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Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Saying No To Stereotypes


The single story creates stereotypes. And the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.
- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie  

I always knew that Ghana would challenge my prejudices, pointing out the stereotypes that I hadn't realised I had held about Africa. I am not afraid of admitting this: we all hold prejudice within us, whether we are aware of it or not. It's an uncomfortable fact, but one that I think we should confront in order to better the world we live in; when we admit these stereotypes, we can move towards a picture beyond them. One that recognises the nuanced stories hiding behind such generalisations.

Stereotype Buster #1: Africa is not a country. 

 Huge generalisations are made about Africa, as if it was a homogenous entity and not the diverse continent that holds many different cultures and people within it. Sure there are overlaps between countries: the arbitrary nature of the borders that were drawn for Africa split whole groups in two, and so neighbouring countries often share languages and customs. But Egypt is not Botswana which is not Tanzania. Each has their own traditions, thoughts and triumphs; indeed the people within those countries differ from each other. Having travelled to different parts of Africa before, I knew that Morocco was a completely different world to Kenya, but I can see why it is such a frustrating misperception. Recently a friend of mine referred to European men as having a type of women that they fancied, and I spluttered in disbelief. A continent, whilst having some things that may be widely applicable, is rarely one thing. We owe it to each continent, no matter which one, to respect the diversity of all those who live within it. (Except, maybe, Antarctica - which I've heard, and I'm willing to admit this might be ignorance having never been, is pretty much just ice).


Stereotype Buster #2: Southern U.S Americans are not all backwards Republicans.

I have a confession. The most surprising confrontation I've had with stereotypes has not been about Ghanaians, but instead those from the South of the United States of America. I had been openminded about the former group, treating this experience as a chance to learn more but the latter, well, was something different. Despite attending a U.S American school, despite having lived in New York for two months, despite having met countless U.S citizens over the course of my life, I still held a pretty shocking stereotype within me. I thought those from the South were bible-loving, immigrant-hating, homophobic Republicans with a drawl. And, sure, some are, but this was built purely upon social media and the odd Youtube video of Fox News. I suddenly realised that I hadn't really met anyone from the South, and imagine my surprise when they turned out to be thoroughly decent human beings who even shared similar opinions to me. I'd never yet had to confront this, but I'm so glad that this wonderful bunch of women that I now live with have kicked out a very narrow perception that I held and replaced with stories of their childhood, and more nuanced understanding of what it is like to live there.


Stereotype Buster #3: No one nationality is better than another.

We all have different ways of doing things, but to think that one nationality is better than another is a dangerous game to play. Recently a U.S American friend told me of a fellow European who had informed her that Americans merely drink to get drunk, unlike us Europeans who enjoy leisurely glasses of wine from a young age (or something like that). Sure the United States have a comparatively late drinking age, and college frat parties have created a pretty pervasive view of the drinking scene on the other side of the pond, but we can't claim to be better because of it. For one, I don't think it's a fair generalisation, and difference doesn't necessary imply hierarchy.


A lot of these lessons are applicable to different situations: the Canadians I have met abhor the thought of being lumped with their North American neighbours; the French seem to think they are superior to the Brits, and I have been told more than once that I am not European because I don't live on the mainland (which, as you can see here, upsets me as I very much identify with my continent). So let's take this as a chance to begin asking questions; to learn more about what lies beneath a person rather than assuming you know someone because you once saw a documentary about where they live. This big, wide world that we live in is a messy place and with it comes billions of unique stories, all waiting to be told. Let's take a tip from the incredible Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and stop reducing each other to single stories: we are so much more than that.


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- Camera used: Canon EOS M with 18-55mm lens - 

- Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie available here


2 comments:

  1. This is so open and honestly written, thank you. I too am aware of prejudices I hold, and even though I would love not to have them, because it feels indeed uncomfortable just like you said, only by acknowledging that we do have prejudices we can try and work past them. I think it's only normal we have prejudices, it might be to unconsciously protect ourselves from the things we don't know or don't understand .. :) So I think that people who say they are open to anything and have no prejudices against anyone are just lying. But I love the fact that you take this rather painful topic, and make it into something positive! :) Keep the good posts coming!

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    1. Thank you for your lovely comment Margot! I completely agree with what you're saying, and I'm so glad you enjoyed my post :) xxx

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