history that was influenced by stereotypes.
2. How was/were these stereotypes perpetuated? Who or what was/is responsible?
3. How do these stereotypes still persist in modern culture? How can they be dispelled? Is this possible?
Here are my thoughts on a good example, although I would imagine other students may also choose this:
Negative stereotypes of jews fueling anti-semitism which led to the Holocaust in the 20th Century.
1. Stereotypes about Jews are deeply ingrained in European society and remain so to this day. The most tragic consequence of the perpetuation of this stereotype was the Holocaust during World War II in which somewhere between 6 - 8 million European Jews were systematically murdered. The Holocaust gives an example of how destructive stereotypes can be if left unchallenged and allowed to become ingrained in society. One aspect of the Holocaust that is not sufficiently understood is the role that Europeans generally - not just Germans - played as accessories to this historic crime. Anti-semitism, which fed off ancient stereotypes and myths of Jews, was rampant throughout Europe and the Nazis found willing accomplices in virtually every country they entered (particularly France, Poland, Ukraine and the Baltic countries). For a primer see here: http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005466
2. It is an interesting question as to how these stereotypes were perpetuated and it probably begins in the early Middle Ages with the rise of Christianity in Europe. Once Christianity was firmly established, Jews were easily marked as different from most people. Jews not only had a different religion, but they often lived apart from their neighbors and maintained their own customs and traditions. In addition, the Catholic Church (and later the early Protestant Church) often encouraged the persecution of non-Christians by emphasizing that the Jews had supposedly rejected and crucified Jesus Christ. There are Biblical accounts of this that were read and acted out in so-called "Passion Plays" to the illiterate peasants of Europe. This designation of Jews as the "other" made it easy for them to be scapegoated during times of disease or famine or otherwise persecuted
for being different. See ...
This solution examines the Holocaust at an event that was influenced by stereotypes regarding Jews and examines the history of these stereotypes, how they persist in modern culture and how they can be possibly overcome.