“The whole idea of a stereotype is to simplify.”
– Chinua Achebe
A racial stereotype is a depiction of an ethnicity or race based on tropes and clichés. Stereotypes are harmful because they reduce the complexity of real people and erase individuality, agency and power. They can permeate our shared culture and feed into unconscious biases.
Stereotyping can include ‘blackface’, ‘brownface’ and ‘yellowface’, where actors or dancers change the colour of their skin or their appearance to portray a person from a different race, or affect stylised (often racist) mannerisms or accents.
Often the aim is to evoke a whole race, rather than a particular character, and racial stereotyping can work to trap real individuals within the confines of a white construction of their race.
A linked concept to stereotyping is that of ‘whitewashing’ – the practice of casting white people to play characters from a different culture.