Prejudice and Stereotypes in Popular Culture
Authored by Jessica Dobaczewski prejudice.jpg

I think there's just one kind of folks. Folks. ~ Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird


The development and teaching of literacy is an essential component to the English program in the Ontario Curriculum. The program is specifically designed to develop the knowledge and skills on which literacy is based
(Ontario Ministry of Education 2007, 3)[1] . These areas include not only reading and writing, but also listening, speaking, viewing and representing. Being able to make meaningful connections between the student and the text, as well as to think critically are important principles. With respect to past as well as recent events around the world, prejudice, discrimination and stereotyping are realities faced by all. If this reality is addressed now, our students, the future of our society, will have the understanding they need to affect real change. By furthering student understanding of what prejudice, discrimination and stereotyping are, how prejudice and discrimination are allowed to exist in our society, and how students themselves play a role in these concepts, students will be able to incorporate what they learn into a global perspective. Using literacy’s of popular culture, students will look at how prejudice and stereotyping affect not only individuals, but also society as a whole.

Theoretical Framework

How Does Popular Culture and the Classroom Relate?
On the surface, the relationship between popular culture and classroom pedagogy may seem like unlikely one. Located all around us, popular culture is primarily organized around pleasure and entertainment. On the other hand, pedagogy transmits the language, codes, and values of the dominant culture (Ball, 1542)[2] . As a result, popular culture is a significant educational ground that raises important questions regarding issues of both the past and present. The relationship between popular culture, the student voice, and knowledge and power in the curriculum is a vital one. Popular culture is fitting for students and helps authorize their voice and experiences, while pedagogy authorizes the voices of teachers and school administrators. Furthermore, popular culture raises important questions about elements such as prejudice, stereotyping and discrimination, which organize the basis of student learning.

The Importance of Studying Prejudice and Stereotyping in Popular Culture

It is evident that major demographic changes have occurred in schools throughout the recent years. Students of diverse ethnic and racial cultures used to be the minority, now have become the majority and make up the largest percentage of our school hallways. On the contrary, the majority of teachers are from majority backgrounds, both culturally and racially. This vast switch in positions poses for a challenge for students and teachers equally (Marshall, 371). A possible solution is that teachers need to develop certain levels of “cross-cultural awareness to be effective in teaching culturally different students” (Marshall, 371)[3] . By becoming culturally aware, teachers are enhancing their understanding of cultural contexts that “undergird teacher thinking” as well as their interactions with culturally diverse students. As a result, if teachers become aware of various elements of cross-cultural interaction, they can demonstrateU%20of%20Tas%201.gif the importance of non-discrimination. Therefore, by studying the definitions and themes of prejudice, stereotypes and discrimination in popular culture, as well as how they are exhibited in everyday life, students will learn that acts of prejudice and discrimination are built on stereotypes about different groups of people. By educating students on anti-Semitism, we seek to engage students in applying their learning and effect change as responsible citizens at the local, national, and global level.

Interesting fact: In his classic work on Stigma, Goffman argues that a stigmatized person’s social identity is discredited by the power of a single attribute, such as being visually impaired or a drug user. Goffman emphasized that stigma refers not directly to an attribute but to a ‘special kind of relationship between attribute and stereotype’. By using the term stereotype, Goffman emphasizes that stigma is a social construction, not a reflection of an individual’s inherent qualities (Lopes, 387)[4] .

Teaching Ideas

Students will:teacher.jpg
  • Understand that representations made by the media are not always realistic.
  • Understand the various types of stereotypes that exist in the media.
  • Identify their own perceptions of various stereotypes.
  • Develop cross-cultural awareness and understanding.
  • Practice language skills.
  • Practice teamwork skills.
  • See how stereotypes are formed, and what they can lead to if not acknowledged and challenged.
  • Learn how to challenge bias, unfairness and stereotypical views.
  • Learn that stereotypes are dangerous because they may provoke racial prejudice.
  • Understand that the reason stereotypes exist is because people are afraid of diversity, change, and what is unknown. They prefer to adhereto simple classifications, which maintain a familiar and established order. 
  • Use various forms of literacy which depict prejudice and stereotyping, and analyse critically.

Teachers can use the following materials not only to provide students the chance to utilize various forms of literacy, but also to develop students' awareness of prejudice and stereotyping.

Mini Lessons

Lesson 1:
Assemble students into groups of 2-3 students. Distribute one English magazine for each group and allow students to examine advertisements in the magazines. Students are asked to find a couple of advertisements which contain stereotyping ideas of gender, ethnic group, social status, and so on. Let students answer questions in regards to each advertisement. For example:
  • What stereotypes can you find in the advertisement?
  • Does the advertisement contain specific information about the products?
  • Is the stereotyping image positive or negative for the group?
  • How are the stereotypes used for marketing purposes?

Debrief by having a discussion once the students answered the questions above.

Lesson 2:
Before ExploringDetermine if the studentsunderstand the terms 'prejudice', 'racism', and 'discrimination'. Have the students offer definitions of these terms in their own words, as well, ask them to provide specific examples of prejudice, racism, or discrimination that they have experienced or learned about.
Outline the OpportunityIntroduce students to the game “Eyes.” Have the students form groups, according to the colour of their eyes. After getting consensus from the class, explain that they will now be treated differently depending on their eye colour. Assure the students that it is for a limited time period, and that it is a way to help them gain a better understanding of discrimination. Remind the students that the game does not extend beyond the classroom. Describe the rules to the students, having students with non-blue eyes help create the rules if you wish. Students with blue eyes will be discriminated against. Students with eyes of other colours will be favoured. Non–blue eyed students will decide what kind of labels or badges the blue-eyed students will wear. Instruct the blue-eyed students to create and wear these labels. You may wish to include rules, such as blue-eyed students sit at the back of the class. They cannot put up their hands. They cannot call the other students by their first names. After playing, gather the students and ask the groups for their responses to being treated unfairly. Direct them to the topic Canada and the Fight Against Apartheid on the CBC Radio and Television Archives Web site and have them browse through the clips. Ask them to reflect on the personal lives and feelings of the South Africans, both black and white, and suggest that they think about these questions:

  1. Why did some whites in South Africa support apartheid?
  2. Why did non-whites oppose apartheid?
  3. Why did some South Africans emigrate?
  4. What role did Nelson Mandela play in the fight against apartheid?
  5. How was apartheid finally ended in South Africa?
  6. Why was apartheid so harmful for both whites and non-whites in South Africa?
  7. What lessons can we learn about racism and discrimination from studying apartheid’s rise and fall in South Africa?

Revisit and Reflect: Conduct a whole-class debriefing activity to discuss their reactions to what they learned about racial prejudice and discrimination from playing the Eyes game and examining the clips. Ask: How do you feel about discrimination? How do you feel about being treated unfairly? Being able to treat others unfairly? How do you think you would feel experiencing this atmosphere over many years?

Extension: Students can write a journal chronicling one week in a South African's life under apartheid, focusing on three or four specific feelings they experienced during the Eyes game or how they imagine a South African might feel under apartheid. Students can conclude the diary with the diarist's response on the day that apartheid ended.

Lesson 3:
Disney and Fairytale movies contain many examples of gender stereotypical portrayals that may influence young viewers in a variety of ways. Through the media--children's books, children's movies, clothing ads, etc.--we can see that the world is dominated by one race, sex, class, or country. This lesson attempts to break this mold by making students realize that our society is distorted, and it is up to everyone to dissect the media[5] .
(1) Have the students watch a Disney movie such as The Little Mermaid, Cinderella, Aladdin or Beauty and the Beast.
(2) Give the students a handout asking them to choose three characters and answer the following questions:

  • What is the physical appearance of the character?
  • Is the character good or evil?
  • What are the goals/ intentions of the characters?
  • What does the character have to sacrifice in order to achieve the desired goal?

Debrief by having a discussion once the students answered the questions above.

Teacher Resources

Useful Websites:

Useful Texts:
Literature Examples:
  • Obasan by Joy Kogawa
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • White Like Me by Tom Wise
  • Black Boy by Richard Wright
  • Jane Eyre by Jane Austen

Appropriate Films:
  • School Ties [1992]
  • The Power of One [1992]
  • The Color Purple [1985]
  • Schindler’s List [1993]
  • Stand and Deliver [1988]
  • Glory Road [2006]

Assessment ExampleNight.jpg

Letter Writing Assignment for Night by Elie Wiesel:

When reading Night by Elie Wiesel, as well as listening to/reading his speech The Perils of Indifference, imagine you are on this treacherous journey with Elie Wiesel. You are experiencing the same events and emotions as Elie. To document your trials, select a person (real or fictional) that you would want to keep informed about your experiences.

The Assignment: After reading as a class 12-15 pages of Night, students will be assigned a writing prompt for a letter that will become a part of the collection of letters to be submitted on the given due date. Students will assemble their series of letter in an envelope addressed to the person they write. The envelope should include a return address, a main address, and a stamp.

The Perils of Indifference Speech:

Teacher Will Assess:
Demonstrating Understanding of Content - 1.3 identify the most important ideas and supporting details in texts, including increasingly complex texts
Analysing Texts - 1.6 analyse texts in terms of the information, ideas, issues, or themes they explore, examining how various aspects of the texts contribute to the presentation or development of these elements
Developing Vocabulary - 3.3 identify and use a variety of strategies to expand vocabulary
Critical Literacy - 1.8 identify and analyse the perspectives and/or biases evident in texts, including increasingly complex texts, and comment on any questions they may raise about beliefs, values, identity, and power

Generating and Developing Ideas - 1.2 generate, expand, explore, and focus ideas for potential writing tasks, using a variety of strategies and print, electronic, and other resources, as appropriate
Organizing Ideas - 1.4 identify, sort, and order main ideas and supporting details for writing tasks, using a variety of strategies and organizational patterns suited to the content and the purpose for writing (Ontario Ministry of Education 2007, 3)

Wrap Up

It is evident that mainstream popular culture and our education systems are key institutions that perpetuate a significant influence on today’s youth. By studying prejudice and stereotyping in popular culture students will be able to eventually explain the relationship between prejudice and discrimination, and assess the impact of both on ideas of self-worth, as well as assess the role of stereotyping as a barrier to full participation in society. I hope that these tools will be of some assistance when planning a unit around prejudice and stereotyping - enjoy!
  1. ^ Ontario Ministry of Education (2007). The Ontario Curriculum, Grades 9 and 10: English (Revised). Toronto, ON: Queen’s Printer.
  2. ^ Ball, J.Stephen (2000). Sociology of Education. London, England: Routledge Falmer. : Rethinking Schools Limited.
  3. ^ Marshall, L. Patricia (1996). Multicultural Teaching Concerns: New Dimensions in the Area of Teacher Concerns Research?. The Journal of Educational Research,89, 371-379.
  4. ^ Lopes, Paul (2006). Culture and Stigma: Popular Culture and the Case of Comic Books. Sociological Forum, 21, 387-414.
  5. ^ Christensen, Linda (1994). Unlearning the Myths That Bind Us: Critiquing
    Fairy Tales and Films. Rethinking Our Classrooms: Teaching for Equity and Justice, Vol. 1. New York, NY: Rethinking Schools Ltd.