Written by Joshua Kaye
Illustrated by The Sketch Room
In the case of racial stereotyping, we must retreat to colonialism. When the Germans and Belgians first stumbled on the region of Rwanda in the 18th century, they recognised the Tutsis as ethnically and phenotypically distinct. The Tutsi were considerably taller than the Hutu on average and were seen to have more Caucasian features.
Seeing that the Tutsi were already dominant in the region, the Belgians placed them in charge of the new colony. This slight feature difference and the historical dominance of the Tutsi is what led to the tragedy of the Rwandan genocide.
To bring up a more recent example of negative racial stereotyping at play: the story of Elijah McClain. Elijah, an introverted 23 year old who was put in a carotid hold by officers while sobbing and throwing up just because he wore an open-face ski mask because he had anaemia and would sometimes get cold.
Because of his medical condition and race, he was deemed a threat. When he was unconscious, paramedics came to the scene and administered Ketamine to sedate him while officers held him down. He subsequently went into cardiac arrest and was taken off life support on August 30 2019.
The propagating of racial stereotypes can mean a death sentence for certain people. The six million Jewish people who died in concentration camps as a result of Nazism. Not to mention the countless ‘outsiders’, such as Gypsies, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Germans that were viewed as genetically inferior and harmful to so-called ‘national health’.
Public displays of hatred and propaganda in Nazi Germany took various forms, from films and radio addresses to posters and newspapers. This all aided in creating falsehoods around ‘different’ kinds of people. Those that didn’t fit the ‘ideal’ Aryan race.
On a personal level, I hate being judged on my demographics – precisely because I do not fit into them, or rather, most of the stereotypes associated with them. Even more precisely: the socio-economic and racial stereotypes.
This lack of ‘fitting in’ has penetrated every angle of my existence. I’m a Black, gay, vegetarian man with an upper-middle class upbringing and a ‘posh’ British accent. My existence seems hard to process for most people.
I don’t say this to show off. It is part of who I am and I won’t deny or hide it as it is something I have little control over. My circumstances have led to me feeling very alienated while growing up. I had a stammer and a soft speaking voice. In retrospect, it was often the case that people would want to pigeonhole me into a version of myself that they would want to see.
Viewing me as a source of entertainment is what I inevitably fell into. After being egged on by friends, I achieved semi-Facebook fame as a teenager by posting funny Facebook statuses, selfies with comical facial expressions, sometimes posing with pieces of KFC. A complete tool.
What I soon realised after doing all of that is that I wasn’t being taken seriously by anyone. Whenever I would voice my opinions on serious matters, neither friends or family would really treat them as anything remotely interesting.
You would expect people to know better and be more worldly in adulthood but in many cases, these adults don’t grow when they reach adulthood. My accent is still something people pick up on (understandable perhaps, as I myself am yet to meet another Black person with my accent).
It gets worse when dating. I’ve had men refuse to meet me because of their supposedly ‘violent’ experiences with other Black men. I’ve had some men ask me to record myself speaking, only to be blocked soon after.
Speaking of myths, you would expect that in our increasingly agnostic and atheist world that people would cease to believe in racial myths. However, there seems to be an exception when it comes to race.
We are a deeply xenophobic species. We like to place Others in a box full of expectations. Blacks: loud, funny, poor, like KFC, smell bad, violent. Asians: smart, small penis, smell bad, docile. When people are confronted by those, like me, who step outside such stereotypes, they really don’t know how to react. I call it an ontological crisis – the dismantling of previously held beliefs and the mental frenzy that follows suit.
Who is to blame? Yes, colonialism and imperialism may be the root of modern-day evil, but I would like to bring it closer to home and draw attention to some of the faults within media outlets.
You simply cannot underestimate the power of film, television, magazines and other media in terms of the messages they spread and the methods used. These sources of media should be used to spread good and promote the world of difference in which we currently live.
A central myth is propagated via social conditioning: the White-centric west must be the centre of global culture. A culture made on the backs of the Othered. Therefore, it is no surprise that those Others are made into caricatures – mere stereotypes and labels which delineate wildly from both the Real Thing and the perfect White myth.
Education is key: getting to know the world around you one step at a time is valuable in our globalised world. Dismantling racial stereotypes and ignorant viewpoints are what can be done to bring the world closer together. Your brain doesn’t have the cognitive ability to discern television from reality, especially when it’s in development or you live in an area with little exposure to the outside world.
This is one of the reasons why I recently created a food account on Instagram (@foodforthought.uk) where I create and share my favourite recipes and food ideas from around the world, reconnecting with the world one delicious bite at a time. It’s all about the little steps!
I do believe that this is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. But the bulk of the progress needs to be done by the media. We should no longer see characters and personalities that propagate any stereotype of any group of people. This is a planet of almost eight billion. Sure, empirical observations are harmless, but the threat of stereotypes still hold overwhelming strength.
Just remember: the very nature of living is the ongoing exposure to difference. Experiencing new feelings, emotions and people is at the heart of existing. If you seek to eradicate difference, you also eradicate all reason to live – that is a very slippery slope to fall on. We must channel our strength towards promoting the diversity of life. It is the most beautiful thing we have.
Currently, Joshua is a first year PhD student in English Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London. To support this, he is working in insurance. In his spare time he creates avant-garde music and loves to cook and travel. You can find his Instagram here and his Twitter here.
Edited by Stephanie Kleanthous