“Alright class, to start our first exercise today I want you to imagine that you are explaining Germany to someone who knows nothing, I mean absolutely nothing, about Germany. Choose five facts you would tell someone from an untouched tribe in the heart of Africa, or the Andes in Peru, or from America…”
“That was an American commercial. I HOPE it was ironic. Well we all know Americans don’t understand irony.”
“If it was an American policeman he would have just pulled out his shot gun and killed him probably.”
I love living in the UK. I love the accents, the food, the parks and walkability. In most ways, the transition has been really smooth for me. However, there are a few things that I’ve had some trouble with. For one thing, I’m a bit tired of American stereotypes. I know I know, I should probably just shake it off. They are just kidding right? Can’t I get the joke?
It was funny the first few weeks, but now it is just annoying.
To clarify, this is not a British problem. But it has come up a lot the past few days since so at least two of my professors have mentioned Americans in a very condescending way. One of my seminar tutors likes to crack jokes at America’s expense at every opportunity. And another seminar tutor has recently begun to do the same. I’m pretty sure they don’t realize that there is an American in the room when they make those kinds of comments, but does that really matter?
It isn’t like I feel personally offended by jokes against Americans. It is the principle of the thing that bugs me: professors can talk about tolerance and being careful with our words and actions towards other cultures on one side of their mouth while stereotyping certain groups on the other.
My communication teacher talks about humour and the importance of being careful with it. She teaches about how even seemingly harmless ethnic jokes can have big negative impacts. And yet, she still manages to throw in a few jokes against Americans whenever the chance comes up.
Why is it that it is okay to make sweeping generalizations about some nationalities/ethnicities and not others?
Is it okay to stereotype majorities but not minorities? Is it okay to stereotype rich people but not poor people? Is it okay to stereotype some ethnicities but not others?
At the risk of sounding overly sensitive and “lacking in humour”, I always believed that tolerance means treating everyone equally irregardless of what color skin they have, where they were born, or how they worship. It is not okay to stereotype muslims and it is not okay to stereotype christians. It is not okay to stereotype Native Americans and it is not okay to stereotype caucasian Americans.
Stereotypes are harmful because they create inaccurate assumptions and prejudices about people you don’t know. As long as we are grouping people and classifying them by race, ethnicity, nationality etc… how will we ever learn to treat one another as individuals without all the inaccurate baggage?
So you know, I’m just learning to pick my battles. I like to think that by contributing to seminars in an intelligent way and doing my very best in school I can at least help dispel the stereotypes about American ignorance to a few of the people around me. On my first day in Cardiff, I met a boy who said that his opinion about Americans went up quite a bit since I knew about the Lake District. Doing my part guys : )