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Racial Stereotyping: The Past, Present and Future

Racism. Racial Injustice. Racial Unity.

It’s safe to say we’ve come a long way in terms of racism in the past century or so, with racist jokes and comments increasingly becoming taboo subjects. We’d like to believe that racism is no longer an issue in our society now, with all races generally unified. However, this might not be the case. Without a doubt, the drastic improvements from even just a few years ago is commendable, but just how unified are we?

For example, thinking back to hundreds of years ago: stereotypes and generalisations about African Americans and their culture were seen as ordinary, furthered by the system of slavery in America. They were all assumed to be joyous, superstitious, ignorant and naive. Scholars have noted that “stereotypes in popular culture that depict blacks as servile, primitive, or simpleminded show how the subtle influences of such seemingly harmless images reinforce anti-black attitudes.” This suggests that one person’s idea of an entire race can easily influence the next person to think the same, and eventually a racial stereotype is made—through a seemingly simple assumption.

Now, to explore a more modern society: racial stereotyping nowadays has become so deeply hidden that it’s now accepted and typically passed off as a “joke”. Examples of this would be calling that Asian kid a nerd and assuming they’re good at maths, making a joke about how that dairy is probably owned by Indians or that takeaway is owned by Chinese people. The minute we step into the world of social interaction, we become influenced by others around us. These jokes and stereotypes, made on a daily basis, unknown to us, slowly become ingrained into our brains, so that it becomes normality. Even I must admit that I’m guilty of this. I’m guilty of making that typical Asian joke about bad driving. Why? As a child, I constantly saw those around me making these jokes that Asian drivers were the worst drivers. It has become accepted and is now presented as a “normal” statement made about a certain race. Those that hear this think, “if they can make a joke about this, then so can I,” and the process becomes never-ending, highlighting that a simple joke and assumption can have dramatic effects and consequences.

As much as I love to laugh at a good joke, one of the ways to improve racial unity would be to reduce or end racial stereotyping. Learn to judge someone after you get to know them instead of generalising an entire race. Not every Asian is good at maths but they could be—all it takes is a simple conversation to prevent race-based generalisations being made. As we strive towards a world devoid of racism and racial stereotyping, we break the racial barrier which separates our world from a better one.

The single action of one person does not make a difference: it’s the accumulation of these single actions which truly changes the world. One person alone cannot end racism by stopping someone from telling a joke based on a racial stereotype. But if everyone carried out that one single action, along with the influence of peers, friends and family, the idea of accepting racial stereotypes in modern day society would drastically change. Together, we must be unified as one regardless of our race, and work together to ensure racism is no longer an issue for future generations.

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Written by: Yuweng Xue. Edited by: Saffron Huang

Happy Race Relations Day!

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