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Be aware of stereotyping

Stereotyping and bias* are universal human phenomena. Regardless of where in the world we grow up we will be affected by something called “implicit bias” – the way we see others, meaning people who are different from ourselves. Mainstream schooling, family traditions and popular culture play a significant role in shaping our perceptions of the world.

*the inclination or prejudice for or against one person or group, especially in a way considered to be unfair.

For many of us, popular culture such as mass media and social media are the primary way we learn about “other people”. The problem is that the way we see others is not based on first-hand knowledge, but on cultural stereotypes.

These stereotypes tend to caricature members of minorities and marginalise them. What we see is a limited and often distorted view of others.

As an international volunteer, you need to be aware of this phenomenon and work actively to check yourself, your stereotypes and implicit biases.

 

Neo-colonial stereotypes

Many of us who have grown up in a western society have been spoon-fed the narrative that “Africa is poor” and in need of international intervention to solve their problems. International aid workers and volunteers are often portrayed as active “givers”, whereas the beneficiaries in the local communities are stigmatised as passive receivers.

This binary view distorts the true picture of a community and promotes neo-colonial stereotypes and what has been called the “white saviour complex”.

 

It’s OK to be uncomfortable

We all need to be aware of this ongoing discussion, and if you are white, or grew up in Europe or North America: Try to stay cool. Most western people find it terrifying to be challenged on this issue. The most natural reaction is to defend yourself.

Our advice is: Breathe. Relax. And above all: Listen. You are not the only person in the world that will have to realise that you have been told a euro-centric narrative for the better part of your life. It’s not necessarily your fault. Luckily, you have the brains to understand it now, and know better. And you have the power to change your perspective.

 

Working on our implicit biases

For things to improve we all need to address our internal biases and work to make white privilege a thing of the past. It will take a long time. Even the iconic Nelson Mandela was victim of his own biased thought. Here’s an extract from an excellent article about it:

In his memoir, Long Walk To Freedom, Nelson Mandela recounts an incident that occurred early in the anti-apartheid movement on one of his trips to garner support from other African leaders. The incident caused him to experience what he called “a strange sensation” as he was boarding an Ethiopian Airways flight to Addis.

He noted that the pilot was black, and because he had never seen a black pilot before, in the instant he saw this pilot, he writes that he had to suppress the panic that arose within him. “How could a black man fly an airplane?” he asked himself.

But a moment later he had caught himself and recounted: “I had fallen into the apartheid mind-set, thinking Africans were inferior and that flying was a white man’s job. I sat back in my seat and chided myself for such thoughts.”

 

Some advice for responsible international volunteers

1. Familiarise yourself with the discussions about stereotyping, implicit biases, “white saviourism” and the risks of displaying neo-colonial behaviour as an international volunteer. There are many good resources you can use, please see below.

2. Don’t panic and take your time to accept that these issues are real. “If you are not uncomfortable, you are not listening” is a good quote to have in mind. We have learned it from “No White Saviours” in Uganda who are doing an excellent job in educating the world about how to decolonise development work and volunteering. (Do follow them – they are on all major social media platforms. They are brining many important (and uncomfortable) issues to the table.)

3. Listen & learn. Do try to stay quiet and reflect on the information and opinions you are getting on aspects of this topic, even if your first impulse is to defend yourself. It is OK to be learning – so many of us are.

4. Share your insights. Once you have started to work through your internal biases and recognise your own stereotypical views of others, please talk about it. Share what you have learned about your own “breaking down the stereotypes” process with others. This might help people around you dare to take steps in this direction themselves. 

5. Receive proper training before going to a project as an international volunteer.

 

Resources

 

Nelson Mandela: implicit bias

5 lessons on implicit bias from Nelson Mandela

Chimamanda Adichie: The Danger of a Single Story

Stereotypes and Implicit Bias: Avoiding neo-colonial volunteering

Implicit bias can be defined as the ingrained habits of thought that, when left unchecked, lead to errors in how we perceive, remember, reason and make decisions.

Challenging the stereotypes:

Radi-Aid by SAIH

Did you know?

  • Thoughts and feelings are “implicit” if we are unaware of them or mistaken about their nature.
  • We have a bias when, rather than being neutral, we have a preference for (or aversion to) a person or group of people.
  • Thus, we use the term “implicit bias” to describe when we have attitudes towards people or associate stereotypes with them without our conscious knowledge.
  • A fairly commonplace example of this is seen in studies that show that white people will frequently associate criminality with black people without even realising they’re doing it.

[Definition by the Perception Institute]

If you are not uncomfortable, you are not listening

Take 10 Gap Year structure

3 months:
Preparation – training, practical skills, teamwork, cultural awareness and solidarity politics

6 months:
Project work – in Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique or India

1 month:
Conclusion and information activities – reflection, bringing the good message out

Be aware of stereotyping

Stereotyping and bias* are universal human phenomena. Regardless of where in the world we grow up we will be affected by something called “implicit bias” – the way we see others, meaning people who are different from ourselves. Mainstream schooling, family traditions and popular culture play a significant role in shaping our perceptions of the world.

*the inclination or prejudice for or against one person or group, especially in a way considered to be unfair.

Stereotypes and Implicit Bias: Avoiding neo-colonial volunteering

Did you know?

  • Thoughts and feelings are “implicit” if we are unaware of them or mistaken about their nature.
  • We have a bias when, rather than being neutral, we have a preference for (or aversion to) a person or group of people.
  • Thus, we use the term “implicit bias” to describe when we have attitudes towards people or associate stereotypes with them without our conscious knowledge.
  • A fairly commonplace example of this is seen in studies that show that white people will frequently associate criminality with black people without even realising they’re doing it.

[Definition by the Perception Institute]

For many of us, popular culture such as mass media and social media are the primary way we learn about “other people”. The problem is that the way we see others is not based on first-hand knowledge, but on cultural stereotypes.

These stereotypes tend to caricature members of minorities and marginalise them. What we see is a limited and often distorted view of others.

As an international volunteer, you need to be aware of this phenomenon and work actively to check yourself, your stereotypes and implicit biases.

 

Neo-colonial stereotypes

Many of us who have grown up in a western society have been spoon-fed the narrative that “Africa is poor” and in need of international intervention to solve their problems. International aid workers and volunteers are often portrayed as active “givers”, whereas the beneficiaries in the local communities are stigmatised as passive receivers.

This binary view distorts the true picture of a community and promotes neo-colonial stereotypes and what has been called the “white saviour complex”.

It’s OK to be uncomfortable

We all need to be aware of this ongoing discussion, and if you are white, or grew up in Europe or North America: Try to stay cool. Most western people find it terrifying to be challenged on this issue. The most natural reaction is to defend yourself.

Our advice is: Breathe. Relax. And above all: Listen. You are not the only person in the world that will have to realise that you have been told a euro-centric narrative for the better part of your life. It’s not necessarily your fault. Luckily, you have the brains to understand it now, and know better. And you have the power to change your perspective.

 

Working on our implicit biases

For things to improve we all need to address our internal biases and work to make white privilege a thing of the past. It will take a long time. Even the iconic Nelson Mandela was victim of his own biased thought. Here’s an extract from an excellent article about it:

In his memoir, Long Walk To Freedom, Nelson Mandela recounts an incident that occurred early in the anti-apartheid movement on one of his trips to garner support from other African leaders. The incident caused him to experience what he called “a strange sensation” as he was boarding an Ethiopian Airways flight to Addis.

He noted that the pilot was black, and because he had never seen a black pilot before, in the instant he saw this pilot, he writes that he had to suppress the panic that arose within him. “How could a black man fly an airplane?” he asked himself.

But a moment later he had caught himself and recounted: “I had fallen into the apartheid mind-set, thinking Africans were inferior and that flying was a white man’s job. I sat back in my seat and chided myself for such thoughts.”

Nelson Mandela

5 lessons on implicit bias from Nelson Mandela

Some advice for responsible international volunteers

1. Familiarise yourself with the discussions about stereotyping, implicit biases, “white saviourism” and the risks of displaying neo-colonial behaviour as an international volunteer. There are many good resources you can use, please see below.

2. Don’t panic and take your time to accept that these issues are real. “If you are not uncomfortable, you are not listening” is a good quote to have in mind. We have learned it from “No White Saviours” in Uganda who are doing an excellent job in educating the world about how to decolonise development work and volunteering. (Do follow them – they are on all major social media platforms. They are brining many important (and uncomfortable) issues to the table.)

3. Listen & learn. Do try to stay quiet and reflect on the information and opinions you are getting on aspects of this topic, even if your first impulse is to defend yourself. It is OK to be learning – so many of us are.

4. Share your insights. Once you have started to work through your internal biases and recognise your own stereotypical views of others, please talk about it. Share what you have learned about your own “breaking down the stereotypes” process with others. This might help people around you dare to take steps in this direction themselves. 

5. Receive proper training before going to a project as an international volunteer.

 

Resources

 

Chimamanda Adichie: The Danger of a Single Story

Take 10 Gap Year structure

3 months:
Preparation – training, practical skills, teamwork, cultural awareness and solidarity politics

6 months:
Project work – in Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique or India

1 month:
Conclusion and information activities – reflection, bringing the good message out

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