Stereotype threat is something that has been researched over the past two decades and has been theorized to affect specific groups in particular situations in which that group is stereotypically expected to perform to a sub-par level. This expectation, in turn, become a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy and that group tends to perform at a sub-par level. This has been tested by various scientists and has seen significant results in the difference between environments in which these stereotypical shortcomings are highlighted and environments in which they are not. So the proof is there and it is a legitimate problem that I have experienced myself.
Growing up as a white male and attending a private school for most of my life, I wasn’t really aware of the difficulties that can face particular minorities in the educational and social realms and to be perfectly honest, I haven’t been heavily affected by them until recently. I know that I have an unfair advantage as a white male in America and I try to be aware of that and keep myself on an even playing field as to not affect others but it was when I left the country when I became aware of what it could be like for minorities and particular groups in the US.
Back in September of 2013, I began a 10-month apprenticeship with an opera company in Torino Italy in which I sang small operatic roles in all of the shows in their season. This was a really exciting opportunity and I was very positive going into my time there but as time went on, I could feel what I realize now was a form of stereotype threat.
Italians essentially created opera and they have been doing it ever since. Americans are extremely behind in the creation and depth of our opera world. Of course, the other big advantage is that Italians natively speak the language in which they are singing whereas Americans have to learn the language, translate the text, and memorize the translation before we ever step on the stage. So I was already a big step behind all of the other singers that I was performing with and this started to affect my mental state about the entire experience as time went on.
Overall in the European opera world, American singers are considered to be lazy, self-entitled, and overtrained so I went into this experience knowing this and I tried not to let it affect me but that knowledge with my own mental hangups about Italians inherently having a leg up made it difficult for me to feel like I fit in with the groups that I performed with. I made the best of my time there but I rarely had a show where I felt like a part of the ensemble so I believe now this was a form of stereotype threat. Looking back on my time in Italy, I feel that I performed well, but I really don’t feel like I got all that I could out of the experience because of the negative factors that I encountered during my time there.
My experience with stereotype threat, although slight, opened my eyes along with my research for this blog in the challenges that face the minorities and individuals in the US and it makes me want to strive to create environments and hopefully one day, a country in which people don’t have to worry about performing worse than any other group just because of preconceived ideas. I know that our country and even our species has a long way to go to true equality, but I am proud to be a part of the movement that is trying to create change.