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Jenny Chen's picture

During this past Thursday's class we anonomously put up our thoughts about our trip to Ghana and where to progress from there. One classmates response asked a question along the lines of "What happens when the stereotypes we know about turn out to be more true that we had hoped?" and this particular question impacted me quite significantly and made me begin to think of answers to this question. 

To begin, I had a similar revelation while in Ghana. One day at lunch Alice asked me what my "AHA!" moment in Ghana was and I said that even though I had never been in Ghana or any country in Africa, what I was experiencing was not mind-blowingly different than what I had thought. When I applied to this 360 program and I had mentioned that one of my goals is to disprove some of the pre-conceived notions that I have about Africa as a whole. Through reading and analysis and ultimately through a first hand experience in Ghana I was expecting to come home with stories about how our original pre-conceived notions were all wrong and Ghana is actually like this and this, and so on and so forth. I never really thought of my pre-conceived notions as stereotypes but after one of my classmates brought it up, I realized that the question "What do we do when our stereotypes more true than hoped?" is actually very valid, and the answer does not come easily. 

I usually connect stereotypes with something negative or something that is not entirely true. For example, "Oh you're Asian, you must be really smart" is one that often bothers me. My first reaction is, "What exactly is it that you look for in a person that determines if they are 'smart' or not?" and then my second reaction is "So you have this meaning for the word 'smart' but don't you think some people fall into that category and others don't? Should you be making such broad generalizations?" 

Anyways, when I went to my doctor to get a check-up before our trip to Ghana she said, "Have fun while you're there, be careful, and learn a lot, but make sure you don't come home ill." Generally illnesses are correlated to unsanitary places and in a sense I felt that my doctor was blatantly saying "Africa is dirty." While statistically speaking Africa has diseases such as malaria and yellow fever as well as higher numbers of people with HIV and AIDS, Africa as a continent should NOT be classified as dirty. I was not expecting to arrive in Africa and see a completely germ free glistening environment but at the same time I was surpised by the amount of litter on the ground. 

Furthermore, I was often surprised by the kindness of the Ghanaians. Some were incredibly welcoming and when I had discussions with them I was entirely mesmerized by their insight. At the same time I was also taken aback by the people at the market place that were grabbing at my arms and making it known quite loudly that I was a white foreigner. I am drawn by my own reactions because each are on entirely different spectrums. 

In the end I am not sure if there is an answer to "What happens when stereotypes become more true than hoped?" but I do know that that question leads to much insight and thought about what is a stereotype and what kinds of connotations stereotypes have. More specifically, how are stereotypes formulated and how are they are publicized and spread? 


JBacchus's picture


most certainly NOT saying we shouldn't attempt to dispell or disprove stereotypes

JBacchus's picture

purpose of stereotypes

I'm not really sure what to comment on this, but I found it to be really powerful and wanted to acknowledge your thoughts.

I think it's a very scary thing for a person to start something in attempts to disprove stereotypes, then be shocked with the truth. I definitely agree that a reason for this is that stereotypes do have a negative connotation because of the generalization it provides; but we do have to accept and remember that often times, stereotypes have a purpose.

I dont have answer to your question and I dont have an answer to my own comment - I just know that, for me, disregarding ALL stereotypes as untruthful is often times as detrimental to a person as basing everything off of generalizations (please note the for me in italics).