Stereotypes. What a curious phenomenon they are.
Convenient pigeon holes into which we place people and situations. Some say they help us aid our understanding, some say that we can become prejudiced and contrived in our understanding of people. What do you think?
If I talk about one group of people that covers perhaps everyone I work with, that being African Villagers, what do you think now? How do you view them?
“Victim”, “Basket Case”, “Idiot”, “Un-Educated”. “Simple”, “Poor”, “Suffering”
These are just some of the words that I have heard people describe villagers by. People in the UK have a habit, egged on by fund raising campaigns of clueless people seeing those in rural Africa as nothing. I’ve heard opinions expressed such as, “we’ve pumped enough money into Africa, they are just a basket case”. “isn’t everyone just simple and uneducated” another person says. We do have a habit of seeing villagers solely as “victims” in this world. Some people in Southern Africa take a different view. “Simple” would be the dominant theme. Worse still, many whites and educated blacks would see villagers as potential thieves and criminals. Certainly they are not seen on the same level as, “educated” people. The trouble is with stereotypes is that they have a grain of truth in them, but a one size fits all view simply doesn’t cut it in this world. That is where the opinion of most people falls down.
The truth is a situation that is a lot more complicated. Just like the situation you find yourself living in now. Your workplace for example. It may be full of similar people, but you could never say that they are the same, motivated by the same ideals and acting in the same way. You would be offended if someone suggested so. Yet that is exactly how we see the “victims”, “idiots” or “those” people in Rural Africa. The truth is simply very different.
Sat around my makeshift table a few days ago, and at our training, was a picture so different, you could struggle to comprehend it. First of all was “Giraffe lady” (affectionately known because she wore a giraffe print chitengi and I can’t remember her name). A lovely large rotund lady, with a fantastic smile and keen insight. A community leader. She speaks on the radio in the city of Kitwe and gets the bus there every month. Reuben a teacher who has worked previously in South Africa and is as worldly wise as anyone I have ever met. Friendly, personable and charismatic. Then, Doreen who runs a local pre-school. She makes little uniforms for the children and is committed every day to bring some life to the lives of local small children. Bernard, a friend and member of on of Dignity’s Impact Teams. A former pastor and troubleshooter for a pentecostal denomination in Zambia. He felt called to the bush and moved there seeking to reach and care for the people. To view villagers as a homogenous groups of anything, never mind “simple”, “victims” or anything else is completely wrong and not true to any form of life I have ever seen.
Stereotypes naturally induce judgement. We judge Rural Africa and say with our programs of aid, building and the like that you are not like us, you are not as good as us and with our help you can become just like us. We don’t afford people dignity. We don’t afford them humanity. Often it is more about our needs than theirs. The truth is that Europeans make very little difference in Africa. Everyone in Africa knows that, but people don’t like to talk about it. The billions of dollars in the aid industry have to achieve something?? don’t they??
People in Rural Africa can work for the development of their own community. With God they can do anything and we had better start believing it. Of course there are bad ‘eggs’, there are thieves, there are people trapped in situations that poverty brings. However, there is far more “hope” in Rural Africa than many would have us believe. I simply choose to believe that “hope” is placed there by God. My job is to help it to grow. If I believed in stereotypes I would be blinded to it.
That hope is God changing communities through the people themselves.
Fortunately, God doesn’t have stereotypes………