Stereotyping - the science of assumptions
“Don’t assume”. Researchers conducting scientific experiments and people running statistical tests may get bewildered when I say this, but this is not meant for them. Instead, it is for others who carry a lot of pre-assumptions for a person, which leads to stereotyping.
Stereotyping, as per the top searches on Google, is defined as an "oversimplified, usually pejorative, attitude people hold toward those outside one's own experience who are different. They are a result of incomplete or distorted information accepted as fact without question".
My mother tongue placed me in a different geography from the place I hail from. I was given little choice and decisions were already taken for me. All I had to do was to behave in a way expected from the regional group I belonged to. That’s when I realized I was encountering a rather common phenomenon known as stereotyping.
My work took me further away from home. And once, when I was having lunch at my cafeteria, a senior lady sitting next to me started speaking to me in a condescending way saying, “You have curly hair, I know where you are from, you are eating ladies finger (okra) in this form, I know where you are from”. And suddenly she had her eureka moment – she rightly identified the place I’m from. I was relieved that she didn’t end up calling me an alien!
One of my colleagues genuinely enquired how was I not getting bored of eating ‘Idli Dosa Sambhar’? In fact, many people think I have it day in and day out. I couldn’t hold back my laughter and told her that I wouldn’t be this fat by merely eating Idli and Dosa all the time and that there is a lot more to Tamil cuisine and only a miniscule portion of it had become popular in rest of the country. Having travelled quite a bit, I regularly make and relish other region’s specialties. Their assumptions were not even close to reality. Assumption by itself is not a problem but the actual problem is when you try to approximate a person to that assumption and stick him or her to that.
However at the same time, if someone brings their hands together, bows and says ‘namaste’ outside India, I feel so good! I smile back and greet them. Because for me it is not a stereotype but instead a kind gesture. Some stranger just wanted to make me feel at home by doing something that is a key part of my culture. I could appreciate it for the good intention.
I used to be once proud of an ingenuous recipe in our cuisine only to discover later that the recipe was originally influenced or conceived by the migrants to our home land. Being bold and confident helps to rebuff the stereotypes. Pride is good, but we need to be watchful as crossing over the thin line can blind us on thinking that ours is the best in the world and everything else secondary.
Stereotyping stops you from knowing a real person. The society may mold a person’s civic behavior but not his individuality. It is easy to buy in to readymade opinions, but wouldn’t it be fun to explore the world and people with your own eyes? I certainly do not want to clip my wings with your assumptions. What about you?
Maybe, the senior lady at my office was genuinely excited about having identified my place of origin. Maybe I assumed that she was trying to judge me, make me feel low or uncomfortable. We all assume, don’t we?
Let us appreciate the diversity we all bring into the society and workspace just by being ourselves and pledging to be more inclusive to sustain the diversity.