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Racial and Ethnic Stereotypes

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Racial and Ethnic Stereotypes


People being generalized based on limited and inaccurate information by sources as television, cartoons or even comic books (Tripod). This is a definition that seems to go against many public standards. The above words are the exact definition of stereotypes. Stereotypes as understood from the definition, goes mostly hand in hand with media -- only not the regular meaning of the innocent media we know. Media propaganda is the other form of media that is rather described as media manipulation. In this paper, the following will be discussed: first, how stereotypes of ethnic groups function in propaganda, why does it function so well, and finally, the consequences of these stereotypes on the life of Egyptians in particular in society. A fair examination will be conducted on this example of stereotypes through clarification examples and research results from researches conducted from reliable sources. The real association between Egyptians’ stereotypes and propaganda discussed in this paper shall magnify the association of stereotypes and propaganda in general.

It seems necessary for this paper to start with some clarification of the terms associated with propaganda. Propaganda can be thought of as a foster parent for stereotypes. Propaganda is known to be the intentional manipulation of public opinion through hidden messages in advertisements and other media functions. Thus, propaganda uses many techniques to be able to deliver theses hidden messages to the public and influence their opinion. Fear, brainwashing, name calling, glittering generality, misinformation and much more are some of the techniques that propaganda uses to influence and manipulate the opinions of the majority. Propaganda finds the usefulness of stereotypes in the fact that it’s easy, fast and straight to the public. In the case of stereotypes about ethnic groups, Egyptians in this case are being portrayed as uneducated, unethical, ignorant, desert animal raisers, terrorists and uncivilized ethnic group. These name calling and misinformation techniques are what propagandists use to manoeuvre the society to portray Egyptians as humans of the underworld and Egypt as a deserted country that hunger and illness are its residents. The previous are all stereotypes that are propagandas of the media to convert such generality into truth and facts.

Racial stereotypes specifically function mostly through propaganda of the media, due to the unlikelihood of every man travelling to every country, using the technique of ‘misinformation’ through movies, shows, and news reports. Egyptians have been stereotyped as desert residents for many years regardless of the reality and actual state of Egypt as a country. For instance, the stereotypes pointing that Egyptians are mostly uneducated due to their ignorance of the importance of education is proven false by studies of trustworthy sources. Among those studies, the one conducted by the American university in Cairo , Egypt . Al-Ahram weekly, a credible newspaper known all across the Arab world, has posted in its October issue of 1998 the following:

“According to Sahar El-Tawila, the principal researcher on the team, interviews conducted with girls and boys nationwide show conclusively that work and marriage were rarely stated by boys and girls respectively as reasons for leaving school. […] These may be options for those who have already left school, but they are not the impetus behind their decision to leave” (Al-Ahram 1998).

Therefore, according to an American research, Egyptians are not uneducated arrogant nation. After all, there is at least an American University known world wide built in Cairo where many Egyptians have gotten their Bachelors, Masters and PhD’s from. Still, the media has successfully manipulated the public opinion to think of Egyptians as desert wonderers.

Now that the first concern, of how such Egyptian-bashing stereotypes work in propaganda, has been discussed, an interesting question then must be asked: how did it come about so successfully for the public of North America to view Egyptians in such mentality? Media being a powerful information source to the majority of North Americans, and sometimes the only source of information about certain ethnic groups, has the power to influence the public beliefs and opinions. Of course using stereotypes powered by propaganda in movies is very successful considering that American films are the most favoured and loved media function. Openly, in one of the movie reviews now on a review website about the movie “The Mummy” which takes place in Egypt from start to end, the following sentence was stated: “The Mummy is a lot of fun. So the story is simplistic and the characters are all stereotypes (particularly the Egyptians, who are either noble desert warriors or smelly illiterate pig-things). Who cares? The special effects are truly spectacular.” (Jennifer Mellerick, 1999). Easily, stereotypes are even accepted by who understands them and the media propaganda generates more and more. To prove that such portrayal is a stereotype and not truth, the website ‘Egypt WWW Index’ has a list of all universities in Egypt (an estimated thirty educational institutions in total), many links to political and governmental committees and services, business, commercial, and entertainment facilities, as well as links to political women figures in the Egyptian society. More than the average North American could even imagine of Egypt , and it is all owed to the media propaganda that produced this image of Egyptians.

Moreover, Egyptians are stereotyped to be ignorant due to the fact that they are thought of as technology illiterate. In a website found during the research on this topic, an individual of an Indian ethnicity by the name of Shani Rifati has put up a website, which he calls “Please Call Me Rom”. To correct the image of his race to North Americans, Shani said: “ I am not a Gypsy. The term Gypsy stems from peoples' ignorance, when we were mistaken for Egyptians” (Rifati). Interesting huh! Here is an example of a person that is protecting his own nationality from stereotypes, yet uses stereotypes. What is even more interesting than that is the fact that the Egyptian history has been known to be the greatest civilization of all times, yet such civilization is easily bashed by assuming that all Egyptians are just ignorant Gypsies.

As a result to name calling and misinformation techniques of propaganda through media, Egypt regardless of all specific ‘facts’ mentioned above, still thought of as a land of desert and Egyptians as camel raisers. This has affected Egyptians as well as other stereotyped ethnic groups everywhere specially the ones who have lived in North American territories. The danger does not only lie on the life of the adults, but sadly the children as well. In a research conducted by the University of California regarding the consequences of racial stereotypes on children, it was noted that it has a direct effect on the academic performance of the stereotyped children. UC Berkeley News has reported in one of its articles about the results of this research saying:

“ African American and Latino children who are aware of broadly held stereotypes about academic ability perform more poorly on a cognitive task when that task is described as a measure of ability than when the same task is described as a problem-solving task.” (Carol Hyman 2003).

Therefore racial or ethnic stereotypes that work in media propaganda or preferably called media manipulation, has not only had influences on adults, but also is carried over with the youth of tomorrow. It is easy to give out information with no factual back up, but the public preference is what can either stop media propaganda from affecting the public opinion or simply fuel such dangerous aspect of the media, stereotypes.

Sources Cited

Tripod. “Stereotypes: definition and Vocabulary Glossary” Online at: .

Mellerick, Jennifer (1999). “Spoilers”. Online at: , consulted on 1999.

Tadros, Mariz (1998). “ Reading , writing and ploughing”, Al-Ahram weekly, nº 399. Online at: .

Rifati, Shani. “Please Call Me Rom”. Online at: .

Ashmawy, Alaa (1995, 1999, 2004). “ Egypt WWW Index”. Online at: , consulted on January 21 st, 2004 .

Hyman, Carol (2003). “Awareness of racial stereotypes happens at an early age, has consequences”, UC Berkeley News. Online at: , consulted on May 2003.

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