The Melibee Global team experimented with the following question: What would happen if we read the same article about the dangers of stereotypes and discussed it, on one day in many places around the world? We had no idea how this question would be handled by different groups – but we were willing to encourage a gathering and see what transpired. The following is a summary of what happened as a result of this experiment – and we couldn’t be more pleased to hear the stories that were contributed! Please do share your thoughts in the comment section below – you do not need to register to do so!
Bethel, Connecticut, USA
Melibee’s Tara Nygaard teamed up with TaNesha Barnes and Joshua Blount of the Beyond the Surface Critical Thinking and Social Justice Academy to deliver an incredible lesson plan on stereotypes. Tara started off the session by sharing what the students assumed would be pizza. They were surprised to see fruit and other snacks in a pizza box, illustrating the message that you should not judge any book by its cover!
This group of young people, lead by Tara and TaNesha, explored the man-made ideas of categorizing each other by race, religion, and even nationality. They looked at a globe and noticed that all of those boundaries between countries are in fact made by people! They watched at a few Youtube videos about stereotypes in advertisements, and in Disney movies which the kids really loved…and lamented on the fact that poor Ariel in “The Little Mermaid” had to give up her voice and her mermaid tail in order to keep the man she loved.
Here are some of the statements written by the students regarding what they learned about stereotypes:
D., age 11: “I’ve learned that labels are ideas. I’ve also learned people have power over each other and they have different opinions. People group each other. However, it is not a great idea because people you are grouping may take it the wrong way. People group each other to understand each other more.”
D., age 9: “I learned that all of the label categories are ideas. I think it is dangerous to label people because they might get bullied.”
M., age 12: “I think differently that gender, religion, nationality, race, language and age are all different categories that people group in to understand people. It’s all just ideas and thoughts. Everyone is different and shouldn’t be labeled. For example, Tara brought a pizza box and everyone thought pizza was inside. Instead, there was cupcakes and fruit.”
Tempe, Arizona, USA
Members of the ASU Center for Global Education Services and an international scholar participated in the discussion. The conversation started with each participant sharing a label that they identify with while others silently paid attention to their initial thoughts about that label when the person said it followed by sharing one stereotype they believe exists about the U.S. (We noted that the Americans in the room all listed negative stereotypes they thought existed about the U.S. while our one international participant listed a positive stereotype that her culture had about the U.S.) They watched Chimamanda Adichie’s TED talk on The Dangers of A Single Story.
They discussed what our world might be like without labels and decided it would be chaotic. Humans need labels to categorize things and it is a natural human tendency to want to belong to a group; we possess a psychological need to belong as we are more or less ‘pack animals.’
One participant referenced the term conscientization which he described to mean this coming to awareness of oppression that exists. We discussed how studying abroad helps you to break through your narrow world views but that even the first time you study or travel abroad it isn’t necessarily enough; you learn with each new voyage. Conscientiousization is not easily obtained–it takes multiple experiences.
They briefly discussed the idea of gender as the ultimate label and everyone agreed it was too difficult to imagine a world that was devoid of gender assignments because that structures nearly everything in our societies.
This group also tapped into the value of thinking of your identity as you travel because it is the lens for how you see the world, and therefore shapes how you perceive things.
Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Despite being very busy graduate students at Lesley University, this group managed to discuss presumptions and assumptions as well as phenotype/genotype as a continuation of their discussion on stereotypes last semester. The group noted that it’s innate for us to make judgments of others and we just have to be conscious about that fact and willing to try and change the way we process these ideas.
Seattle, Washington, USA
Friends came and went, but the Seattle group managed to squeeze in this photo! Their talk was illuminating. Some of the highlights included questioning why people say ‘sorry’ when they ask, “Are you <insert label here>?” and when they are wrong, they say “No, I’m sorry.” We talked about how possibly, we say sorry to save face for the other person. Depending on how you answer that (loudness of voice, attitude, etc.) the context of the conversation can flip 180 degrees.
This group also posed the question: Are positive labels also called stereotypes? Stereotypes have such a negative connotation; but some stereotypes/generalizations are positive. Are there specific words we use in society that are positive stereotypes?
Seattle Global Buzzers also spoke a lot about laughter/jokes/sarcasm to really break apart from stereotypes. In order to understand cultural jokes, you really need to understand the culture. They felt that while jokes can hurt people, at the same time, they can also serve to start dialogue.
This was an artistic group – here is their drawing of the event:
Winston Salem, North Carolina, USA:
The bulk of our attendees at this gathering were from the South, and half the group did not know each other. It took a few minutes for them to warm up, but when they did – wow – watch out! The conversation was flowing with incredible authenticity. They had some intense dialogue about race, stereotypes of the South, how the media impacts labeling of others, and a few of the moms in the group spoke of their children’s responses to stereotype.
One mom – a nurse who has lived on the west coast, Detroit and now Winston Salem – shared an experiment she conducted with her own teen daughter as a way to explain the conversation she would be attending that evening. She printed a photo of RuPaul dressed as a woman and then again as a man. She asked her to describe what she thought each person might be like. The female was probably a wealthy, professional model while the man was not seen in as favorable a light. She then told her that they were the same person. Her daughter was stunned and had a much better idea of why stereotypes can be incredibly dangerous!
They discussed hard subjects, learned a lot and expressed a lot of gratitude at the trust that this group quickly established.
El Nomad hosted this event and had a mixed crowed of Ecuadorian and U.S.-born individuals. They began by discussion the cultural labels that came to mind with each culture (US/Ecuador). With the US, the terms consumerist and self-centered came to light; Ecuadorians, “murlaco” which means to trick people. We also covered that many people abroad see people from the US as being very loud and “out to get others” and that Latin Americans in general are seen as being poor (as in lacking financial resources).
A discussion of the history of stereotypes and categorizations arose. “Were stereotypes originally designed for survival?” and “Did this lead to groups who were different becoming separate from one another?” were two of the hotly debated questions. They then moved on to discuss the effects of labeling and stereotyping on the person who has the label placed on them and discussed how perceptions of the receiver can have an impact the stereotype itself (for example, if I think that someone calling me a “Gringo” is a bad thing, I will be offended, however, if I feel it has no greater implications it won’t affect me).
The group determined that people from the US stereotype more. This, however, led to talk about this was stereotyping in of itself, and then to a heated debate about birth-right citizenship and was limiting citizenship to people who don’t “fit in” a bias or simply national protectionism. When they discussed disproving stereotypes and categorizations, they looked at the idea of self-inflected stereotypes. An example was being a mother in a country other than your own and attempting to live up to the expectations of that culture – feeling as though others around you are judging you, even if they’re not.
Gender stereotypes invoked an interesting conversation of children and gender guidance, women in the workplace, transcending gender barriers and women doing men’s jobs (but men not wanting to do women’s jobs).
They ended with the concept that labels are fluid and depend on the labeler/labeled – your perception of me, and my perception of what you are saying about me.
Two other events took place around the world – one, in Kralanh, Siem Reap, Cambodia (hosted by PEPY Tours) and Melibee’s Maria prepared an ESL lesson on the subject with her young students in Spain.
This was a fascinating experiment for us all! Several participants asked when the “next meeting” would be, as they enjoyed the authenticity and meaningful dialogue. Our team is going to gather in the Melibee hive and ponder this question further. Many thanks to those who participated in this important discussion! A very special thanks to the Melibees who were able to host events: Ashley Houston, Kyle Rausch, Lisa Zenno, Tara Nygaard, Maria Snyder and Gerry Botchoukova.