Consequences of Well-Intentioned Stereotyping

I’ve had many personal experiences in which genuinely good people have made me feel… slightly awkward. Its a feeling of, “I recognise what they’re saying is not meant to be offensive but why does it make me feel… uncomfortable?”

For example, in my past and present life I often hear non-hijabis/non-Muslims comment on headscarves. Such comments may include, “Yeah sure, I like the headscarf… but the burqa… that one scares me!” Or, “Of course I have nothing against hijabs… but I feel sad when I see young girls wearing it… I don’t think its right.”

In these examples, the outsiders whom are “looking into” cultures, are consciously expressing their internal feelings and thoughts about a topic. To understand this, I look for the root of what may be influencing these negative internal feelings.

The ‘fear’ which the first person was referring to could obviously be due to the rising Islamophobia around a Burqa or Niqab. From a psychological perspective, it is found that people often dislike when another person is unidentifiable as it reduces accountability. So, by adding prejudice to this natural distrust humans seem to have, could explain this negativity.

The second example “I feel sad for hijabi children” makes me personally feel uncomfortable because I was a child wearing a hijab (7 years old) and I never felt any different from anyone else before I became self-aware. This is because children often do not become self-aware until around 10-12 years of age. Before I reached a level of self-awareness. They day that before this age children are unable to think self-reflectively or self-critically. Thus, when people say they feel sorry for young children wearing a hijab, I feel dumbfounded, because why feel sorry when they are unaware of its difference.

To me, these are examples of everyday cultural colonialism and western imperialism. It is the invisible practice of the dominant culture’s internal beliefs that the western way of life is the most normal, healthy and morally ‘right’ way of living.

Another examples which, I believe addresses the feeling I’m describing, can be seen in the movie Get Out (2017). There are several scenes which depict moments of the main characters discomfort (played by Daniel Kaluuya). When his white girlfriends father first meets him, her father instantly, repetitively begins to call him “Ma man”, which his embarrassed girlfriend admits, he has never said before. The actor further commented in an interview, “White people say some weird stuff sometimes”.

The “ma man” example shows an automatic association response; the father probably rarely sees black men in the area he lives in, so his automatic unconscious response is to refer back to prior information or stereotypes (accepted facts), which are stored in he brain. To breakdown this process I will list down what was probably going through her father’s mind when he first saw her African American boyfriend: “Oh, he’s black… that’s different to most the people I talk to… how do I talk to him? I should relate to him somehow… oh, rap and hip-hop culture… they often refer to each other as “ma man”… bingo!

I’m not saying that this is exactly what went through the characters head, but through this sort of route of association, was an association met. And it builds off (1) the understanding/accepted fact that races are different and should be treated/addressed differently and (2) racial stereotypes. My blog post is about how/why these sorts of daily occurances can make one feel uncomfortable – I state that it is vital in discussing and recognising these sorts of invisible occurences as loose threads of larger structured oppressive forces of racism and neocolonisation which work to maintain difference and racial hierarchies throughout the globe.

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