clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

5 racist stereotypes that historically were the opposite of what they are today

History shows stereotypes are terrible precisely because they’re inconsistent.

In the latest episode of MTV’s Decoded, comedian Franchesca Ramsey and five guests show that racial stereotypes aren’t just bad because they’re gross mischaracterizations. It turns out many familiar stereotypes were completely flipped from what they are today.

"While some people believe racial and ethnic stereotypes are based on some sort of unchangeable truth about how people really are, a lot of the stereotypes we have today used to be the exact opposite" of how we perceive groups now, Ramsey says.

Here are just five common stereotypes that have flipped in recent history:

  • Japanese people were considered "lazy": While people from Japan may be associated with efficiency (often used to support the idea that Asians are the "model minority" in the US), at the turn of the 20th century this group was more closely associated with idleness. As comedian Fumi Abe points out in the video, in 1903 Sidney Gulick, an American missionary, considered Japanese people to be "lazy and utterly indifferent to the passage of time."
  • The British thought the Irish "looked like apes": The idea that the Irish were associated with primates, Ramsey noted, "has nothing to do with how someone looks and has everything to do with dehumanizing them."
  • Germans were considered "dumb and emotional": British travel writer John Russell was quoted as saying that the Germans take a while "to comprehend the bearings of what is new" in 1920. And Sir Arthur Brooke Faulkner, a physician in the British Army, pretty much likened them to drama queens, as Ramsey notes. This is a far cry from thinking Germans are "cold and rational," comedian Priya Patel points out.
  • Mexicans were (also) considered "lazy": Despite xenophobic rhetoric that Mexican immigrants are taking Americans’ jobs, Ramsey points out that Mexican people were, until fairly recently, considered lazy.
  • Filipinos were thought to be hypersexual: As Ramsey has explained before (and online dating has shown), Asian men aren’t often associated with being sexy. But it turns out that a century ago, Filipino men were seen as too sexual. Patel points out that Filipino men used to be called "hot little rabbits" and that their sexual abilities were described as "primitive, even heathenish," and "more elaborate."

Most of these stereotypes seem especially absurd with historical hindsight, which goes to show, again, that race isn’t biologically real.

But another, more simple, takeaway may be, as Abe puts it: "Stereotypes are bullshit."

Watch: Race isn't biologically real