01 Feb STEREOTYPES
‘Never trust a Sicilian!’ says my Italian friend, ‘they all lie.’
I don’t really know any Sicilians personally, and my Italian friend is quite convincing when she speaks, so I am tempted to take her word for it, and go through the rest of my life in fear of befriending a Sicilian. But something about this decisive statement does not sit well with me. For example, is it possible that my friend actually knows the world’s Sicilian population? And if she did know them all, is it likely that every single person born in the same country would be exactly the same?
You may chuckle about how ridiculous that sounds, but do you ever catch yourself saying something similar? Over the past 28 days, I have heard the following statements being made by modern, well educated men and women:
• Jews are all rich
• Germans have no sense of humour
• Greeks treat their women like possessions
• Blonds are really dumb
• Asians are really smart
• Gay men are all flamboyantly camp…but I am not homophobic, really, I have lots of gay friends.
What is going on here? How have the modern world, modern parenting and the modern education system, completely failed to address one of the most dangerous issues in our world today: stereotyping. We learn stereotypes from our parents, as well as from our peers and the media. Thankfully, my parents did not hand down any ridiculous misconceptions, and I have done my best to resist the need to stick a label on life. But what is to come for my daughter? I can’t imagine what I would do if she comes home from school one day and tells me that she met one Nigerian and therefore she now knows them all. Or if she drops out of street dance because she discovers that white people have no rhythm. Or worse, she stops trying in school because she hears that Jews all become doctors or accountants anyway.
People want to categorise the world into neat little groups. It satisfies the need to understand and predict the uncontrollable. According to an online study, we stereotype in order to help us save time and energy. Once we place a stereotype on a group of people, there is no need to get to know everyone individually. So basically, we do it because we are lazy.
Our laziness can result in some serious issues:
The larger, more obvious issues are wide spread racism and prejudice which lead to hatred, war and death. It has done for years, there is no hiding it, and it always starts with what seems like a harmless comments.
More relevant from a personal and parental stand point:
• By stereotyping, we are setting invisible limitations on our self. If we accept our appointed stereotype, growth is limited.
• When we stereotype, we are turning our backs on all that is unique in this world. We are choosing to not see the exceptional, the beautiful, the perfection, which all tend to lie outside what the eye is used to seeing.
• When we stereotype we are unable to recognise the multiple layers that make people so interesting. Their special quirks, their creative sparks, their distinctive imprints, all go unnoticed.
• When we stereotype, we are condemning ourselves to a life of normality, where nothing very exciting happens.
I would hate for my daughter to grow up in such a world. I ask you to be aware and train your mind to see people as individuals. Just like you and I.