It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from but you carry with you a mixed bag of erroneous stereotypes. Some people are unwilling to accept this fact and are even less willing to change and I unknowingly used to be one of those but after moving from Malawi where I was 98% surrounded by fellow Malawians to UK where I tend to be the only African in my various social circles I am constantly revising my views of pretty much everything.
So what brought this on? A colleague of mine recently moved to Hong Kong and I received an update email from him today where he stated "I've never lived outside the UK. This place is weird. Full of Chinese people." This was not a racist comment at all, my colleague is himself of Chinese origin, it was the last thing I expected him to say and after a brief pause, I burst out laughing - at myself for subconsciously thinking he would blend right in because he looked like everyone around him and then for being shocked that he didn't. I of all people should know that the way you look on the outside almost means nothing, I have found that the people I get along with have normally got a similar background to myself and more often than not look nothing like I do. I have also learnt that life is very different when you live and work in an environment with many cultures compared to one lacking in diversity.
However, like as not, just by existing in the world that we do, if you read, watch TV or listen to the radio you are bombarded with views, many of them prejudiced in some form or another. What are these? I list a few below, not in any particular order:
1. Many people think all women grew up fantasizing about the day they will get married - really? The first time I ever even thought I wanted to get married I was well over 20. However, it is true for a lot of people, my little sister included. I like the idea of marriage now, but I never gave the concept any thought when I was growing up.
2. Women love shopping, if they could they would shop day in, day out. I hate shopping, I like clothes and pretty things but I would much rather a personal shopper brought these to my door step like Deborah Meaden apparently does. I hate the crowds, I don't like queuing and the general wastage of time as you move from shop to shop does not sit well with me.
3. People with dread locks are predominantly subversives or ruffians or both...do you ever change train carriage when you see someone with locks? Come on, be honest.
4. The worst stereotypes I find are those that try to correlate race and intelligence. Really? In the twenty first century you would believe there is a causal relationship between the two?
5. How about beauty? In the west, skinny has long been heralded as preferable in Africa they tend to prefer someone of a size consistent with eating "normal" portions but of course there are different preferences within; is straight hair better than kinky or curly hair?; are long legs really better than short ones? To some, the very concept that someone could look at someone who is shorter and more weighty and prefer them over a skinny tally is so completely alien that they might question the sanity of the person with this preference. At the end of the day though, beauty is only skin deep. I am a true believer in looking at the inside and judging people by who they are. When you allow yourself to get to know someone who turns out to be truly good-hearted you will tend to think they're beautiful on the outside regardless of what you initially thought.
6. The more subtle stereotypes are perhaps the most dangerous because you don't even realise the impact they are having - marketing dolls to just girls, trucks and football to little boys, boys don't cry and so forth. The different roles we associate with a given gender are mostly social constructs and this is so deeply embedded in the way we live that I don't know if it can be changed.
I hope I will always be open to revising my views, knowledge is so easy to obtain but understanding, truly understanding is not.
By Heather Katsonga-Woodward
I'm always thinking, debating, considering and revising my views - some of those deliberations will be shared right here.