- Everyday Life
The necessity of stereotypes and the danger of prejudices
22 Jul 2022
Living in another country and culture will at some point bring the issue of stereotypes and prejudices to the forefront. Not only the ones held by us, but also those that affect us. Dealing with stereotypes and prejudices can serve as an impetus for reflecting on your role in the new culture. Stepping out of your comfort zone can make your own boundaries clear and the better you know yourself, the better you will be able to process crossing these boundaries.
In this article we explain what stereotypes and prejudices are and what impact they have on living in another culture.
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Why we need stereotypes
Coping with a complex and globalised world can quickly become overwhelming - not only at home, but especially when living in a foreign country. Our perception of the world is subjective. Categorisations help us to classify and process what we perceive. These categories simplify and reduce the complexity of reality. First of all, the categories help us not to be overwhelmed by all the impressions around us. Hence, they help us to navigate our world.
Stereotypes serve precisely this aim of categorisation. They relieve our everyday consciousness so that we don't have to make new judgments over and over again. We can thus assess situations at a glance and draw conclusions about further behaviour or characteristics of people. And here lies the crux. As helpful as stereotypes are in the initial assessment, they also harbour the danger of generalisation, misjudgement and prejudice.
Why prejudices are dangerous
Prejudices are judgmental presuppositions about something or someone. They differ from stereotypes, which only serve to order the world, because prejudices are the formation of a judgement without prior knowledge. Thus, prejudices also differ from judgements, which vary depending on the situation. Prejudices are often normative and moral in nature. This is why from a theoretical point of view they are also referred to as social judgments.
The formation of prejudices usually takes place outside a rational framework and without empathy for the group about which the judgement is made. Generalisations are made on the basis of characteristics of a person or group, which lead to conclusions about further behaviour. This generalisation (especially of large groups) leads to depersonalisation. In contrast to this group, one's own group is usually perceived in a much more differentiated way and the context plays an important role in the evaluation of behaviour. In this context, prejudices serve the positive self-image in distinction to the others. The evaluation often takes place on the basis of one's own standards and in the comparison of one's own group with the other, one's own behaviour is seen as a positive measure of value.
Prejudices do not necessarily have to be negative. However, if the prejudices are negative, contact with the respective group is often avoided. Discriminatory behaviour is usually an expression of prejudice. Discrimination can take place on many levels and on both a large and small scale.
The danger of prejudice is that it becomes entrenched and difficult to resolve. Counter-arguments or information, or even contact with the prejudiced group, often cannot break down the prejudices. Self-reflection and a relativisation of one's own point of view must take place. Intensive engagement with other cultures, ways of life and patterns of behaviour can lead to understanding, whereby prejudices soften and eventually dissolve.
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What we can do
The first step is to become aware of one's prejudices. As they are social judgements that have become entrenched in society, no one is completely free from them. Recognising prejudices makes it easier to deal with them and the groups they affect. Living (and even travelling) in another country and the experiences one has there can be an impetus for self-reflection. Placing oneself in a new context requires positioning and ideally creates sensitivity to the reproduction of prejudices, stereotypes, and global power relations and racisms.
Once we have recognised which prejudices we have, it is important to dismantle them and deconstruct generalisations in order to be able to look at individuals with their characteristics, behaviour and within their circumstances in a differentiated way. Contact with these very people can open up new perspectives on the world and is in any case an enrichment.
In summary, you should keep in mind: Stereotypes that serve as orientation in the world are necessary, but they should not turn into prejudices that divide people and cause discrimination!
If you have questions, want to share your experiences or need help, please write to us at [email protected]!
Written by: Tanja Holbe
Cover Photo: Priscilla Du Preez - Unsplash
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