I fancy asking questions about racial stereotypes in the US. Would they be on-topic? What is the origin of the stereotype that Polish people lack intelligence? is. Example:

p. 258 of The Good Lawyer quotes Clarence Darrow's article for Esquire, May 1936 entitled “How to Pick a Jury.”, where he discusses racial stereotypes in the US. What spurred them? How were they rationalized? E.g., why does Darrow judge

  1. German Americans to be less "keen about individual rights", and

  2. German American Catholics to "be emotional"?

[1.] The German is not so keen about individual rights except where they concern his own way of life; liberty is not a theory, it is a way of living. Still, he wants to do what is right, and he is not afraid. He has not been among us long, his ways are fixed by his race, his habits are still in the making. We need inquire no further. If he is a Catholic, then he loves music and art; [2.] he must be emotional, and will want to help you; give him a chance.

1 Answer 1


It can be on topic, but questions that have the potential to be offensive must meet a much higher standard of quality. Such questions need to be precisely defined, well researched and generally meet an almost academic standard.

"What spurred racial stereotypes?", history is probably not the right forum. Humans are prejudiced; throughout time and space, humans have displayed a remarkably consistent ability to find something hateful about other humans. If you want to understand that, psychology or sociology or theology is more likely to have answers; asking a historian why humans hate is a bit like asking why they are bipedal or mammalian. Similarly, "How were they rationalized?" is not a historical question. There is no more need to rationalize racism than there is the need to eat or breathe; it is just what humans do. Throughout history, the notion that "people like me are better than people who are not like me" is as obvious as "if you drop things, they will fall". Diversity is a modern, learned value; history is probably the wrong tool to study something that is absent from so much of history.

Yes, there probably are questions about racial stereotypes that can be answered with historical sources and methods. But I ask you to be very careful to structure the question so that it is precise, answerable through historical sources and methods, and that the probability of learning is greater than the probability of offense.

  • @MarkCWallace Great answer!
    – TheHonRose
    Commented May 1, 2018 at 10:03

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