Monday, June 18, 2012

Prejudice

I've been thinking a lot about Fruitcake's latest post. Or really the things that are being said in comments.  

Fruitcake says, I am inclined to be a little put out when people say "I am allowed to trash group X because I'm one of them, but you are not allowed to.

I have to admit to being guilty of that.  I bitch about Americans in my blog.   Then I get offended when Australians bitch about Americans. Is that fair? Not really.

But sometimes I feel more justified because I KNOW Americans....lots of them.   And on a very frequent basis, I interact with lovely people who happen to fit the negative stereotype of Americans—  Loud, ethnocentric, frequent bragging, and sense of entitlement.

When Australians complain about Americans, I'm thinking, what the hell do you know? What are you basing this opinion on?  The one group of loud tourists you ran into while hiking?  An episode of The Simpsons?  George W. Bush? A geographical blunder made by CNN?  

Fruitcake's complaint came after my list of complaints.  I realize I'm guilty of my own pet-peeves..at least one of them. I spoke against, people who act like they're doing me a favor by tolerating me, since they usually hate everyone else in my group.

I have my prejudices.  And I have my exceptions to the prejudice.

For example....

I'm prejudiced against a certain age group.

I'm an ageist, I suppose.

But there are a few people from this age group that I adore. Instead of thinking Well, maybe I've judged this group wrongly, I tend to think, Well, this person is not like the OTHERS.  

I try not to be, but I AM a prejudice person.  If I meet two or three people from the same religion, country, age group, ethnicity, etc; and they have something in common, I tend to imagine everyone from that group will have that trait as well.

It's stupid, really.  

It's irrational.

You probably need to know at least 100 people from a specific group for your personal stereotype to be even remotely valid.   

I definitely know more than a hundred Americans.  Or at least I've known MORE than that many through out my life.  I'm guessing that only a small minority fit the stereotypes I mentioned above.  

All in all, people are people. There's more variation between individuals than there are between groups.  My rational smart brain knows that.  The irrational dumb sections of my brain will probably never succeed in grasping the concept.


P.S-I can't complain too much about Australians judging Americans based on fictional American TV shows. Watching Offspring has raised questions in my mind about Australians, specifically their attitudes towards sex.   It's silly, though, because certain characters in certain American shows have the same attitudes and behaviors. It's probably more of a TV vs. reality thing than an Australian vs. American thing.   But when I see an American TV show, I can know better and think, that's not realistic or overly common...at least not with the people I know.   When I see it in an Australian TV show, sometimes I'm not really sure. 

15 comments:

FruitCake said...

I think it's a very basic, human survival instinct to stereotype groups.
If I were living in England, say, 12 hundred years ago, and someone told me there are purple people from across the ocean raping and pillaging up and down the English coast, I would not only be keeping an eye out for purple people, but would definitely need to go to the bathroom if I saw a purple person walking towards me.

Stereotyping, in that sense, makes sense.

I have my own preconceived notions about groups of people, and I would be lying if I said I didn't.

But we are no longer living in the dark ages. As the world shrinks, our populations are becoming increasingly muddled in terms of physical appearance. [especially weird for someone who grew up in a white world like I did.] We might know there will always be some people who like raping and pillaging, but we can't tell anymore if they are always still only purple people, and we can't be sure all purple people are dangerous.

The upside of this is that we are more inclined to wait and see and judge people by what they actually do or say. The downside is it can make us more nervous about people generally.

My idea of Australia's character is that we are friendly, outgoing and easy going, generous when it's important, and not too driven to enjoy life. Naturally this is changing, and naturally I mourn the loss of the past because like everyone else I find certainty reassuring.
On the other hand, one of the greatest of our recent achievements is that after WWII people who had been enemies in Europe just a few years before were able to put aside their history, linguistic differences etc and just get on with building the Snowy Mountains Hydro Electric Scheme together. That might not have grown out of the Australian character, but it surely must have added to it.

The truth is, no culture is homogeneous – what we really have is a set of values a majority might subscribe to, and that culture is adapting and changing all the time, hopefully for the better.

I can see that a lot of the criticisms outsiders have of Australians are fairly reasonable. A highly VISIBLE section of our community is made up of dumb, drunken racists with an unbelievable sense of entitlement.

I just don’t want outsiders to ASSUME I’m one of them.

I’m not sure anyone HAS to be an American to criticise America, so long as they recognise that America is many cultures and situations. Not all African Americans live like the Cosby family, and not all of them are drug-running gangstas. Not all ‘white’ Americans live in trailer parks, not all are Mormons and so on. Perhaps it’s generalisation that’s offensive.
What we all really want [says I generalising] is to be SEEN for who WE are.

So I don’t think it’s wrong to harbour stereotypes, and it’s reasonable to be cheesed off if someone puts a label on you that doesn’t fit. It’s cool to think THIS PERSON IS NOT LIKE THE OTHERS because it means you are a fair person.

Martin said...

I guess Australians suffer (somewhat) from the inferiority complex Melburnians have to deal with when they look north when it comes to dealing with the US (so does most every group in the world).

It is quite an objective fact though (based on careful and professional surveys) that theism is substantially more prevalent in the US than anywhere else in the so-called advanced first world nations. I feel there is some correlation with the relative prevalence of moralism in the US as a world power and culture though this is more subjective on my part.

I think Noam Chomsky is an important voice on this topic within the US. For instance he bravely broached the subject of why the US might be hated (apart from the unsatisfying and only partial answer of 'they hate our freedom') quite soon after 9/11 and part of that was about the combination of moralism and hypocrisy.

Dina said...

Fruitcake: The truth is these days the purple people are very gentle and helpful towards strangers. UNLESS they eat mint Aero bars. If they eat those...it's a major disaster.

Maybe in the old days generalizations (both positive and negative) were more likely to fit because people were less exposed to other cultures as they are now.

These days we're very global. I probably take in more Australian culture than American culture (from popular media, blogs, email conversations, etc). So I could say I'm more Australian than American. But that's not true because who knows what's influencing the Australian stuff (and people) I'm encountering.

I think I understand what you're saying though. Maybe?

It's okay to have stereotypes. And it's also okay to not want people to assume you're a certain way just because you're part of a certain group.

I guess it's all part of the human experience.

Martin: I think America as a country has some very annoying traits (like the theism you mention). So I can't blame non-Americans for not loving America. I have negative feelings towards certain countries too.

But there's a difference between hating a country and hating it's population.

Although I guess the population is what makes America religious. So you got me there.

But we're not all religious.

Well.... I'm looking at statistics. 78% of Americans are Christian.

Only 15% are Atheist or non-religious.

So if someone doesn't like religious people; their dislike of Americans might be sort of rational

Then the question though is...is it fair to dislike all religious people?


Other people don't like Americans because of our government. I think this is less rational because as individuals we have little control over what our government does.

Yes, the majority of Americans picked George W. Bush as president in 2004. But it's not like it was 95% of us.

It was 50.7%.

In 2000, slightly more Americans wanted Al Gore as president. And we ended up with Bush instead.

Then there's the fact that once someone is elected into government; they don't always do what we expected and wanted them to do.

I guess what I'm getting at here is some stereotypes are based on statistics...fact. So maybe they're more valid. But it still needs to be remembered that these traits don't fit every single person.

Martin said...

I do remember these traits don't fit every single person and I hope my comment didn't come across as overly harsh.

Dina said...

Martin,

No. You weren't overly harsh. I was just trying to rationalize or explain my annoyance towards people who DO seem to think stereotypes fit every single person.

I didn't mean to infer that you're one of them.

Sorry.

Martin said...

Further to the Sydney-Melbourne drama, I noticed in the news today that Sydney is getting its own official Monopoly game - has Melbourne already got one? You can express interest in having specific streets included at www.facebook.com/sydneymonopoly .

I actually thought Australia as a whole already had one but I don't really care enough to find out.

Dina said...

Martin,

I've heard of the Australian Monopoly. I haven't seen a Melbourne one yet. So maybe Sydney is the first to get one of it's own?

I agree with the people on Facebook that say the Harbour Bridge and Opera House should be the top spots on the board.

I was just looking at Wikipedia and realized when I looked at the Australian Monopoly board I was looking at a 1990 version.

There's been an updated one.

The old one had streets in Canberra as the top property. I didn't think that was the best choice.

Martin said...

Hi Dina

I just found an interesting GQ essay by Jon Ronson that explores the issue of income inequality in the US and I thought it might interest you so here's the link:

http://www.gq.com/news-politics/big-issues/201207/amber-waves-of-green-jon-ronson-gq-july-2012

Dina said...

Martin,

Since it's about neither Australia nor zombies, I probably won't be extremely interested.

But I'll give it a look.

Thanks for the link.

Martin said...

Yes, I thought to myself after I commented that you might be more interested in the fact that the world's richest woman today is Australian Gina Rinehart. Something that interested me especially is that she is expected to soon be the world's richest person.

Despite this Australia still has a more equal wealth and income GINI coefficient than the US at the moment, I believe. Australians would be pleased with that I think but I also think most Americans would prefer to believe they were generally more equal than they actually are. Your post was partly about Australians being prejudiced about Americans. The article might show that Americans are prejudiced about Americans, too, though I admit it isn't a scientific study.

With people like Gina we're headed your way, however, GINI-wise as in many things.

Dina said...

Martin,

Let's say you wrote a post about people being prejudiced against Muslims.

What would you think if someone sent you an article showing there are valid reasons behind that prejudice; and also evidence that Muslims themselves are prejudice against Muslims?

How would you respond?

Yes, some Americans are prejudiced against Americans. Some Muslims are prejudice against Muslims. Some Jews are prejudice against Jews. Some homosexuals are prejudiced against homosexuals.

Outside of that...there are people in the group who are critical of the group; but not in a bigoted way.

You can take off the rose-colored glasses, be critical, and still feel the love.

I'm trying to understand what you're thinking here; and what you expect from me.

I may be wrong; but it seems you imagine I have this delusional view of America being perfect; and you're...trying to set me straight? Remove my veil of ignorance?

Trust me. I love my country. But I am very critical of it. It's just that I'm (right or wrong) sensitive to criticism from outsiders. That was the main point of my post.

See? I'm getting defensive. Because I AM sensitive.

But I do love you (and not just because you're Australian).

Martin said...

I did notice that your last comment seemed a little aggressive/defensive and I considered referring to that as well as stressing that my comments weren't about America bashing. Now I realise I needed to do that in order that you didn't misunderstand me as it seems you have done. I certainly don't believe you are uncritical of America or Americans (just as I am not uncritical of Islam or Muslims - the difference between you and I for the purpose of the analogy you are making is that while I'm not a Muslim you are an American and I guess this makes discussion a more live issue for you) and am not trying to set you straight.

I don't want anything from you at all if you would prefer not to respond. The article was quite interesting though and also didn't America bash, IMHO.

By the way I do like the new brief style of your posts (please interpret that as a compliment as that is purely how it is intended). I've noticed you've had a few days off from blogging and hope all is generally going well with you and that this break hasn't been the result of my recent spate of comments in any way.


Regards, Martin

Martin said...

I'm also looking into the presidential race over there and am actually quite optimistic about the US at the moment.

I'm reckoning based on current polling and the 2008 race that President Obama is looking at getting 369 electoral college votes (99 more than he needs to win).

Then there's the upside risk that the US economy will improve sustantially buoyed in part by the sanity of the Supreme Court decision on health care issues (FSM bless the majority but especially the unexpected Chief Justice Roberts - he's managed to remove a prejudice I may have had about him in particular) balanced by the downside one that Romney's electoral outspend will be effective.

Ninety-nine votes out of 538 is a healthy margin to play with. I'm just hoping that the H of R and Senate races will be as successful for relatively progressive candidates and some impasses in the US federal political system can finally be dealt with. That's up to Americans, of course, but things like carbon prices affect us all (as I don't doubt you possibly don't doubt, I'm just saying):-).

Dina said...

Martin,

Thank you for being so kind in response to my defensiveness.

The article itself wasn't very anti-American. Maybe it was more the placement in this comment section; and your later comments about the article.

I think (hope) I'd be less defensive if you gave me the link in a post I wrote about financial inequality.

Either way. I apologize for being so defensive!

Thanks for liking my short blog posts. I'm embarrassed about my past long ones. What was I thinking?

I'm having a brief episode of blogger-burn out; and I'm on a family holiday. I promise it has nothing to do with your comments. But it's very sweet of you to consider that.

Dina said...

About the health care....

It seems a miracle that the health care thing was passed.

I get this feeling with political parties....that it's not about the idea or policy. It's about what party came up with the policy.

If a Democrat comes up with an idea; the Republicans must oppose it.

If a Republican comes up with an idea; the Democrats must oppose it.

Maybe the Supreme Court doesn't have that problem; and the judges actually think for themselves.

Anyway...yeah. Hopefully things go well in our elections. And I also hope there's more political cooperation in the world....between political parties and between different countries.