Life + Culture

Logical Fallacies: The Three Bears Effect

Cartoon Goldilocks chooses between three bowls of porridge

This post is part of an ongoing series on common logical fallacies used in conversations about race. If you have suggestions for logical fallacies that you'd like to see covered, submit your ideas here.


In many of our socialized norms and rhetoric, white people are set up as "normal" or the default against which other cultures are measured. This leads to logical fallacy commonly termed the "Three Bears Effect," in which communities of color are pitted against each other leaving white culture to be the Goldilocks in the middle that is jussst right.

Stereotypes about Asian-Americans often act as foils to those about Black folks. In whatever manner black people are characterized, Asians tend to be pegged as the exact opposite.

Readable text availible here: https://abagond.wordpress.com/2008/05/20/the-model-minority-stereotype/
Dare I mention stereotypes about penis size?

The tightly correlated dichotomy illustrates how contrived all of these stereotypes actually are. 

Check out the chart compiled by Abagond -->
Striking, isn't it?
Surely we don't believe that such descriptions just happen to perfectly parallel each other. These characterizations have been constructed by years of conditioning and prejudice. 
Polarized stereotypes allow us to suppose that if some people of color meet with success racism must not actually be a big deal, while ignoring the many struggles that those under this wide umbrella face. This dichotomy also allows us to assume that there is something wrong with those that don't succeed, and that we can feel secure in supporting the racialized status quo. 
The bowls labeled: Too hot, too cold, just right
Often termed the
 'Three Bears Effect'

Artificial polarization helps to pit people of color against each other, leading to division where we should have unity. The 'divide-and-conquer' strategy helps fuel modern racism. It also allows white folks to sit comfortably in the middle, further normalizing their culture relative to the 'extremes' around them.

By allowing such a false narrative, we belittle the fact that Asian-Americans do indeed encounter a great deal of racism. Even 'good' racial stereotype are never actually as beneficial as they may seem (see post: Model Minority). And at the same time, we vilify Black and Brown communities, rather than focusing on the system racism that is the true menace to society. 
What do you think readers? Does this model of stereotype polarization hold? 
What about other groups of color: how do they fit into this paradigm? 

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