'What Would You Do?' addresses the negative impact of 'positive' stereotyping

In this episode, both a Black and Asian man are stereotyped while on a date.

ByNadeen Talbot
July 28, 2020, 3:12 PM

As public attitudes on racial discrimination have evolved during the growing Black Lives Matter movement and the coronavirus pandemic, many Americans are questioning the impact stereotypes have on their daily lives.

Stereotypes are common assumptions on various races, ethnicities, genders and nationalities.

Sean Williams, a devoted father of three, explained to ABC News in July why he decided to rewrite a common false assumption that Black fathers are “deadbeat dads.” Williams described how a woman approached him four years ago and commended him for "sticking around."

“It’s heartbreaking when you get a compliment just for sticking around or doing what you naturally do as an active dad,” Williams said.

Williams realized his friends shared similar experiences and started an online movement called “The Dad Gang” to show what it's like to be a modern Black dad and highlight how people’s assumptions about Black fatherhood are often false.

The act of making a generalization about someone limits their ability to differentiate themselves as an individual. In some cases, these stereotypes can manifest as a harmful microaggression, defined as subtle messages that accumulate and make a person feel marginalized.

In other instances, stereotypes are seemingly kind. But no matter how complimentary a “positive stereotype” may seem, these limiting assumptions are often harmful and offensive.

Even positive remarks based on stereotypes can be depersonalizing, setting unrealistic expectations or smothering ambitions; those constricted by these stereotypes can face a loss of identity and often “feel like failures” if they do not meet societal expectations.

For instance, stereotypical assumptions that someone is skilled in one area may come at the expense of recognizing their abilities in others. Or if an individual is especially talented at something commonly thought of as a stereotype for their particular race, gender, or nationality, they may not receive praise or credit for their successes.

A new scenario for “What Would You Do?” aimed to explore the impact positive stereotypes can have in daily life.
A new scenario for “What Would You Do?” aimed to explore the impact positive stereotypes can have in daily life.
ABC News

A new scenario for “What Would You Do?” aimed to explore the impact positive stereotypes can have in daily life. Both a Black and Asian man are stereotyped while on a date at a bar. The men’s date insisted the comments she made are encouraging, but the men found her assumptions offensive.

When the scenario was first filmed, “What Would You Do?” actor Sarah Donnelly told actor Jamad Mays that since he’s a Black man, there is no doubt that their children will be star athletes. Mays pointed out that Sarah’s comments were stereotyping him based on his race.

PHOTO: "What Would You Do?" tackles the negative impact of "positive" stereotypes.
"What Would You Do?" tackles the negative impact of "positive" stereotypes.
ABC News

A Black man who overheard this exchange initially played along with Donnelly’s bias, but later asked her to broaden her expectations beyond race. “We’ve been hearing that a long time. When you hear that a long time, people think our value is just that,” the customer said.

ABC News' John Quiñones watches the "What Would You Do?" scenario unfold.
ABC News' John Quiñones watches the "What Would You Do?" scenario unfold.
ABC News

Later that day, Donnelly sat with a new actor to play out the scenario again. Donnelly told Dewey Wynn that since he’s Asian, their children are likely to be star students. Wynn noted that while Sarah may have been trying to pay him a compliment, she was assuming that all Asians are the same.

Nearby, a female customer explained to Donnelly why she thought her seemingly uplifting words were harmful.

“You’re putting them in a little box and assuming that’s what they are,” the customer said.

Both a Black and Asian man, played by actors, are stereotyped while on a date at a bar.
Both a Black and Asian man, played by actors, are stereotyped while on a date at a bar.
ABC News

Throughout the day, some bystanders gave Donnelly the benefit of the doubt. One male customer said the actor in this scenario was being overly sensitive.

“He got a compliment and he took it to the wrong side,” the customer said. “Stereotypes – most of the time it’s true.”

After they finished filming, actors Mays and Wynn shared with ABC News' John Quiñones that their performances hit close to home.
After they finished filming, actors Mays and Wynn shared with ABC News' John Quiñones that their performances hit close to home.
ABC News

After they finished filming, actors Mays and Wynn told ABC News' John Quiñones their performances hit close to home. Both actors said they have been boxed in by stereotypes their entire lives, placing a burden on their shoulders.

Mays shared his advice on how others can help ease that burden for people like him.

“Get to know me as a person and it gives you a different perspective,” Mays said.

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