Thu, 06 Jan 2000

Stereotyping is dangerous

Ethnic stereotyping is always a dangerous business. Some years' ago when teaching in Malaysia my house was burgled several times. The reaction of my Malaysian teaching colleagues was "Thais" or "Indonesians" as if no crime could possibly be attributed to one of their own.

A fellow British teacher, a man so mean he made scrooge look like a court jester, returned from a holiday in Indonesia with a story about being robbed on a train. "Indonesians", he muttered darkly. "All thieves."

How, I asked him, do you extrapolate from a single theft to a conclusion like that? It simply makes no sense. It's like saying the Rothschilds are Jewish, they are immensely rich, therefore, all immensely rich people are Jewish. Or Barbara Streisand has a big nose; there is a woman over there with a big nose, and, well, she must be Barbara Streisand.

To return to the stereotyping of Africans -- and I assume that The Jakarta Post, for which I and many expatriates have high regard, has no malicious intent -- are they all either Nelson Mandela or genocidaires? Hardly!