Now there is a title that has been borrowed from a stereotype phrase! It is expected that TGIF is universally applicable to all and sundry, including those who work 24/7 and those whose, weekly off starts on Thursdays and also spare fellows like me who do not work at all!
For some of my readers, who are not aware, this post is my weekly contribution to a consortium that Conrad has cooked up. Conrad, Grannymar, Ashok and I are now expected to come up with a post on a topic selected by one of us every Friday.
Later on, we expect Marianna and some more people to join too to see diverse approaches to the same topics. Those willing to participate can contact Conrad who is the convener of this laudable activity.
The best definition that I could come up with for ‘stereotyping’ is – “Classifying people based on, one perceived, unique characteristic. Stereotyping is a form of prejudice that can form damaging images of people because of a particular characteristic without having any personal knowledge of the person.”
The latest and the most widespread stereotype is the Islamic Terrorist. There are terrorists of other religious persuasion too, but for some strange reason, the minute the words Extremist or Terrorist is thought of , the association is with Islam. The fact that the vast majority of Muslims are not terrorists gets buried and some ridiculous situations arise. For instance, we recently had the instance of a highly respected Indian artist subject to the most humiliating detention, investigation and body search, on arrival in the USA, because his surname is Khan.
Edward Said started off a complete new stream in academia as a counter measure to what he perceived to be unfair stereotyping. His monumental work on Orientalism is worth studying if one wants to understand the mechanisms that create stereotypes and what can be done about the negative impacts such stereotyping has.
Internationally, Scots are misers, Germans are automatons, Indians are vegetarians, Italians are lovers etc. Nationally – Madrasis are gentle trusting innocents, Sardarjis are Martial clowns, Sindhis are not to be trusted, Marwaris are misers, Bengalis and Malayalis are all communists etc. What can be perhaps called “Going from the particular to the general.”
I have personal knowledge of all these statements being untrue at the individual level and very often the reverse can be said about the particular group. Take my own example. When I was looking for a rented bungalow in Delhi, I was introduced to a Punjabi Indian Navy Captain who had just built a bungalow and was looking for a good Multi National Company lease and which will be given only to a Madrasi. I fit the bill and he came down on the rent too, as I fit his idea of two stereotypes; one Multi National Companies are better than Indian Companies for leasing accommodation and two, Madrasis will be gentle people who will look after the premises and live gentle peaceful lives.
Come house warming party and I had invited the good Captain and his wife and they were stunned to see a whole lot of merry making locals, booze flowing in gallons, non vegetarian food being grilled in the garden, music being played loudly and people dancing in the living room. The landlord/lady combination too joined in the festivities and then quietly cornered me to say – “If we had known that you were this type of a Madrasi, we would not have given the bungalow to you.” Subsequently, we became good friends and I always teased them for stereotyping me.
I have personally been exposed to being stereotyped as a Pappaan (Tamil slang for a Brahmin), Madrasi (The North Indian’s name for all people coming from what in colonial India was the Madras Presidency, now comprising of four linguistic states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka), and after I shifted to the Northern parts of India, the Southerners started to call me as a Northerner, Bombay Iyer, etc. When I started to work for the British, the British who came in contact with me called me a WOG, (Westernized Oriental Gentleman) till they found out that I was far from a gentleman. Whenever I was in London, I was called a Paki as all South Asian brown skinned folks in Britain are supposed to be economic refugees from Pakistan.
It always surprises people when they come to the individual level that the generalized stereotype is a myth. My first disillusionment was when I discovered that all Americans did not wear Stetson hats and wear cross slung six shooters on their hips. Also when I found, that all Englishmen were not the Colonel Blimp types.
I think that mankind will be lost without the ability to stereotype as a tool to create comfort levels of existence. There is a great deal of conditioning that takes place in all of us, and part of that process is the creation of stereotypes besides of course all types of value systems. While these may well be deliberately done to give protective shields around the individual, if by the time the individual is in the mid twenties, these are not dropped, all kinds of problems arise and great opportunities to explore the diversity of human beings slip out of grasp.
Personally, as a GOM (Grand Old Man), I try and avoid stereotyping. I can however assure you that at times, it is difficult. It is also very difficult to stereotype unique individuals. Try as I might, I just can’t find a stereotype where I can fit in Grannymar or Conrad! Free souls in their own orbits! TGFT (Thank God For That!)