Speaking out Against Stereotypes

“Have you ever been in a school shooting?”

That was one of the first questions that people asked me when I came to ISL last year. Actually, scratch that, it was the second, right after they asked me where I was from and I said the United States.

At first, I thought the question was weird, but I just brushed it off. I honestly forgot all about it until this year when one of my friends who just came to ISL and is also American mentioned that someone asked her the same question. That struck me as really weird. It didn’t just weird me out but also disturbed me. When people think of the USA, is the first thing they think of is the gun violence? The school shootings? Is that all the USA is to them?

When I moved to ISL, I was excited to have a fresh start, to be someone new. However, I soon realized that I couldn’t be someone new. After all, the United States of America is 246 years old. I felt as if at times people didn’t see me as a person, just an American citizen. “Why aren’t you obese?” One person asked me, which was unnerving, “Do you own a gun?” when I replied no they told me I must not truly be American. When I mixed up the location of a state I got constant teasing for weeks afterward, “You’re truly American because you suck at geography.” Even though one of my European friends agreed with me on the location it was only I who got teased.

Not all the American stereotypes were made directly towards me. I hear constant jokes about how all Americans are stupid and fat. And don’t get me started on the gun jokes. Now, I don’t mind the occasional joke. I even laugh at them. The problem is I’m hearing these constantly – at least once a day – and the people who make these jokes don’t actually seem to know much about the country other than these stereotypes, and all the stereotypes are extremely negative and degrading.

And I’m not the only one who feels this way. When interviewing an American friend of mine who has family in Alabama they talked about how frustrated they felt about the number of incest jokes being made about them and their family. Because it is a negative portrayal of their family, they automatically feel defensive. Someone from Portugal told me that someone asked them why they were at ISL because Portugal is stereotypically an underdeveloped country and they found it to be ridiculous. Someone from Ukraine told me that when telling others their nationality others asked “Isn’t that basically Russia?” and they felt disrespected. Someone from Malaysia told me that due to the stereotype of Asians being smart, they felt like they were only defined by their brains and felt a pressure to fit those stereotypes.

Now, as I stated, it’s okay to joke every once in a while, but it’s also important to know when a joke might go too far and know when it is appropriate to make those jokes. I was talking to a friend of mine about this the other day and she told me “For an international school, the stereotypes are bad.” And she’s right. As an international school, we should be learning about and embracing the cultures of others, not disrespecting and making assumptions. We are the future of the world, our ideas and opinions are what is going to shape our planet and future generations. If we want to go into a future of inclusion, equality, respect and good global relations, we need to leave harmful stereotypes in the past.