THE THINGS THEY SAY BEHIND YOUR BACK by William B. Helmreich

THE THINGS THEY SAY BEHIND YOUR BACK

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KIRKUS REVIEW

As part of the new frankness about ethnicity, we can now openly discuss stereotypes: are Chinese sly, sinister, and deceitful? Italians cowards in battle? Jews smart and cheap? After explaining the cultural origins and scientific evidence for these and other stereotypes regarding nine major American ethnic and racial groups, sociologist Helmreich (City College of New York) comes to a reassuring, question-begging conclusion: ""Most of the stereotypes for which support can be found are positive and flattering to the group involved, whereas those that seem highly inaccurate tend, by and large, to be negative."" Thus, there is no scientific evidence behind the dumb Pole jokes--but there is evidence that blacks may have better motor ability than whites, and a possibility that Jews may be genetically smarter than non-Jews. The image of blacks as violent criminals ""has some truth to it only with regard to one segment of the Black American population--young Black, poor urban males""; and, ""while hardly anyone today would deny the existence of a Mafia organization made up almost solely of Italian-Americans . . . relatively few Italian-Americans belong to it."" And, for historical reasons, Chinese-Americans are disproportionately represented in the restaurant business and Italians in the shoemaking business. ""All racial and ethnic stereotypes stem, in some measure, either from the historical experiences and culture of the group or from the historical experiences and culture of the nations that had contact with the group."" As a thesis, that's a non-starter on the face of it. And, like the rest, it totally evades both the existence of stereotypes as expressions of prejudice and the emergence of ""positive"" stereotypes in a negative context (e.g., blacks are quick on their feet, but . . .). An Archie Bunker problem addressed on a Norman Lear level--for which, of course, there will be an audience.

Pub Date: Oct. 22nd, 1982
ISBN: 0878559531
Publisher: Doubleday