Stereotyping is counter-productive
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.
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