February 2, 2019
#Culture | This is How Strong Stereotypes Are

The youtube series Decoded does an awesome job at tackling some of the most uncomfortable topics in our society such as sexuality, race and gender inequality. But although the show speaks entirely for the American audience, some of the issues raised are experienced in other parts of the globe as well. This is the case mainly because whether we want to acknowledge or not, we are just humans and pretty much in the same hell called life.

So we felt inspired to further the discussion from a decoded episode on “Stereotypes” and bring compelling examples that should get the attention of Africans and how they interact in different communities. Stereotypes do the same thing, they lump people together instead of seeing them as individuals.

As explained by Decoded’s host Franchesca Ramsey, stereotypes can be both negative and positive. A negative stereotype would be to assume that Nigerians are all 419 scammers but a positive stereotype would be that Congolese can all sing. But again these are stereotypes because even though it may be true that music is part of the Congolese culture, not all Congolese can sing, just like not all Ethiopians are skinny, poor or hungry. And seriously, not all Kenyans can run.
How do these stereotypes come about? The most recent ones are mainly perpetuated by the media. For years, Ethiopia has been depicted as a country full of poverty and famine. Even though today the country is actually thriving economically, we do not really see that image on an international scale. It has been discovered that the brain is not really able to discern TV from reality, especially when it's developing. That is why years after, for those who aren’t really informed, Ethiopia is still a struggling nation.

Stereotyping is really something we can’t help doing because it is sometimes based on our experience or those close to us. If you have been scammed or know someone who fell for the 419 scam, then you would be suspicious of any deal with a Nigerian.
The scam called 419 is properly known as an advance-fee scam and it is one of the most common types of confidence tricks. The scam typically involves promising the victim a significant share of a large sum of money, in return for a small up-front payment. While Nigeria is most often the nation referred to in these scams, they originate in other nations as well. In 2006, 61% of internet criminals were traced to locations in the United States, while 16% were traced to the United Kingdom, and just 6% to Nigeria. Yet Nigerians are the ones getting a bad rep. Other nations known to have a high incidence of advance-fee fraud include: Ivory Coast, Togo, South Africa, the Netherlands, and Spain. Yet it is called 419 scams with the number "419" referring to the section of the Nigerian Criminal Code dealing with fraud, the charges and penalties for offenders.

In case you decide to not deal with Nigerians because you believe they are all scammers, now you've gone beyond generalization and into bias. Stereotyping is a thought or an opinion, but a bias is that action behind the idea. When you are applying a stereotype to an individual without actually considering the individual, you are highly biased.

And stereotypes are even more dangerous because they tend to eventually resembling the truth, in a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy way.

In 1995, several experiments showed that in America, black college students performed worse on standardized tests compared to white students when they were confronted with racial stereotypes. When those stereotypes weren't emphasized black students did just as well and even better than their white classmates. This study suggests that if the stereotype is emphasized enough it will end up being the norm. In fact if Nigerians are known abroad as scammers, there will be less opportunities for them. Nigerian expatriates might end-up jobless and resort to…well…scamming people to survive.

Another thing to take into consideration is Empirical Generalization. For example, most African women portray a curvy silhouette with hips and a full chest. So that is the idea of an African woman in many African countries and that’s an Empirical Generalization. But there are also many African women who do not share these features but unfortunately, society then created stereotypes around this generalization. So a woman who does not share African features is deemed unattractive. Some men may not be attracted to women with no curves, that doesn’t mean all men aren't. But it is because of stereotypes that women feel the need to change who they are to fit a norm that is not even real yet the stereotype perpetuates itself. But we have the power to differentiate between an empirical observation and a stereotype.

As Ramsey put it, “stereotypes are constantly changing, so we should stop thinking about them as shorthand for the truth. Stereotypes seem convenient and actually our brains want to stereotype, it's easy to look at someone and assume things about them as a group. But your first instincts aren't always right, in reality we should give people a chance to be themselves, instead of unfairly labeling them.”

What do you think? Can we stop labeling people?

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