Ethnic Tendencies
Stereotyping in Disguise
by David M. Fornalsky (e-mail:

Listening to National Public Radio (NPR), I caught an interesting discussion taking place. Unfortunately, I came into the middle of the program and missed both the name of the woman that was being interviewed and her exact position.

Listening to the discussion, it was obviously a Q&A panel, and the woman was in the educational field, possibly a teacher, but more likely in an administrative position. The topic (again, I can't be 100% certain) seemed to be about teaching black students.

The speaker herself was a black woman and spoke mainly in favor of getting to know the student as opposed to just going over the curriculum. She made many valid points and many that I disagreed with. Putting those aside, she was asked a question about standards testing, and why minority students didn't seem to perform as well. She used the term "ethnic tendencies" in her reasoning as to why minority students didn't perform as well. The implication was that some ethnic groups just didn't function as well with standardized tests as other groups.

Isn't "ethnic tendencies" just a more polite way of stereotyping?

If I say that most Irish people like to drink and fight, I'm making a generalization and stereotyping them. If I say most blacks like rap music I'm doing the same thing. I've always been of the opinion that there's some truth in stereotypes. They develop because one group of people have similar experiences when interacting with another. But saying "most" or "all" when referring to a group is what takes it overboard and makes it a stereotype.

"Ethnic tendencies", in my opinion, is just a way to clean up a stereotype, and in this case, worse. It's being used as an excuse, in a baseless fashion, to justify a group of people as a whole not performing well. No facts or figures were given to prove that most black/minority students were poor performers on standardized tests. No insight was provided as to why this would be true. Whether it's true or not isn't the point because it has yet to be proven, one way or the other. The point is that ethnic background is being used as the sole reason why blacks can not compete with everyone else on standardized tests.

Isn't this the type of thinking that we should be trying to eliminate? When slavery was the rule of the day in the last century, black people (according to the history I know), were not even treated as human by many people. The civil rights movement of this century aimed to change that once and for all. Whether that's been achieved, I leave up to you, but "ethnic tendencies" is a step backward.

We have to look deeper, far past the excuse of "ethnic tendencies", if we wish to bring our society to new levels. It starts with respect to and from our children, a secure family and home. Those basic fundamentals are what help build all the necessary traits necessary to make a person a productive member of our society. Teach a person to make excuses early on and they may choose to use it for the rest of their lives. There may be real reasons why some students perform worse on a test than others, but it's not due to "ethnic tendencies."

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