Week 12: The Danger of a Single Story

After watching “The Danger of a Single Story” video, I felt inclined to ask my friends about their first impressions of me, before having actually met me. I asked them if they held any prejudice of me because of my looks, gender, ethnicity, and body language. All of them gave me just about the same response. “I thought you were a (b-word), I don’t know why, you just have that face of a (b-word). But then I actually got to know you, and you turned out to be an alright person.” This did not come to much of a shock to me, as I have gotten this response plenty of times from people before. However, having so many people give a unanimous response all at once to this question (along with the video we watched for this assignment) got me thinking. If so many people were able to come to this conclusion about me, what’s to stop them from making worse assumptions about foreigners?

As much as I try not to judge books by their covers, I cannot help but make assumptions about some people based on their looks. I found myself to do this a lot ever since moving down here to Richmond. Mainly, I just make assumptions about people that I perceive to be homeless. Often, if I see someone to be standing on a street corner, not waiting for a ride and in worn-down clothes, I will assume that they are either homeless or just begging for money.

Thanksgiving

This year for Thanksgiving, I finally got upgraded to the “big kid table”–a very big deal in my family. For the first time ever, I had a front row seat for my uncles’ very lively and very drunk table arguments. Amongst the typical arguments about politics, sports teams, and which family member hid Uncle Mike’s 6-pack of Budweiser, I brought up the topic of studying abroad.

Most of my family members have not traveled outside of the country, with my immediate family members being the exception. I initially thought that they would be standoffish about the topic and be hesitant to me going. Much to my surprise, I got the opposite response. As I have discussed before, my sister, Miranda, studied abroad in Malta earlier this year. Thanks to Facebook keeping everyone in the loop, my whole family was aware of her travels and wild adventures abroad. Even through their computer screens, they took notice of how much her experience helped her grow. Before Malta, we all knew how shy and introverted Miranda was in any situation. However, this experience had shown to be a clear catalyst for Miranda’s now outgoing and extroverted personality. My family members commented heavily on this throughout our discussion.

Because of Miranda’s positive experience, they heavily encouraged for me to pursue the same urge she had to study abroad. Even though I am already a pretty outgoing individual, they explained to me that the experience could still provide lots of room to grow–both as an individual and to grow in a business networking setting.

All in all, they fully supported any plans of mine for future endeavors abroad, whether it be work, school, or purely to travel.

Week 12: The Danger of a Single Story

I am a white girl so some “stories” people may hold about me may be related to Starbucks or Uggs or Leggings. I don’t think those are necessarily bad things, that is unless you fear the basic white girl trope like I do. However, it can affect how people see me and judge me as a person. I’m very artistic and creative and wouldn’t peg myself as a basic person (does anyone though?). However, I do enjoy a good caramel frappe-chino from Starbucks (if I can afford it, that is). Although with that said, I am pretty basic when it comes to my appearance. I am christian, white female — and I look it as well! So it’s not hard to label me. I think sometimes people hold “single stories” on certain types of people of certain race based on one certain experience they have with them. I personally have learned not to judge people based off of one experience since I have really bad first impressions more often than not. So I try not to judge a large group of people based off of what one person did. I know my grandmother was very judgmental of Mexican men because of a rude encounter she had had with a man who used to help her with gardening. That’s very stereotypical, I know, but it was one bad experience that made her label an entire gender and race of people. She was always hesitant and quiet around them after that and wasn’t particularly fond of Mexican men for a while. I don’t think that it’s logical to judge an entire race or gender for something that one individual did. They don’t represent those bodies of people and they shouldn’t be judged as such.

Week 12: The Danger of a Single Story

As a young, liberal woman, I have often been called a brainwashed millennial who only listens to liberal media (by far not the worst thing to be called, but still, it tends to happen). I have been told that I simply don’t understand how the government works and am making decisions based on whim rather than fact. These comments typically come from older, white, and most often, men. I am a woman, and that is a fact I am proud of, despite the fact that many men, even young ones, think that being a woman means you’re weak. In a way, I am lucky that being liberal and a woman are the worst stereotypes I can think of.  Hearing Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s story about her childhood and her trip to the U.S. was really eyeopening. I consider myself to be a somewhat socially aware person, and hearing these stories has made me more aware of when I subconsciously give someone a ‘single story.’ I think by hearing this story and growing up in a generation who is generally more accepting than our predecessors,  I have been able to catch myself when I impose those stories onto other people when I have only seen them once. I am very lucky to grow up in a culture where my skin color and class typically only have positive stereotypes attached to me and I hope it grows into a culture where everyone is treated like that, no matter their race, religion, nationality, or otherwise.

Week 12: The Danger of a Single Story

Coming from Ethiopia, most of the Americans I have met always tend to believe the stereotypes that they hear or have heard about Ethiopia. When I first came from Ethiopia I was just in the fifth grade and I remember my peers asking me how I came to the United States, how all of the wild animals were, what language I spoke and referred it to a clicking sound as if it was my language, and asked me if we are still poor in Ethiopia. I was confused at first, because of my expectations. Since I tried to inform myself about how America was before I came, I expected them to know at least a little about my country. As the school year went on and they got to know me more, they realized that I am not just a girl that barely spoke no English, starved most of my life and who lived with animals, but a girl that speaks English as her second language, who lived in the economically growing city/capital of Ethiopia with her family in a decent household.

I try not to judge people, but as humans we all do it. Most of our judgements come from the way we are raised. As I grew, from all of the movies that I saw that had mainly African American actors like Juice, Sister Act, Barber Shop and etc. It put a thought in my head that most of the African American population came from a low income household, went to an unsatisfactory high school, and that the youth talked back to their elders. After coming to the United States and meeting African Americans I realized how wrong I was. I realized that that was not their “Story” and that everyone whether from the same place or not, we all have our own stories.

Thanksgiving

I’ve talked to my family about my passion to study abroad plenty of times. Hell, when I brought it up to them at the table at Thanksgiving they felt like they had heard enough! My parent’s and close family aren’t very resilient against the idea of me studying abroad. They highly encourage it (as I’ve mentioned multiple times previously in this blog). I think they hoped I would pick somewhere more culturally different compared to where I am now, but they’re happy regardless that I’m so excited to go abroad. My father was trying to give me some tips on things that he found to be useful while he studied abroad during college. Of course, he went to Italy whereas I plan to go to Spain. Different countries; but the same kind of trip regardless! He told me that one thing he could never hold onto for very long was deodorant? Apparently TSA in different countries are very picky about what can and cannot fly through airports. So he told me to just buy that kind of stuff once you get there to avoid having it taken away. Other than that, my family brushed off the topic rather quickly… probably because I’ve been telling them so much! They so support my decision to study abroad though, which is very important and they also don’t mind funding it (added bonus haha!) so as soon as I can make it fit into my schedule, I will try to make it abroad as fast as a can!

Week 12: The Danger of a Single Story

Stereotypes are a part of everyday life and they have created a distortion of how every individual should be perceived. From their race, to their religion, to their political beliefs, people are constantly judging others off of certain characteristics. For me, I think that a “single story” that could be thought of for me would focus on my ethnicity, age, and gender. Being Middle Eastern, there are a lot of negative connotations that are said about me or my culture, especially in the United States. Some people assume things of a whole culture based off of specific acts of terrorism, when in actuality those incidents were caused by radicalism groups and do not reflect everyone. Also, being 18, people might assume that I am not as responsible, immature, or not focused on my future. In actuality, I am very focused on my education and dedicated to making sure I am the best I can possibly be. Another thing that people may have preconceived notions about is the fact that I am a girl. Sometimes girls or women can be seen as weak, or not as successful as men. However, in reality, I, as well as other women can be just as successful and motivated to achieve anything in this country. Unfortunately, there is no getting around stereotyping, as we subconsciously judge people before we even realize what we are doing. Before I know the real details about someone, I definitely am guilty of perceiving people purely based off of their appearances. Hopefully through travel and educating myself about other people’s cultures, it will help to dial down on those judgments.

Week 12: The Danger of a Single Story

Some single stories people may hold about me based on my nationality would be that I am “ghetto”, I only listen to rap music, and that I can be somewhat “dangerous”. These stereotypes in my opinion are really outdated and are very close minded ideas. I hate when people see me for the first time they see my skin color along with potential “threats”. It is so draining feeling like I always have to prove to people that I am in fact different, and not all black people are the same. It is quite frustrating when some people have a collective view on Black Americans, when in fact we are very different from each other because we are all individuals who act, think, and speak differently. We all are different colors, shapes and sizes, and personalities, just like any other race or human being for that matter. I shouldn’t have to act “white” in order for me to be accepted in society, I shouldn’t be ashamed to just be myself.

Other single stories people may have about me would be based on my age and gender. Since I am young, most people would see me as unexperienced and naïve. For the most part I am unexperienced, because I have yet to experience situations that I might have later on in my life that will continue to give me more knowledge about myself and my experiences, that I can then share with others. I don’t see being unexperienced as a bad thing because it gives me more room to learn and experience new things. The other single story others would have about me based on my gender, since I am a women I am weaker, more emotional and not exactly equal to men. This is another frustrating stereotype for me because I believe that men and women are equal, we are just anatomically different. It baffles me how we are often seen as lesser than men in our society. We have to work twice as hard as men to be recognized for our success, and still men get treated with more respect and make more money than women. Hopefully society’s views on women will change, and that we will eventually be seen as equals to our male counterparts.

Thanksgiving

It was Thanksgiving day in the Berhane household. As we served ourselves and ate the Ethiopian cuisines that my mother has prepared for the family, I decided to bring up my interest in studying abroad during my college career at VCU. As soon as my mother heard the two words “Study abroad,” she made an opposing face and kept eating without making any eye contact with me. As I kept sharing the things I have learned so far in my Maximizing Your Study Abroad class and all of the different programs I could do it through, my siblings’ excitement was growing, but hers was not. To have some progress, knowing that I would not be able to do it without her permission, I decided to ask her a question to get her to express her feelings verbally. As I asked her “Why are you against me studying abroad?” She answered my question by saying that she fears me going to another part of the world without her presence, specially with all of the terror attacks that have been happening, which was a point that she would always bring up whenever we discuss studying abroad. I responded by telling her that I could not just not follow my interests, because of reasons like that. Then when I see her to get angrier, I just decided to move on to other points that I thought might help change her mind. I explained to her that there are so many scholarships that I could apply for that not a lot of international students are taking advantage of, that It could help me be more hirable to jobs that I will be applying to, and also make me culturally aware and help me build my communication skills. As I as listed those things her anger lessened and ended the conversation by saying “How about we talk about it when the time comes.” I was pretty upset not because she was being against it, but because she was not being open minded and stuck to her “no.” When we do talk about it again, I truly hope that she tries to understand my purpose and all of the benefits I could get just from studying abroad.