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International: Correcting Stereotypes

"If you don’t know someone who is Black, all you have is the media." — Sarah, Alabama

Sarah’s simple statement is a daily manifestation of a clear-cut truth: the media have substantial power to influence how we see ourselves and other people. The impact of the media on humans’ perceptions of each other is unmistakable in "Tutu and Franklin." Samora (a Black South African), David (an Afrikaner) and Sarah (a White American) all said their negative perceptions of young Black males were formed by the American media’s ubiquitous images of African Americans as people who are immoral and commit crimes. Moreover, Paul, a South African who was labeled a "colored" during apartheid, assumed that Scotty, an African American, was a gangster. Scotty was visibly shocked about Paul’s misconceptions of him.

Other students brought their own fears about how those in the group might perceive them. Janelle, a Native American, revealed that "a lot of people don’t love the Indian way of life, and think we are all supernatural and mind readers and into voodoo." Sarah, from Alabama, feared that others might assume that because she was from the U.S. south, she was a racist.

Consider some of the misconceptions the African students had about Americans:

"I just thought they’d be basketball players, or they’d be the people who were making up the majority of the slums."
-David, South Africa

"I thought they were going to be, you know, very high and mighty, and be like they know everything and whatever."
-Lebo, South Africa

"All that we know of Americans, we see what’s on TV and so forth. . .I just thought that they were going to be very ignorant about us."
-Marvina, South Africa

And some of the preconceived notions the Americans had about the Africans:
"I didn’t think that [Africa] had that much transportation. . .And I didn’t expect the people to be so nice . . .a lot of them did understand English. And they were smart.
-Scotty, U.S.A.

"The only thing I’ve seen of Africa, you know, is what’s portrayed in the movies, and what you see, I guess, in storybooks. . .like safaris and everything. When I got back home, everybody was like, ‘So did you go on safaris? Like, no, it’s not like that’."
-Elli, U.S.A.

"I wasn’t expecting Dakar, how busy it was. It was totally different than what I thought it was going to be. It just blew me away."
-Sarah, U.S.A.

"We have to be tolerant enough to be willing to move in the direction of first freeing ourselves of any prejudices and misconceptions, and then freeing others, giving others the opportunity to free themselves."
John Hope Franklin

In their seven days together, these brave teenagers not only had frank discussions about the media’s negative portrayal of various racial and ethnic groups, but also faced their own stereotypes. As a result, they began to see beyond skin color, and embraced the humanity in each other. Through the process of sharing personal stories and life histories, the students embraced this challenge and left with a richer understanding of others. They realized that their stereotypes were in fact "fiction", and did not capture the complexity of each individual.

Here’s what some of the students learned from each other:

"But, I mean, everybody here is so different, and just from so many different places. . .but they all want the same thing. And it seems like if we [search] out the rest of the world, I mean, we’d find a lot more people like that too. So it’s just made me more dedicated to go out and find those people and try to do more."
-Sarah, U.S.A.

"They [Americans] are very down to earth. I found out that they were very, very nice people, very different from what I thought they would be, from what I’d seen on TV and stuff"
-Lebo, South Africa

"First, though this trip I’ve learned that it’s not color that counts, but it’s what is in, within a person. What you share with that person, yeah, color is nothing."
-Samora, South Africa

"I tend to see things in many different aspects now. I don’t tend to look at things from two sides. I tend to look at things from about five different sides. I’ve learned to be more outgoing as well, to accept people for what they are, for who they are."
-Themmenah, South Africa

Watch a video. 56k modem DSL, Cable Watch this streaming video clip of the student's discussion and then you decide what is the main cause of stereotypes.

Montage of TV stereotypes.