By Toni Bruce
In these difficult times of division, based on political parties, ethnic divides and many other forms of difference, I’ve been thinking a lot about the stereotypes that underlie so much hatred. So in this blog, I’ve collated four resources that I think speak to the issue of stereotypes, their power, their effects, and ways to challenge or, in Stuart Hall’s words, engage in actions that “open the stereotypes up in such a way that they become uninhabitable” (2005, p. 21). Hall explains that although we treat stereotypes as taken-for-granted truths, they are “actually very complex things” (p. 21). If we want to take them on, we have to “try to use the stereotypes and turn [them] against themselves”. This is a challenging task because representation – much of which takes place through the mass and online media – naturalises itself “to the point where you cannot see that anybody ever produced it. It seems to be just what the world is. It’s just how it looks; that is just what reality is” (p. 21).
In terms of media literacy, and thinking about ways to challenge online hate, the first is a link to a flip-the-tables action taken by an African American man who kept being told to “go back to Africa”. I like Larry Mitchell’s response because I think he achieved something close to what Stuart Hall talked about. Rather than trying to directly challenge or replace the negative emotion attached to the stereotype, he came at it sideways, entering into it in a way that had the potential to shift it, to ‘play’ with it, and to highlight complexity rather than simplistic closure. Put in Hall’s more academic description, what Mitchell may have done is “to go into the power of the stereotype itself and begin to…subvert, open and expose it from the inside” (p. 21). Through his ‘perfect response’ (see below), he may have changed his/our relationship to the ‘Go back to Africa’ meaning.
The second article shows the proactive way that software start-up GitHub successfully took on Internet trolling within the realm of its own sphere of influence.
Third, in support of understanding the underlying issues and impacts of stereotypes, I’m re-posting a blog by a colleague whose research into the media representation of South Auckland (a predominantly poorer and browner area of New Zealand’s largest city) throws up a lot of questions about how we stereotype and (mis)treat others on the basis of presumed ethnic or racial background.
Finally, the blog has a great link to an excellent documentary on the Polynesian Panthers, who stood up against racism in New Zealand. The Panthers were driven by many of the same issues as Martin Luther King and Malcolm X in the United States, yet their history is not nowhere as well-known. It should be.