A lot of people bury their head in the sand when it comes to things like this — they make simple conclusions, saying prejudice exists because bad people exist. Most people will eventually make the first leap and understand that the reason why the prejudices exist is because of an initial idea which has some truth to it — common ones being that blacks and latinos have higher incidences of criminal behavior, or in Korea, that Chinese are rude and have terrible hygiene, that the Japanese are perverse or the American Soldiers all morons with poor intentions.
Two groups of people are immediately born: those who accept the conclusion and those who reject it, but neither group puts that much thought into it by and large. Both groups are largely made up of either those who are too ignorant to look past the stereotype or those who pretend the stereotype is completely wrong and should never exist, and that those who hold the stereotype themselves are an evil.
I think there is a middle ground and that we do more harm in the fight against prejudice by bleating like a herd of goats the same stupid battle cries.
The easiest example for me to relate to you is one that involves me personally as of now. My girlfriend is Chinese, and I spend a lot of time with her and her friends and have studied extensively alongside Chinese nationals. When I first began studying with them I was very careful to pay attention to something strange — how often they change their clothes. Why, you ask?
Well, I have tattoos down to my wrist and I was self-conscious in a higher education environment to not expose them — having only three or four long sleeved shirts/cardigans/sweatshirts to wear, I wanted to make sure I recycled them appropriately. I noticed within the first few days that many wore the same clothes… A lot.
There were two of 14 students who seemed to always wear the same jacket over whatever they changed underneath, though the temperature in-doors was barely appropriate for it. There were about 5 or 6 that would go three days without changing clothes. The remaining would change their clothes fairly regularly, sometimes repeating once in a while but that was it. It was relieving in the sense that now I didn’t have to worry about having essentially only three or four articles to rotate… But now I was wondering what was up with this.
Soon thereafter I met my current girlfriend and went over to her apartment and I learned why, exactly, many Chinese students here were not changing their clothes that often and had worse hygiene than others…
She lived in a 10 foot by 10 foot room, roughly, with one other girl, sharing a bathroom with two similar rooms each with two other girls living in similar standards. All of them had part time jobs in addition to full time school, and were essentially going to school from 9 AM to 4 PM then working from roughly 6 PM to anywhere from 10 PM to 2-3 AM. They had no access to a washing machine or dryer nor did they have spare money. They used an old fashioned washing board and hung up their clothes on a clothesline outside, and at any given time it was full.
They were struggling to get adequate amounts of sleep and complete their homework, not to mention as girls in their late teens to mid twenties, struggling to maintain a social life and keep in touch with home.
They lived out of necessity — why change your clothes if they are not dirty? They scarcely had the luxury of any time to themselves and until my girlfriend quit her job I would usually simply go to the bar she worked at and stay there until she got off of shift and spend an hour or two eating lunch at school.
Now, of them, none of them smelt bad. However, none of them upheld the standard of young, college aged Korean girls pampered by their parents who went to college smelling like Bath & Body works. Their wardrobes were also comparably very shabby.
I am sure on one occasion, a Korean smelt randomly a Chinese person who was quite rife; they then told their friends about the smelly Chinese person, and their friends maybe a few months or a year later also smelt someone apparently of Chinese origin that was also ‘stinky.’ In the future, as Koreans saw Chinese people who were dressed in more faded, more proletarian clothes they wore for the second day in a row it immediately confirmed the stereotype and the only reason why there was not smell was because they weren’t close enough.
And more than this, the Chinese do not bow as much; the Chinese students were sleepy in class from putting in 6 hours at school and then 4-8 hours at a job; their Korean was not good enough to use all of the honorifics to their seniors and their teachers and Chinese, like English, having fewer honorifics the nuances and when to use them were more lost on them — add on political prejudice and 800 years of Korean hermitage and suspicion of foreigners, you now have the perfect stereotype: smelly, rude Chinese who fall asleep in class and don’t even show respect to class elders.
It gets even better when you put forward the fact that the Chinese are a proud people and when they began to pick up on the insults of the Koreans, like any rational people, they become tough skinned and dished out their own brands of disrespect.
I think when you look at it, it makes total sense why the prejudice exists.
It would be an outright lie to say that the prejudice is completely false as it is based on very true statements, irrefutable statements in fact, but the conclusions were entirely wrong and entirely out of place.
Most people have good senses of right and wrong, and I know that if I were to show them, personally, the conditions that many of the Chinese face in Korea it would change the perspective immediately.
Very quickly something goes from being a prejudice to a sympathetic feeling.
I think the same applies to essentially every single prejudice you have, and that if we investigate our own prejudices we will only become sorrowful that we ever had them.
Seeing this all as a third party, as someone nowhere involved in the ranks of the Koreans and the Chinese, both sides registered quickly. I love both the Korean and Chinese people that I know, and it would be foolish to say that some of these Koreans are just prejudiced idiots against them being that I had own friends who thought this of Chinese — they simply were grossly misinformed as to the reasons why these things happen.
I think there would be a profound sense of shame if it was understood by them that it is very easy to criticize when you do not face the same problems.
Prejudice often stems from a profound ignorance of the whole situation. But I think something that is equally ridiculous is the way that the anti-prejudice people bleat on like sheep about the evils of prejudice. It does something ridiculous and it is almost dangerous.
I could have spent the last 7 months telling Koreans off, calling them prejudice and bigots because they view the Chinese as dirty, but that would have done nothing. So many of these anti-racist, anti-prejudice types go about the whole situation in a way that hurts their cause profoundly — they shame everybody as opposed to educating them.
A lot of friends asked about my girlfriend, asking if she was rich — I explained no, and I knew the reason why they were asking as much is because in their minds, me saying I have a Chinese girlfriend would be like a white guy in the 1950s saying he has a black or latino girlfriend, and asking if she was rich was like asking if she was dirty or not. As opposed to reacting poorly, I explained the circumstances in which they live, and through an explanation other than a senseless scolding I think these people are more enlightened.
There are so many people in the world who make ridiculous statements without understanding the full picture — it is too shallow to say that ‘Chinese smell and are rude,’ and it is also far too shallow to say ‘That’s racist and wrong,’ but rather, people have to connect the dots and then connect the points together to draw a full picture.
If we understand why a group receives prejudice we can then understand how to defeat that prejudice by simply describing the circumstances which they face.