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posted by Justin - 2013-02-04 09:10:40

Bad Praise

I don't think it's necessarily bad when someone says, as people have to me, "You know, I really value the X culture, because they have such a strong work ethic." It's certainly not necessarily malicious and can be meant as genuine praise.

But it's just like any sort of stereotype: there's always a negative undercurrent even if you are saying something positive.

If you single out a culture or a country for praise, the implication, even if not intentional, is that some other group is worthy of scorn. You call one group hard-working, some other group must be relatively lazy. You say one group is smart, someone's dumb. If one group is good at sports, someone's uncoordinated and effeminate. Etc.

The fact of the matter is, there are certain things that are largely true of certain populations (Chinese numbers really are easier for children to remember because they're one-syllable, for example), but unless you are actually an anthropologist or a sociologist or some such ologist doing research on various groups, creating comparisons between groups is ultimately detrimental to cooperation and collaboration.

You may think you're above letting your innocent praise of one group affect your opinion of another, but you're not, because you're human. I've done it, we all have, and we ought to cut it out. Because the fact is, if you think that, say, this new Asian employee you've hired will do very well, and let's say he does, then what about the other employees, whose groups have been stigmatized as lazy or uneducated. Now you're expecting less of them and treating them differently. It doesn't even have to be ethnicity, of course: economic background, sexuality, gender, etc, can obviously form similar divisions.

The point behind all this is that theoretically positive or benign stereotyping or grouping has negative consequences. So when you say, "I really think Asians have such a strong work ethic," think about what you're saying about Black folks at the same time.

(I'm not trying to pick on Asians here, though. I could have said "I really think Black men are cool and masculine" then think about what you're saying about Asian men at the same time. You get my point.)

In my opinion, we can say whatever the hell we want about our own groups. But singling out other entire groups for praise is just an implied insult those we don't mention.


Peace and love,
Justin PBG
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