I am writing this article with a heavier heart, as I am reflecting on a journey, from which I began to view the world in a less holistic way but with a discerning eye – for the everything I used to love with my full heart could in reality be disappointing.
The first anecdote came from the evening I was in Esfahan. No longer a common tourist, I have frequented Iran and embarked the honourable voyage to uncover the truths and nuances of this society. Since I mostly stayed with Sahand and his family, I have fortunately escaped the touristy, often time ripping-off, scene of major sites.
One day, I arrived to the centre Naqsh-e-Jahan Square with the flying sounds of prayers at the nebulous dawn. I carried my cameras and tripod with me, trying to capture certain evening images as preparations for my next day video, which is intended to be shot at the same place.
While I set up my gigs, I received much unwanted attention, which can be justified as locals tried to tout tourists of their services, by saying just friendly, yet easily annoying, “hello, where are you from, konichiwa, nihao.” The sunset pooled into my camera, taking me down for a deep dive in the incomparable beauty of the symmetric mosque. While I deeply felt inebriated with the scenery, someone passed by me, said, “Where are you from?” Much irritated by these attentions, I replied, “I am not interested in talking, thank you.”
Not many people tried to engage with me further, until one point, I felt a pair of boys sliding pass me.
One of the boys suggested, “Hey wanna capture the best scene?” He then aimed his phone to Naqsh-e-Jahan Square, flaunting skills of photographing.
Dusted with my New Yorker nonchalance, I said, without looking at them, “I am not interested in talking, thank you.”
Precisely at this point, the boy jumped out of my circle and exclaimed with pure exhilaration, “Wow she speaks English!”
I now looked at him seriously, for his careless ignorance has just pissed me off. Had I look like a Caucasian, would he say the same sentence?
I stared at him, eyes burned in fire – thank for his accented English, I not only speak English, but also Chinese and French; and I would challenge him for constructing a single complete sentence of Chinese.
I refused to engage with him further and moved away my tripod.
He swung some weird gestures at my back and laughed off with his friend in his native language.
If there is one word to describe my feeling at the time, that was fuck-off, the “pity, anger, sorrow, and contempt towards stereotyping out of an unfortunately untrained mind.”
Later there were still young boys walking pass me, chirping on various words. I remembered the time I was cat called by boys on the beach in Morocco – one of them said, “nihao.” I showed off my middle finger, and pushed out, “Fuck off.”
Stereotyping is unfortunately prevalent in many corners of the world. The sorrow of stereotyping, much like discrimination, is even sadly unconscious. Most of the stereotypes in the world probably happened without the people reflecting on such behaviour – and the action of stereotyping is itself a mental mistake. Why so? It wasn’t novelty that human beings tend to make heuristic assumptions thank for our “fast brain”, as discovered in Thinking, Fast and Slowby the behavioural Nobel laureate Kahneman. It is easy to cast stereotyping on others, whether it is gender, race, or work place stereotypes. Yet how do you know that an Asian face does not speak English, a woman is more nurturing than a man, the construction site workers are poorly educated?
I am a big believer going against stereotypes based on traits that are born: skin colour and countries of origins are not choices one can select, then why bother putting a glass of colour to judge based on these? To view things with impartial attitude took training; fortunately, through my own journey, now I do not feel comfortable asking the question of “Where are you from”, but letting the conversation surface by itself. If the person is interested in telling me more or feels strongly about his or her traits, he or she will reveal with no difficulty. It is not my position to judge. Similarly, when I hear accents of speaking, I do not assume no matter how obvious it is.
The reason is simple. It is easy to have a set image without getting more serious investigation or interaction. However, in the world of the others, a simple word may be detrimental. Image such as “women are more sensitive to stress, so financial world has more boys than girls” in many ways has discouraged talented women to serve in the industry, not by the innate plausibility of such claim, but more by the wrong stereotyping of the society. In my particular case, the boy might not realise what he had done or said, as he might be a good citizen back to his own state but turned subtly heuristic when being a tourist overseas. However, for me, I spent nights being saddened and wondered how, a pitifully respected woman that was generally regarded to “have it all” in my society New York and key global cities, was deteriorated to be pinned down by stereotypes in a random touristy site in such manner.
In my last stories I was having ugly arguments over a missing deposit from my former landlord, an African-American man that has been indulging in alcohol and drugs, and indeed inflicted pains to me over the delayed deposit. A close person to me called him by the N-word; I was in utter shock why did he do that. He could call the landlord any word, be it fuckboy, asshole, whatever, but this N-word is clearly forbidden. This person replied that he learned from Hollywoord movies and wasn’t aware that the word was bad. In fact, this word is awful.
While I somehow understand where this comes from and sometimes fail to grasp the fundamentals, I often observe that people casting stereotypes have done so without realising that the claims are bad or thought of it as benevolent (see Stanford GSB on complimentary stereotypes) or of society’s totality. Unfortunately, this hallucination has served to build a close-minded society that allows accidental shades against sensitive groups. I do not realistically believe that stereotyping can disappear in one day, but I do think more education should be done to next generation and more training should be enforced upon ourselves, to always remind us that no prior judgement, or in the vernacular sense prejudice, is right. When in doubt, don’t say the word.
*Furthermore, I often see people considered their races the highest supremacy of the planet. I see painfully ignorant Asian supremacist, Black supremacist, women supremacist, or any kind – when they claim the stardom of their race, gender, or groups, and cast subtle discrimination against others that often starts with stereotyping. This reflected unachieved ambitions of certain imperialist thinking. My blog does not welcome supremacist thinking – however what race or genders; being in a less advantaged position does not equate to the power of thinking crazy. Next chapter I will finish this pondering with the other side of the story –violence and physical abuse.
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