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Generalisation... Or Stereotype? Find Out

by Greer | Content Lead | Writing Tips | Characterisation

A generalisation, or a stereotype? Harmless, or insidious? It hasn't always been obvious deciphering between the two when it comes to comments on another country or another person's race, language or religion. Many have even argued that it's 'all in good fun' - but is it?



The Affected Voices

‘I get call centre comments often, when they aren’t trying to copy my accent…badly.’ - India ‘I face stuttering and token black stereotypes.’ - USA ‘Non-Brits think British=English. It gets to me. Do people not know Britain is not just England, or do they just not care?’- Wales ‘People think Hispanic=lazy. They’ve no idea how hard I work.’ – Chile ‘As a white person, I’m automatically considered racist. The fact I passionately support BLM and fully acknowledge my white privilege and the need for change is…irrelevant? It won’t stop me fighting against racism but its disheartening when I’m told all white people are alike.’ - UK ‘I’m really bubbly, happy and loving yet I’m assumed the opposite. People think I am scary or evil just because I’m Russian. I think Hollywood has a lot to answer for.’ – Russia ‘People think I just sit around smoking, eating snails, drinking wine and judge people all day. I only do some of those things!’ - France ‘Apparently wearing a hijab means I’m oppressed. The fact it was a personal decision to wear it means nothing to non-Muslims.’ – Iranian living in England ‘I’m Jewish-American, it would take too long to list the stereotypes.’ - USA ‘I must think grades are everything and I’m good at math. 🙄’ – Japan We were the wealthiest family on our block when we moved to the States from Africa, not that it helped shift the stereotype that – as black Africans – we must be poor, malnourished and living off the government.’ – Nigeria

The above were responses We Got Story received in an Instagram poll which asked the question ‘What stereotypes have you faced based on your nationality or ethnicity?’ The responses varied from vaguely unimpressed to outright offensive. The truth is no nationality or ethnicity on our planet is free from stereotypes given by those looking in from the outside. Even the positive ones, such as ‘Canadians are so friendly!’ set up false expectations and can eventually harm the ones they compliment – or cause resentment from others! The worst affected also tend to be those who fall into 'minority' categories depending on where they are located, and it is not uncommon for people to buy into stereotypes (good and bad) about groups they themselves fall into.




A Writer's Responsibility


But why is a writing-focused website writing about stereotypes? Is this the place for such social issues? When we fiction writers take on the responsibility of creating characters out of thin air, we have to be ready to take on the duty of ensuring out representations of a group of people are accurate and – of course – fair. That is not as easy as you might think. You may not buy into the stereotypes mentioned above, but don't be naive. It takes effort and constant attention to stop ourselves feeding into other stereotypes unknowingly. Let's consider how we might unintentionally allow pre-conceived notions to bleed into our stories, and what we could do to stop it happening.


Practical Steps You Can Take

1. Consider stereotypes you face, be it through your culture, ethnic background, belief system or anything which may part you from the crowd. 2. Spend time analysing accidental stereotypes we encourage, and brainstorm ways to rid yourself of them. Blame doesn’t fit in this exercise: this is purely a problem-solution process. 3. Think of how you could positively change another’s view if the opportunity arose in a conversation. How could you use logic and encouraging language to your advantage? 4. Don’t shy away from including international characters in your writing, but invest time learning about their culture from within that group - not from outsiders looking in. Understand that no viewpoint will be 100% fact, but someone in that group is bound to give you details outsiders couldn't. 5. Consider international entertainment. Exposure to other walks of life is a sure-fire way of broadening your world view. 6. Actively separate statistics with individuals. Data may indeed support certain stereotypes - such as one group of people being more successful in a sport or mental activity - but they are almost never a rule for all those in that group. Assuming traits when you meet a person is neither fair nor reliable. 7. Put yourself into the shoes of someone who possesses qualities, belief or habits contrary to a stereotype put upon them. Now consider the possibility these 'exceptions' may actually be the majority. Brainstorm how far the damage could go. 8. Don’t use a character’s culture/ethnicity/religion/etc in place of actual characterisation. Nationality, religion, ethnicity or language do not make a person. Personality and experiences do.

The Writer's Place


Are you expected to take on the world's stereotype injustices, being the perfect example with all this hardcore reflection? Absolutely not! No one - not even the angels among us - will get things right 100% of the time. This is why it is important to become comfortable with self-reflection, and understand that improving ourselves is nothing to be ashamed of. Investing in feeling empathy for those who aren't us is a multi-faceted life lesson worth our time. As stated above, blame shouldn't be invited to the party as we do this! Instead of focusing on our past mishaps, look to our impact on the future. Being clinical and making some personal goals means we're always moving upwards and putting more good back out into the world - both in our writing and our personal lives - than we may have received in the past. There's really no decent reason not to, and the quality of the world's literature gets better thanks to you.


A generalisation, or a stereotype? Harmless, or insidious? It hasn't always been obvious deciphering between the two when it comes to comments on another country or another person's race, language or religion. Many have even argued that it's 'all in good fun' - but is it?



The Affected Voices

‘I get call centre comments often, when they aren’t trying to copy my accent…badly.’ - India ‘I face stuttering and token black stereotypes.’ - USA ‘Non-Brits think British=English. It gets to me. Do people not know Britain is not just England, or do they just not care?’- Wales ‘People think Hispanic=lazy. They’ve no idea how hard I work.’ – Chile ‘As a white person, I’m automatically considered racist. The fact I passionately support BLM and fully acknowledge my white privilege and the need for change is…irrelevant? It won’t stop me fighting against racism but its disheartening when I’m told all white people are alike.’ - UK ‘I’m really bubbly, happy and loving yet I’m assumed the opposite. People think I am scary or evil just because I’m Russian. I think Hollywood has a lot to answer for.’ – Russia ‘People think I just sit around smoking, eating snails, drinking wine and judge people all day. I only do some of those things!’ - France ‘Apparently wearing a hijab means I’m oppressed. The fact it was a personal decision to wear it means nothing to non-Muslims.’ – Iranian living in England ‘I’m Jewish-American, it would take too long to list the stereotypes.’ - USA ‘I must think grades are everything and I’m good at math. 🙄’ – Japan We were the wealthiest family on our block when we moved to the States from Africa, not that it helped shift the stereotype that – as black Africans – we must be poor, malnourished and living off the government.’ – Nigeria

The above were responses We Got Story received in an Instagram poll which asked the question ‘What stereotypes have you faced based on your nationality or ethnicity?’ The responses varied from vaguely unimpressed to outright offensive. The truth is no nationality or ethnicity on our planet is free from stereotypes given by those looking in from the outside. Even the positive ones, such as ‘Canadians are so friendly!’ set up false expectations and can eventually harm the ones they compliment – or cause resentment from others! The worst affected also tend to be those who fall into 'minority' categories depending on where they are located, and it is not uncommon for people to buy into stereotypes (good and bad) about groups they themselves fall into.




A Writer's Responsibility


But why is a writing-focused website writing about stereotypes? Is this the place for such social issues? When we fiction writers take on the responsibility of creating characters out of thin air, we have to be ready to take on the duty of ensuring out representations of a group of people are accurate and – of course – fair. That is not as easy as you might think. You may not buy into the stereotypes mentioned above, but don't be naive. It takes effort and constant attention to stop ourselves feeding into other stereotypes unknowingly. Let's consider how we might unintentionally allow pre-conceived notions to bleed into our stories, and what we could do to stop it happening.


Practical Steps You Can Take

1. Consider stereotypes you face, be it through your culture, ethnic background, belief system or anything which may part you from the crowd. 2. Spend time analysing accidental stereotypes we encourage, and brainstorm ways to rid yourself of them. Blame doesn’t fit in this exercise: this is purely a problem-solution process. 3. Think of how you could positively change another’s view if the opportunity arose in a conversation. How could you use logic and encouraging language to your advantage? 4. Don’t shy away from including international characters in your writing, but invest time learning about their culture from within that group - not from outsiders looking in. Understand that no viewpoint will be 100% fact, but someone in that group is bound to give you details outsiders couldn't. 5. Consider international entertainment. Exposure to other walks of life is a sure-fire way of broadening your world view. 6. Actively separate statistics with individuals. Data may indeed support certain stereotypes - such as one group of people being more successful in a sport or mental activity - but they are almost never a rule for all those in that group. Assuming traits when you meet a person is neither fair nor reliable. 7. Put yourself into the shoes of someone who possesses qualities, belief or habits contrary to a stereotype put upon them. Now consider the possibility these 'exceptions' may actually be the majority. Brainstorm how far the damage could go. 8. Don’t use a character’s culture/ethnicity/religion/etc in place of actual characterisation. Nationality, religion, ethnicity or language do not make a person. Personality and experiences do.

The Writer's Place


Are you expected to take on the world's stereotype injustices, being the perfect example with all this hardcore reflection? Absolutely not! No one - not even the angels among us - will get things right 100% of the time. This is why it is important to become comfortable with self-reflection, and understand that improving ourselves is nothing to be ashamed of. Investing in feeling empathy for those who aren't us is a multi-faceted life lesson worth our time. As stated above, blame shouldn't be invited to the party as we do this! Instead of focusing on our past mishaps, look to our impact on the future. Being clinical and making some personal goals means we're always moving upwards and putting more good back out into the world - both in our writing and our personal lives - than we may have received in the past. There's really no decent reason not to, and the quality of the world's literature gets better thanks to you.


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