What stereotypes reveal about the people who peddle them

Kenya may be one of the best countries in Africa, but we have a stinky reputation. Kenyans out there like saying nasty things about their country. Every time I travel out there and I meet someone who has ever been to Kenya or understands some bit of Kenyan history or its people, they always ask some very stereotypical question that invariably leaves me red in the face.

That is why we ended up being labeled the least trustworthy country in the world (second only to Nigeria). Most foreigners when they travel here, they come here with preconceived notions about us, and can be annoyingly over protective. They always think that everyone is out to fleece them, forgetting that in the whole world, more than 90 per cent of the people are ordinary folk, who try to live their lives in the most decent, honest and honourable way.

Here is something I have learnt, nine out ten times we have accused the waitress of stealing from us in a bar, we have ended up with eggs in our faces. We always think of them as thieves, but mostly it is preconceived notion to distrust those below us that impels us to distrust them.

In the last two months I have had to deal with two people who don’t trust Kenyans at all. They trusted my me, and I was the sounding board of their stereotypes about Kenyans. Man, was I furious. Worse, they sought a third opinion and went ahead to ignore everything I told them, making feel like a pile of shit. For the time I was with them, I was reduced to defending my countrymen. Most of the time, their accusations were ridiculous, at times silly, and quite annoying. Worse, they are not necessarily the richest people that people would fleece.

Kenyans can be dishonest. But nine out ten Kenyans I deal with are decent, honest and I don’t go around peddling silly stereotypes that Kenyans can’t be trusted. I know better.

I have grown to despise people who peddle stereotypes. It is mostly the most stupid, the least imaginative people who derive their conclusions from stereotypes. I have oft quoted Chimamanda Adichie’s TED talk “The Danger of a Single Story”, where she said that stereotypes are not necessarily untrue, but they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.

What has happened recently has incensed me so much that I have come up with a list of things that stereotypes do to us.

  1. Stereotypes limit our empathetic capacity. When you believe in stereotypes, you will never step into the shoes of the people you are denigrating to know their story, and what justifies their behaviour that rankles you.
  2. Stereotypes make us blind to our own weaknesses.
  3. Stereotypes mask our ignorance. And stupidity.
  4. Stereotypes always stop us from looking in the mirror and seeing ourselves for who we are: mostly shallow.
  5. Stereotypes help diminish the humanity of other people.
  6. Stereotypes give us a false sense of importance, elevating us to a higher ground from where everybody is underneath you.
  7. Stereotypes make us shift blame to others, thus we can’t be responsible for our own mistakes, or stupidity.
  8. Stereotypes always give us justification to treat others badly.
  9. Stereotypes gives us a false sense of superiority complex.

If we all understood the basic fact of life that we are all trying to get by in life, that we are all doing our best to put food on the table, we will stop looking down upon others for trying to put food on the table, granted we may disagree with their approach.

And that brings me to the simple principle I live by. People are never bad because of their tribe, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, age, level of schooling, political persuasion and et cetera. People are bad because they are Arseholes. And Arseholes are everywhere.And becoming increasingly common.

Arseholes are arseholes. They are not arseholes because they belong to a given tribe, race, or subscribe to a religion that you disagree with. Arseholes are arseholes because that is who they are: bad people who always want to get ahead of others using shortcuts.

There will always people who skip lines, people who try to shortchange you, people who try to backstab you, people who hate you, people who are envious of you, dishonest, cheats. And if you look around, you probably have more of those from your family or even your tribe.

You will not be my friend if you peddle stereotypes and worse, believe them. To me, you are being shallow.

Before you stereotype, try and understand if you are projecting your ignorance as opposed to telling the truth about a subject. Ask yourself, “Is this behaviour exclusive to thig group of people, or is it a universal human behaviour?”

The world will be a beautiful place if all of us, in our small ways, made it a better place. If you are Kenya abroad, stop talking shit about your country and its people. Be patriotic. If locally, stop hating a tribe because you disagree with them politically. What motivates you to believe in a certain politician is what drives them to believe in their leader.

At best, they are just as helpless, and probably motivated by self-preservation, which is what drives us. Just know, they are trying to put food on the table like you and respect that.

Calling Luos names won’t improve your situation in life in the same siting their accusing Kikuyus all manner of things won’t make you happy or richer. Just mind your business, buddy.

Election time? Vote. If elections are rigged, those who rig, do not rig so that they can help their poor from their ethnic background. They rig so that they can protect their wealth. If their people support them, forgive their blindness, you will do the same if your leaders did the same.

Thing is, as a country, or a continent, we are a work in progress and there will be a time in the future where the rule of law, justice will be the only way of doing things. We may not be fortunate enough to live in that time, but for now, can we just stop saying bad things about each other. The ones we hurt is you and me.

I have had Kikuyu friends who offered me a job. Kikuyu friends who showed up for my fundraiser (and Kisiis who never showed up). Kikuyu friends who gave me invaluable business advise. Kikuyu friends we do business with and always honour their word. I have had Luo friends who are good, generous, helpful and mean their every word. Ditto Luhyias, Kambas, ditto people from the Coast, Ditto Sudanese people. Europeans. Americans. Chinese.

And what I have learnt, human beings are all the same. There will be bad ones. And there are good ones. So deal with the individual and resist the temptation to lump entire communities in the same basket and dismissing them in one fatalistic and finalist stereotype, thinking that you are superior, intelligent, richer. You are just a pile of sh*t. Buddy.



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