White Capital: The Symbolic Value of Stereotypes

Kasey Henricks


Stereotypes yield maps of distinction that people draw from and apply in interaction. Because these distinctions are hierarchically differentiated, stereotypes are racially unequal. But in what ways? Drawing from primary data, I first show how stereotypes disproportionately characterize some groups positively and others negatively. In particular, white stereotypes entail many more positive connotations, while nonwhite stereotypes entail many more negative connotations. A second point I raise is how white stereotypes are more nuanced and complex compared to other groups’ stereotypes. That is, nonwhite stereotypes are more one-dimensional, singular, and monolithic compared to white stereotypes, which are more three-dimensional, plural, and contradictory. Following my analysis, I address what implications this has for the broader context of racial equity. Stereotypes merit analytic attention because they can, and often do, have self-fulfilling prophesies. Though interaction, they are often acted upon and become real in their consequences. When stereotypes are racially unequal, the status quo of white privilege is preserved and a racially just world remains out of reach.


whiteness; white privilege; stereotypes; racial inequality; symbolic capital

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