The problem with prejudices

Intercultural contact has become integrated in my everyday life. Both in the Netherlands and here in Senegal right now. It's not always easy. On Orkut (an online forum like Facebook) some people are demanding the “right to discriminate”. They say that it's always ok to discriminate on an individual level, as long as it's not discrimination by law. Cultures have different characteristics and it's good to distinguish between them, to discriminate between them and to be prejudiced against certain cultures and religions.
I never managed to explain on Orkut to those people why it's a problem to discriminate and to be prejudiced, why generalizations are problematic. I just experienced yesterday in Senegal, in my village Diofior, how much negative prejudices are making intercultural contact complicated.
I think the word racism should not be used too soon. Most people are no racists, they mean it well, they just have some negative associations / experiences and they project that onto people they don't know yet.
I don't think I will be able to explain it today either, but at least I will describe what has happened to me, both in the Nethelands and in Senegal.

First I will give an example that I posted on Orkut, to explain the problem of prejudices:

A group has got certain general characteristics. People from a certain country have got a certain culture. The majority of people in that group have certain characteristics in common.

Dutch people are usually direct, straight, open, not very polite. They don't show much respect for elderly people, they treat them as if they have the same age. If you meet 10 Dutch people then probably 9 are like this.
So when I say that I am Dutch you automatically think that I will not treat elderly people with much respect. Because the chance is big it I will be like this. But in fact I might be that other person, the 1 out of 10 who does show respect.
Each time I treat elderly people with a lot of respect. But people who don't know me think negative about me because I am Dutch. It's based on prejudice. They already rejected me before they found out who I really am.

We know all about statistics, we know the general characteristics of a culture, but we should always have an open mind towards the person in front of us. Don't be prejudiced, don't judge too quickly before you got to know somebody.

Prejudices in Holland

My boyfriend is a Muslim from an Arabic country. Now, how do people react when I tell about him?
- “Oh, so your boyfriend is a terrorist.”
- “How can you be with somebody like that, if you have to be with a foreigner, why not with somebody from Sweden or Belgium.”
- “So he went to a training camp to become a terrorist.” (that was meant as a joke)
- “How can you have a relation with him, now you will have submit to your husband, to obey him, to be humble. You have to wear a veil.”
- “You have to make good appointments about how you will raise the children together, otherwise he will be much too strict with your children. I know what these men are like.”

There are also some people who ask what he is like, what does he study, does he have a job, how nice is he, how handsome etc. That's what people usually ask when I say I have a new boyfriend (a Dutch one).

Another situation: I am reading “Moslim Unlimited” (see below) and one of my neighbours passes by. He looks at the book. He sees the word Muslim and his face looks very ugly now, as if he is going to vomit. He looks at me as if I am reading Mein Kampf and he calls me Miss Al Langen after that.

It hurts to be confronted with this all the time. These people, friends and family, have negative associations with the culture and religion of my boyfriend. They had negative experiences or they heard negative stories. The label “Muslim” only is enough to reject him. They don't know anything about him, they have never met him. And they don't know his culture and religion, they don't have any Muslim / Arabic friends. They only know what they see on television, what they read in newspapers.

Now what happens when I tell about my boyfriend to people in Senegal? People ask: “Is he a Muslim?” I say yes. Then they say: “That's very good.” Then they ask what he is like and how it's going with us, and if he will come to Senegal. I feel much more at ease here. The people I am talking to, they like me, they are my friends, so they assume I will have a nice boyfriend as well. For the rest they will judge him only after they have met him. And they consider Islam as a good religion. But they consider all religions as good. We all have the same God, they say.

Prejucides in Senegal

Prejudices don't exist in Holland only, of course. People in my village Diofior are black, and I am white, as you know. Negative images exist in Diofior about white people. Negative images exist as well about black people who are friends with white people.

Yesterday I had a small disagreement with a friend. I was very busy, we had a long meeting for the project to help disabled people. My friend called me many times. I said I don't have time now and put down the phone. He said I should not treat him like that. We had a long discussion after that. He said you are white, I am black, but we have the same God, we are equal. He said I am not after your money, money doesn't matter for me. He said I know you have a boyfriend, so we are like brother and sister, like friends, nothing else. I said that all of that is fine, no problem, I just don't want you to call me 20 times a day when I am busy. Another friend explained that it's a cultural difference. The boy spends his time with his friends and family all day long, they call each other all the time, they are together all the time. The Dutch culture is different. I work a lot. I don't see my friends and family much. The other boy explained that I didn't mean to be impolite to my friend, he said that I would say the same even to my father and my mother. He understood it very well, even though he is not from my culture.

The reason that my friend was talking about money, about being black and white, and about being married, is because of prejudices. People in Diofior say to him: why are you friends with a white woman? Do you want her money or do you want to marry her? When I tell him that he should not call me that often, he thinks that I think that he is after my money or that I think that he wants to marry me. Because that's what's usually the case with black and white people and that's what the people around him are saying. It's very bad that these prejudices are so common. It makes our friendship more difficult. My friend understands now and we forgave each other.
We are just two humans, we are equal. Our different skin colour doesn't matter. We can have misunderstandings sometimes because of cultural differences, but we will solve that together. We don't want to be bothered by prejudices.


Muslim Unlimited was developed by Esma Choho, journalist and author. MU is a method consisting of reading and doing Five Actions: Focus, Allah, Reality, Self-Care, Giving. Esma developed MU for everyone who wants unlimited peace, strength and freedom. MU helps you to help yourself. With each dream or pain you may have. It works. We (those who do MU) know that from experience. The entire method is described in the book Muslim Unlimited – Life and Survival in the Wild West by Esma Choho (soon available in English).

MU is not related to any political or religious movement, organisation, country or institution. The ONLY goal of MU is to develop peace, strength and freedom and share it with others.

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