Stereotypes come easy until you realise you are one…

I met many great people at a citizenship education conference in Lahore last week.

One was just finishing a new curriculum for a prominent private school chain in Pakistan.

She was working with the same publisher we work with in the UK: Hodder.

They had provided her with classroom materials on the subject of prejudice citing a fictional example of a child who lived in Karachi then moved to live in London. In Karachi his life was peaceful and happy but once in school in London he was racially bullied and miserable.

 ‘Ouch!’ I thought… talk about setting us up as the bad guys?…

Then I thought a little longer. Let’s face it, that was just a tiny example of what it felt like to them – perpetually set up as the world’s bad guys. A mere pin-prick compared to their constant irritation.

My mind went back to a year ago: I did a short talk to congratulate the Active Citizens in a Lahore University. The students there are quite frankly years ahead of ours when it comes to their keenness to act in support of others. When the lecturers asked if anyone had any questions for me, a hand went up to ask, “Why does the world hate us?” What would you have said in my place? I said I didn’t think they did, but a small minority of people are enabling the world’s media to do its usual thing of selling papers on the back of sensationalising our differences… and all sensible thinking citizens could determine not to be complicit with that…

But this is what I’ve learned… Perhaps – when we want to use examples of prejudice or antagonism we should always make it a principle that we don’t choose ones that perpetuate entrenched and divisive stereotypes. That boy, after all, could have experienced prejudice in Dubai, or Sydney, or Islamabad, or Toronto. I’m not excusing prejudice, just asking us to be vigilant… to avoid implicitly keeping it going as we try to prepare the next generation to outlaw it. Meanwhile – let’s not use Muslims, Pakistan, Asians etc as a clumsy and counter-productive shorthand for militants.

Views expressed on this blog are not necessarily those of the Citizenship Foundation.

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