I’m sure that at one point in time all people will encounter some sort of stereotype in their life. Often different races and ethnicities are painted in different lights. In France, I take a class on the perception of the Islamic World. And even here in France, with recent events and selective memory, they view Muslims a certain way. In the same way, those of other cultures will have selective memory and use this to fuel stereotypes. Like Hafez Adel says, stereotypes endure because they provide a comfortable shortcut” And I believe this is true.
Even as open minded as I was to coming to France, and learning about the French culture. I will admit I had some stereotypes in my head. I had the preconceived notion in my head that the French were mean, overly romantic and not very helpful to those learning the language. And now that I have been living in France for two months, I find these stereotypes to be completely untrue. Granted, the French do drink wine with their meals, and are usually walking home with their baguettes and some cheese. But I realized how much stereotypes can come off as disrespectful and uncomfortable.
It is common for the study abroad student to be American. And so often times, when I am in a restaurant or bakery I will be asked where do I live in America. I once had a conversation with someone who went on and on about how Americans not only do not know how to speak French, but they are also incapable of doing as the French do. And when I finally corrected the person and told them that in fact I was a British Jamaican, they then asked if I drank like a fish, swore like a sailor and smoked weed while listening to Bob Marley. I was asked at what age did I learn to speak English, even though contrary to popular belief all Jamaicans speak English. Nothing upset me more.
Just in the same way, those from the outside perspective have a preconceived notion of Jamaicans, there is also a preconceived notion of Americans. And I found it interesting in the context of the rite of passage that we as study abroad students have this experience when we are told the stereotypes of our cultures. To many Europeans, Americans are an uncultured people, waving around their guns and shouting their support for Donald Trump. Whenever I am in a conversation with someone and mention that I attend school in the states, their next question is almost always “Do You Support Donald Trump?”
Like Adel says, stereotypes often emerge in an effort to fill a vacuum of knowledge. Rather than getting to know the cultures and subcultures of a country, individuals often assume that all people that reside in a specific area must be the same. Often times, in my own home country, I will hear how people identify differently, and though yes we do have some rastafarians within our population they are a minority and not a majority. But to debunk this stereotype would stray too much from taking the comfortable shortcut. It is the same with Americans, though they do not all identify in the same way, to the rest of the world to reduce this complexity, one just groups all people together. There are things that have proven or I’ve seen are true while living in France. Just in the same way, we expect individuals to debunk the stereotypes surrounding our own countries and cultures, we too much be open-minded to debunking other stereotypes of other people. And viewing things with an open mind, and open eyes. I am of the opinion that by doing this, by exploring and debunking stereotypes one gets to learn more about the culture of their host community.