I had the honour of attending a university graduation ceremony recently. It was a grand affair, full of pomp and tradition. But I have to admit it was little boring. Each one of almost 400 graduates was invited to go up on stage to receive their degree and to shake hands with the Chancellor and other senior members of the teaching staff. Yet I was only interested in seeing one degree awarded. To pass the time, I decided to play a game of First-Class Honours Bingo.
Before their name was called, each graduate moved to the front of the cavernous hall and climbed a short flight of stairs to the stage. Once the respective department head read out the name, the graduate crossed the stage to be formally congratulated. However, if the student had attained the highest degree category, an elevated voice announced: …“and with first class honours…” My game involved trying to identify those who qualified for the highest accolade just from their appearance alone. I awarded myself one point for a correct identification and subtracted one for each false-positive. My final score was -6.
I am someone who knows the shortcomings of a reliance on stereotypes; I played the game partly to reveal how misleading they can be. Still my score was mildly embarrassing. When I think about how many conclusions people reach about others on the basis of looks alone, the prevalence of stereotypes is positively frightening.