23 April 2012

A blog with two purposes

Welcome to my new blog "I am not just a...".

I have set up this blog as part of my 30 days of preconceptions activity, which is focused around trying to understand the other stories that might exist - not just the stereotypes.

Purposes of the blog
There are two purposes for the blog:
  1. as a place for me to refute some of the single stories that come out in the media, or even within my own social environment. 
  2. as an interactive site where people can effectively guest blog by sending me their own stories of being judged, labelled and valued according to someone else's preconceptions about who they are or how they have broken out of the stereotype that may have been restricting them.
And why am I doing this?
I have long believed that one of the biggest problems in our society today are the stereotypes that dominate our media, and therefore society. You know the sort of thing I'm talking about. Ever since 9/11 all Muslims are terrorists waiting to blow something up; all gay men are sexual predators waiting to turn heterosexual men; all Gen Y'ers have short attention spans, are lazy and technologically savvy; all welfare recipients are lazy and shiftless, and out to get everything they can from the taxpayers; and all atheists are hateful, soulless people without any morals.

The thing is that society, and in particular the media, feed on these single images as an easy way to tell a story. We are so well versed in their imagery that they only have to mention someone's religion, culture, age, sexual orientation, or a myriad of other characteristics for us to form a very quick value judgement of that individual. For instance, in Australian society if someone is a Christian we are supposed to judge them as good, but if someone is a Muslim or Atheist then we are supposed to think 'bad'. And whether we like it or not there is a small part of us that does this without even noticing most of the time.

It sets up a fear of otherness
As well as allowing us to quickly form a value judgement of an individual, it ensures that the person or people being discussed are considered different to us - it enhances their otherness. What I mean by this term is that it creates a barrier between us and the group/individual being discussed, which I believe reduces our capacity for empathy and compassion.

By classifying someone as belonging to a group that we don't belong to it creates this feeling that we don't understand them and they don't understand us. It also allows us to judge on a macro scale, removing the individual from the story and resorting to the stereotypes.
Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don't know each other; they don't know each other because they can not communicate; they can not communicate because they are separated.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Or "You can't hate someone whose story you know"
Think about how often you have heard someone talking about "them" - be that an ethnic group, cultural group, religious group, etc. When people talk about the stereotype of a group they use all encompassing statements like "they are X" or "they all Y", and more often than not these statements are negative.

But then someone will say something like "well our Indian grocer is the exception of that" or "but the Muslim guy at work is not like that". Because when we know an individual it conflicts with the stereotypes - because none of us are just the stereotypes that society creates. Knowing an individual helps us understand that all people are like us, they are a complex set of stories that can't be summed up in a stereotype. And when we know the stories we understand each other, and when we understand each other there is less chance that we will fear each other.

It sets up a hatred of ourselves (reinforced by others)
Worse still is when the very public negativity around a particular stereotype affects the way that individuals think about themselves. It's bad enough when other people hate us because of our otherness, but it must be horrid to hate yourself because of it. Since stereotypes and preconceptions usually support the negative aspects of a culture, religion, sexuality, race, gender etc., it is easy to see how this might occur. We need only to look at some the research around teenage suicide rates in lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-gender youth (LGBT) to see what sort of negative impact this might have (Wikipedia).

A lot of these negative concepts are also reinforced by bullying, most bullies rely on the stereotypes as a way of targeting and harassing individuals. They might also be reinforced by our own families, who only have the 'single story' about a particular group and cannot open themselves to the concept that someone they love might be in fact an "other".

Sharing is becoming the definitive characteristic of the 21st century
The evolution of the internet has given so many people in the world voices that they never had before. Some of these voices are anonymous, and they share painful details of lives that people have never been able to share before. But many of these voices are sharing their individuality, or advocating for their groups, their societies. We have the capacity to learn more about each other than ever before, we can break down the walls of stereotyping, of pushing preconceptions, of fostering single stories of fear and hatred.

The more we share, the more we realise that we are not alone in this world. The more we share, the more we understand that someone from another country, who speaks another language, believes in other gods (or none at all), well that someone might actually have more in common with us that the person next door, or members of our own family.

By sharing we break the preconceptions of the traditional media, we challenge the way that we view the world and the people in it. By sharing we make the world a smaller place, and we make it less fearful. We judge people less on random characteristics of birth and more on the actions and contributions that they bring into the world.

Sharing allows us to develop understanding, and I believe that once we truly understand we can develop acceptance of the other - not just tolerance of a stereotypical existence.

Share your story on this blog by emailing  iamnotjusta@gmail.com

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