Stereotyping is not exclusive to the western countries, rather subtle and explicit forms of stereotyping can be found in the talks and acts of the many people of today's Bangladesh, where most of the people look the same, come from the same economic background, have the same language and religion. I remember, one day I was waiting for the prayer to start at a mosque when a man in his 50s began to talk to me. He was impressed by the fact that I, a 25-year-old young man, was studying at North South University - and prayed too! But, right before the prayer started, he told me, "You don't look like a Barishailya." Stupefied, I thought, "Where did I go wrong?"
He definitely had an idea regarding what a Barishailya should look like in mind, a stereotype, no doubt, though he meant no harm. It is similar to telling a woman that she's "pretty smart for a woman." I don't think any woman would be happy about such a compliment. While he had meant to compliment me, without realizing it, he had 'generalized' the people of Barishal.
Out of curiosity, when I asked my peers about their experiences with stereotyping based on their hometown, 17 out of 28 participants responded that they had been discriminated against. One of them complained: "My hometown is in Mymensingh. I often hear people say that Mymensingh is the town of beggars and maids. As if we have nothing else there except for poverty and destitution." Many participants also revealed they were bullied because of their dialect. An indigenous person shared: "Because I am an adibashi (aboriginal), many people call me 'Chinese' or 'Japanese'."
Given that Bangladesh is a small country, geographically speaking, we tend to see the entire nation as a homogeneous entity, which makes us forget its diversity in language, culture, and ethnicity. As a result, we end up alienating people who are slightly different from us. At the same time, we expect some people to display certain kinds of behavior or act in a specific way, stereotyping them in the process. I have seen people justify this based on a single bad personal experience. Is it really acceptable to do so?
When we see a group of people through a single lens it becomes problematic. As Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in her TED talk, "The Danger of a Single Story," says, single stories are dangerous and incomplete. It might have been the case that the uncle had an unpleasant experience with someone from my hometown or he had heard that people of my hometown act or are some way. But that is certainly based on a single story. This may be true but it is incomplete.
We live in a world full of diversity. Each of us is a unique reflection of our lived experiences, upbringing, our perception of the world, and our interests. Therefore, believing that two people are alike is illogical. Instead, let's check our assumptions and unlearn our stereotypes. Don't let one single experience determine how you stereotype an entire community of people, instead be open and receptive. You'll see the world differently.
The writer is a research associate
of South Asian Institute of Policy and Governance (SIPG), North South University