Challenging cultural and ethnic stereotypes

A week or so ago, I was asked to give a talk about how faith relates to politics and vice versa. I remember when I first came to the UK, I was told to avoid talking about both subjects and therefore I knew that running a workshop in relation to both topics might be a bit tricky!

For some, both faith and politics go hand in hand. Our political choices are guided by our religion or faith affiliation. Our beliefs often become our moral compass, which “dictates” in many cases the way we vote, or decide who to support at the polling station.

During my workshop, which was very engaging and interactive, I asked my audience what immediately springs to their mind when someone says Poland. After a short moment of hesitation, answers started to flood in: hard working, plumbers, electricians, difficult history, Battle of Britain, friendship and a lot more. During my session, I asked a number of provoking questions to ensure that the workshop participants can think outside of the box and challenge their own thinking. It was truly amazing to see how often we all generalise and stereotype people. If you are Polish, you must be a plumber, if you are a Romanian national, you might be an electrician. Pakistani? Bangladeshi? You are most certainly a taxi driver or you might be running a corner shop.

Why is it important? I believe that by winning elections last week, I was able to demonstrate that it is wrong to make assumptions. Moreover, it is far more important to look at each person as a unique individual. The “judgmental baggage” can be an obstacle in creating fruitful and positive relationships with fellow human beings. I hope that as an elected Councillor, with truly no manual skills, I will be able to demonstrate that we all contribute in different ways and our input, depending on our skill set, should be valued and recognised! Mine will be to enhance the democratic process locally by serving the community of Welwyn Garden City as their Polish Councillor!

* Michal Siewniak is a Lib Dem activist and councillor for Handside ward, Welwyn Hatfield.

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4 Comments

  • Brad Barrows 16th May '22 - 12:47pm

    Hi Michal
    You make an important point which I would describe as highlighting the difference between a generalisation and a stereotype. Generalisations work because ‘on average’ something may be true, but the danger is to turn a generalisation into a stereotype where people begin to a group of people of possessing the characteristics of ‘the average’. For example, we know that three quarters of part-time workers in the UK are women, so as a generalisation, when we are thinking about the issues and needs of part-time workers, we are mainly thinking about the issues and needs of female part-time workers. That is very different from then developing a stereotype of female workers as being part-time workers as we know that the majority of female workers in the UK are actually full-time (62% are full-time.) Therefore generalisations can be useful as a way to consider issues affecting categories of people, but stereotypes – in my opinion – are usually unrepresentative of the category they seek to present and often have a negative effect on how individuals from that group are perceived.

  • Peter Davies 16th May '22 - 1:03pm

    Surely the stereotype from that generalisation is that a part-time worker is assumed to be a woman.

  • Brad Barrows 16th May '22 - 3:22pm

    @Peter Davies
    Yes, precisely my point. While a generalisation can be useful, the danger is that people can then go beyond the generalisation to create stereotypes which are unrepresentative and, often, negative. While it is true that most part time workers are female, stereotyping female workers as part time would be unrepresentative of female workers and may be harmful.

  • Chris platts 16th May '22 - 3:57pm

    As Michal says we need to see people as unique individuals and avoid to many attempts at stereotypes and generalisations. It is hard but we must all be vigilant about this. As a veteran of many anti discriminatory and diversity courses I recognise the need to treat people as individuals and I try to avoid lumping a whole of people together.

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