Tribal Stereotypes

By Thomas Kochman - 06.18.2009

The column by Brent Staples titled Even Now, There’s Risk in ‘Driving While Black’ , The New York Times June 14, 2009 is a good reminder that profiling and stereotypes of African Americans, especially black men, endure, notwithstanding the election of an African American president.  In fact, it has been long held by black men — especially those that have reached celebrity status—that the white public views their success as exceptional: as reflecting upon individual achievement but not upon an African American, or member of group, achievement.

This persistence of these attitudes toward a group notwithstanding, the success of individuals from that group raises the question of what it would take for stereotypes of the group to change?  And if many individual successes as members of a group are ultimately what it takes, how long before that happens?
Tribal stereotypes prevail in the corporate workplace too, as we document in our book Corporate Tribalism.  In our diversity training, we often talk about the challenges individuals from various groups face because of views of them as members of a group, and not just as individuals. We pose the question, “If you just became manager of a new work group what do you think you might specially have to prove above and beyond what everyone might have to prove?” The different responses that we get from different groups speak directly to stereotypes that exist about that group. Read more »