Stereo­typ­ing is counter-pro­duc­tive

Lesotho Times - - Opinion & Analysis - Ut­loang Ka­jeno

ON Tues­day, 26 Jan­uary 2016, I was lis­ten­ing in­tently to a ra­dio talk show in­ter­view with the Africa spokesper­son of Amnesty In­ter­na­tional, a global hu­man rights watch­dog body that rep­re­sents lit­er­ally thou­sands of non-gov­ern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions around the world.

This spokesper­son was be­moan­ing the fact that govern­ment seems un­able or un­will­ing to rein-in the Le­sotho De­fence Force (LDF) com­man­der for rid­ing roughshod over nu­mer­ous court or­ders that ei­ther or­dered the re­lease into “open ar­rest” or to­tal re­lease of the de­tained sol­diers at the Maseru Max­i­mum Se­cu­rity Prison.

How­ever, my fear that that spokesper­son might be la­beled to be­long to a cer­tain political party or per­sua­sion were never re­al­ized be­cause thank­fully no such re­sponses were elicited as a re­sult of the said in­ter­view.

Let me be­gin my col­umn by stat­ing that I will as much as pos­si­ble avoid re­fer­ring to political par­ties or men­tion names to avoid any per­cep­tion of par­ti­san­ship, which is a can­cer that is in­sid­i­ously gnaw­ing at our col­lec­tive moral fi­bre and rea­son­ing as a na­tion. What is even more dis­heart­en­ing is that this can­cer is stoked by our political lead­ers across the board.

In so­cial psy­chol­ogy this is called stereo­type. It is de­fined by Wikipedia as a thought that can be adopted about spe­cific types of in­di­vid­u­als or cer­tain ways of do­ing things. Th­ese thoughts may or may not ad­e­quately re­flect re­al­ity.

In Le­sotho, we have two main­stream political per­sua­sions, namely, as­so­ci­ated mainly with the Ba­sotho Na­tional Party (BNP) and fol­low­ers of the congress ide­ol­ogy, mainly the many congress aligned political par­ties.

How­ever, I will avoid, as al­luded to be­fore, la­bel­ing peo­ple na­tion­al­ists or congress fol- low­ers. This is mainly one of the fac­tors that has po­larised this trau­ma­tised na­tion that is suf­fer­ing deep-seated divi­sions across the political spec­trum.

What peeves me most is that Ba­sotho as an al­ready deeply-po­larised na­tion, seem to have suc­cumbed to this habit of la­belling peo­ple with a con­trast­ing political view­point as ei­ther na­tion­al­ists or congress fol­low­ers.

For pur­pose of clar­ity, read­ers are ad­vised to dis­tin­guish be­tween stereo­types, prej­u­dice and dis­crim­i­na­tion as they are re­lated but dif­fer­ent con­cepts.

Stereo­types are re­garded as the most cog­ni­tive com­po­nents and of­ten oc­cur with­out con­scious aware­ness, whereas prej­u­dice is the af­fec­tive com­po­nent of stereo­typ­ing and dis­crim­i­na­tion is one of the be­havioural com­po­nents of prej­u­di­cial re­ac­tions.

In this tri­par­tite view of in­ter­group at­ti­tudes, stereo­types re­flect ex­pec­ta­tions and be­lief about the char­ac­ter­is­tics of mem­bers of groups per­ceived as dif­fer­ent from one’s own, prej­u­dice rep­re­sents the emo­tional re­sponse and dis­crim­i­na­tion refers to ac­tions.

The three pos­si­ble prej­u­dice ef­fects of stereo­types are: 1) jus­ti­fi­ca­tion of ill-founded prej­u­dices or ig­no­rance, 2) un­will­ing­ness to re­think one’s at­ti­tudes and be­hav­iour to­wards stereo­typed groups and 3) pre­vent­ing some peo­ple of stereo­typed groups from en­ter­ing or suc­ceed­ing in ac­tiv­i­ties or fields.

Stereo­typ­ing can be very counter-pro­duc­tive and prej­u­di­cial if, as in Le­sotho, sad to say, political lead­ers tend to stereo­type peo­ple who hold a dif­fer­ent view to take ad­van­tage of the ig­no­rance of their fol­low­ers.

They ex­ploit the stereo­type card to their ad­van­tage with­out any tan­gi­ble rea­sons at all. Political lead­ers in Le­sotho are not ashamed to go pub­lic in play­ing the stereo­type card. This hap­pens mostly in sit­u­a­tions where their ac­tions and poli­cies are with­out any merit what­so­ever.

They know, be­cause of the in­flu­en­tial lofty po­si­tions they hold in so­ci­ety, that ex­ploit­ing the stereo­type card will work won­ders among the masses to their ad­van­tage.

How­ever, sadly, this has the ad­verse ef­fect of fur­ther po­lar­is­ing and fur­ther driv­ing a wedge be­tween dif­fer­ent mem­bers of our so­ci­ety.

It is a sad re­al­ity with the cal­i­bre of some of the politi­cians we have in this coun­try who know that be­cause the masses are ig­no­rant, they ex­ploit the stereo­type card to garner more sup­port.

The masses at grass­roots level, are the most valu­able and the most fer­tile ground for this in­sid­i­ous card.

Stereo­types are dan­ger­ous be­cause they lead peo­ple to ex­pect cer­tain ac­tions from mem­bers of a cer­tain so­cial group. Th­ese stereo­type-based ex­pec­ta­tions may lead to self­ful­fill­ing prophe­cies, in which one’s in­ac­cu­rate ex­pec­ta­tions about a per­son’s be­hav­iour, so­cial in­ter­ac­tion, prompt that per­son to act in stereo­type-con­sis­tent ways, thus con­firm­ing one’s er­ro­neous ex­pec­ta­tions and val­i­dat- ing the stereo­type.

Be­cause stereo­types jus­tify and sim­plify so­cial re­al­ity, they have po­ten­tially pow­er­ful ef­fects on how peo­ple per­ceive and treat one an­other. As a re­sult, stereo­types can lead to dis­crim­i­na­tion in labour mar­kets and other do­mains.

In Le­sotho, th­ese stereo­types stoke deepseated ha­tred, divi­sions and an­i­mos­ity among the un­sus­pect­ing, mostly il­lit­er­ate masses in the ru­ral ar­eas and in­deed some ur­ban masses. It is pure id­iocy to seek to sow divi­sion among peo­ple and then turn-around and seek to lead them in govern­ment.

This de­spi­ca­ble id­iocy by our political lead­ers to sow divi­sion among the pop­u­lace in­stead of en­gen­der­ing unity is rem­i­nis­cent of post-apartheid political lead­ers in South Africa, who, be­cause they could not de­liver to the newly-eman­ci­pated masses, blamed all their fail­ures on apartheid and racism.

In a sim­i­lar man­ner, for some sin­is­ter rea­sons, some political lead­ers la­bel ev­ery­thing and ev­ery­one who views things dif­fer­ently from them as be­long­ing to some failed and out­dated political per­sua­sion.

This, more of­ten than not, tends to gal­va­nize the per­cep­tion and minds of the gullible and vul­ner­a­ble in our so­ci­ety against political per­sua­sions that on closer scru­tiny, are in fact for the ben­e­fit of the ac­tion. They take ad­van­tage of the im­pres­sion­able mem­bers of our so­ci­ety.

To demon­strate the ab­so­lute dearth of gen­uine political lead­er­ship in Le­sotho, our lead­ers are not ashamed to pub­licly claim that, per­son­al­i­ties from abroad who are not Le­sotho cit­i­zens and who have never been to this coun­try be­fore sym­pa­thize with a cer­tain ri­val politi­cian’s per­sua­sion.

Con­tin­ues on page 16 . . .

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