Combatting Prejudice & Stereotypes, home and abroad

8:17 AM Jessica Montgomery 2 Comments


Yes, I’m an American.  No,  I’m not a stereotype.

     Stereotypes are an institute for ignorance. Either the one implementing the stereotypes on others or the one perpetuating their own, we all can do better to rid ourselves of these segregative chains holding us back from true progress. Does that sound a little over-dramatic and extreme to you? It may to some, but it’s something I strongly believe in. Relying on stereotypes to claim negative-knowledge over a person or culture is my upmost pet peeve. I believe that stereotypes stem from prejudice and general gross misunderstandings that have exponentially gotten out of hand and has found its way into other peoples’ psyche via spoon fed ignorance and bandwagon hate-mongering. 

     I deeply detest all forms of prejudice. Racist, sexist, nationalist, religious, etc. All of it. And, through my travels, I’ve encountered that most people are tolerant and accepting. Which is how it should be. But there are many strong instances where so called “open-minded” travelers and locals spit out blatant, hateful, generalizations about fellow travelers, cultures, or about the people in whichever country they find themselves in. Don’t fall into this category. Your so-called worldliness can be squashed as soon as you open your mouth. 
     Everyone can be a victim to prejudice and stereotypical categorization. Prejudices exist inside and outside every country.  And since I’ve been traveling and living as an expat for the past two and half years, I’ve dealt with my fair share of it. And it’s actually driven me to a breaking point once or twice (hence this article). I’ve been a symbolic punching bag more times than I can count and enough is enough.


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     -While in Borneo, I met a man and fellow traveler, at least 30 years my senior, who within 2 minutes of meeting me decided to call me fat, lazy, and stupid simply because my answer to “Where are you from?” was “The United States”.  I’m pretty sure that I’m fairly fit (I’ve played soccer most of my life), have supported myself financially through teaching and art since graduating with my BFA, and I’m also not the one dumping hate-filled prejudice on someone they’ve just met.   

     -While in Vietnam, I met a man (slightly younger than me) and fellow traveler who claimed that I was everything wrong with the world simply because (yet again) I introduced myself as an American. I don’t know what I did to deserve such a title, considering we’d just met, had barely spoken a word to one another, and were currently having a lovely dinner with a new group of friends. I guess he needed a punching bag? 

     -While in South Korea (where I lived and worked for two years), I was crossing the street coming back from grocery shopping when an elderly man, mid crosswalk, pushed his hand into my face and said, “Korea is our country!”, and walked away. I was simply carrying groceries back to my apartment.

     -While in South Africa, I’ve heard numerous times how fat and “stupid” Americans are and how much deep fried dough and sugar I eat and how much pop I drink. I’ve actually lost weight since I’ve lived here and I don’t drink pop (soda). Strange.
While in Australia, I was confronted by a group of teenagers who asked why I started the war in Iraq. I was 15 at the time. Not old enough to vote, not old enough to join the military… yet I somehow started a war. Incredible.

     -And, my favorite: I’ve heard numerous times, in numerous countries, how “different” I am from most Americans. Or, I know you’re not “the typical American”, but (insert insult here) —speech ,or, the backtracking (insert insult here), Oh! But not you, of course. You’re different. —speech.

Tell me… how many Americans, other than myself, have you met or do you know personally? Oh. I’m the only one? Then how do you know I’m the exception to this rule you so passionately speak of? 
And tell me… What was it like choosing your birth destination while in the womb? Was it multiple choice? Did you phone a friend? 
Was it voting ballot , hole-punch style? 
Was it confusing deciphering which hole to punch? 
I’m curious about this process as I have no recollection of it.

The ignorant spouting more ignorance.

     These are my personal experiences, of course. And honestly, it does hurt sometimes. I’ve cried in a hostel bunk bed before, sure. I’ve yet to learn to turn a deaf ear to it all. I used to brush it off more easily, but after time and time again ...it begins to chip away at you. 
     You’re not only insulting me, you’re insulting my family, my friends, and the place where I call home. So yes, it affects a great deal. Obviously, I can only speak from the experiences of an American traveler. But stereotype-spewing and prejudice hate-mongering exists for people of all national backgrounds, as I'm sure you're well aware. We all have different experiences with this. But one thing reigns true: It’s no fun being hated for something you’re not guilty of. 

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Why?:
     Stereotypes might seem playful to some, and it seems to me (from personal experience) that degrading Americans seems to be fair game in this regard…(I’ve encountered many people who jump on the ‘Americans are fat, ignorant, racists’-bandwagon the moment it’s brought up.) But it’s still counterproductive and may in fact reveal a more deep-seeded prejudice.  What have I, personally, ever done to you?

A recent Google search of mine. Nice.

     Sure, some do ruin it for the rest of us. I’ve met my fair share of people that do perpetuate the stereotypes that he or she might be labeled with. But ultimately it is a small few that garner the negative attention for the rest. Think about it. Remember that “class clown” in high school who always had the attention of the entire class? Maybe he or she was funny, disruptive, or disrespectful… whatever they were, I’m sure you remember them. But, did they speak for you? Did they represent your entire class? Did you dress the same, speak the same, look the same, act the same, come from the same family, represent your family, have the same hair color, get the same grades? Was he or she the same weight as you, same eye color, same, same, same? Surely not. This analogy can be applied to a larger context.
     Does the actions of one’s government always represent the sentiment of all its people? Do you stand by every political decision made by your government? Do you believe that everyone in every respective country believes the same thing? Practices the same religion? Eats the same food? Raises their children the same way? Surely not.
     So why judge any other group of people based on a small few? Why judge an entire group of people based on one or two, or maybe none!, that we’ve encountered. It seems that it is human nature to judge and generalize. We’re afraid of what we don’t understand. I can be guilty of this as well. But, I do my best not to be. It’s absurd when you step back and think about it. 
Some people claim that stereotypes exist due to a majority. But, in my personal experience and opinion, they exist due to extremism that has been sensationalized by innately prejudice groups or, the ever-loving, media. Crazy sells. Do you ever think you’d see a news story about a majority of polite people sitting around being polite and logical? No. Extremism and sensationalism make the newscasters, and the viewers, drool.  Extremist views are not the norm, that’s why they’re called (Yep, you guessed it!) extreme. (Not in the 1990’s sense, because that would be obviously awesome…) 
     Sure! I’ve joked about “Murrica” before, but that’s because I find those extremist views equally ridiculous. They may exist, but they do not represent the majority or myself for that matter. I’m proud to call myself an American.  I am an American, but first and foremost (like all of us): I’m a human being and I strive to change what I find unjust in my country. Don't loop me in with extremism before you know where I stand.

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What you can do:

     Of course, the majority of people I’ve met while traveling are genuinely lovely people. Absolutely lovely! I’ve met people who I briefly spoke to for ten minutes in a pub in Korea but we continue to be friends online to this day. And chat regularly! I’ve made friends all over this beautiful world of ours and continue to do so. But, like I said before, I’ve also met many who within ten minutes of meeting are intent to reduce me down to a stereotypical shell based on nothing more than where I was born.

So. What to do if this happens to you? What can and should you do when encountering prejudice?

          1.) Be bigger than their hate-speech. Don’t lower yourself down their level and retaliate. Prove your counter-stereotype, or that of the culture being attacked, and prove your intelligence by not engaging. You’re smarter than them. Show it.
          2.) Repeat Step 1.
          3.) If this doesn’t work, walk away. They’re not worth your time and they’re not worth ruining a holiday over. There are more lovely people out there than not, so go hang out with them instead.
          4.) Or, if you’re feeling courageous and feisty (I’m at this point now) ask them why they felt the need to say that to you? Usually the response is: “Well, …oh come on! You know what I mean!”  No, actually I don’t.  I’ve never shot a gun in my life. I’m most definitely not a racist. And no, I’m not having donuts for dinner.  I actually prefer vegetables. Surprise!



Conclusion:

      Simply put: Stereotypes, racist and sexist jokes, culminating into xenophobia, hold us back and I’m sick of it. They hold us back from experiencing real people, they hold us back from truly experiencing new cultures, and so much more. Even if you feel like the small little quip you’re about to deliver is harmless, be sure that it doesn’t come from something more deeply seeded. We are all in this world together. Let’s act like it. Don’t segregate people via hate-speech. You’re more intelligent than that.  Right?

     I guess all I’m really trying to say is (though, in all actuality, it’s silly that it even has to be said): Don’t assume. Give people more than their fair share at a chance. Think before you speak.  And, Love each other.  Dammit. 



Ok. I can get off my soap box now…   phew!


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2 comments:

  1. I've met a lot of Americans and they were all different, just like anybody else from anywhere around the world is different! Those stereotypes are usually "expressed" by ignorant people, but I imagine it must be quite annoying! Hang in there! :-)

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    Replies
    1. Exactly, and yes! We're all different.

      But yes, I was going through a stretch there where it seemed almost every day I encountered someone negative. Enough was enough! Had to vent, haha. Thanks for reading! :)

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