There are some phenomena that claimed to help people and nations getting closer to each other including the Olympic Games and the internet. I think none of them were successful. What they did was on a very small scale not competent with the media such as TV or cinema which are the most effective media on people’s perceptions today. They managed to build stereotypes as a by-product of delivering news and telling stories.
On the other hand, there are many people in the world that suffer from stereotypes and false beliefs including racial, ethnical, religious and gender-related stereotypes. Those who suffer the most are minorities in any society. Simply because they are less in numbers and less visible so people tend to make stereotypes rather than communicating with them in order to locate them in their minds.
There has been some efforts to explain the disadvantages of stereotypes and asking people to stop making them that such as this TED talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie about Africans. Other talks have also been made about introverts ,faith and so on. However, I think this is not the case. Instead of giving a talk and speaking directly to people and begging them to stop making these incomplete stories, we should do something different. Making stereotypes is a natural tendency of the mind to find patterns in the environment and classify things and people. It comes from where the science comes from. It is inevitable. We cannot ask people to do against their natural tendencies.
I think the solution to this problems is to tell a lot of stories. When lots of stories are told, wrong beliefs will start to disappear. According to the law of large numberswhen you have more and more stories, the diversity goes up and fake patterns start to be replaced with stories closer to reality. I can remember how stories ofAnoosheh Ansari and Maryam Mirzakhani changed people’s perceptions toward Iranian women a little bit.
We have social media at hand. It is almost free and everyone can participate. If you can tell a new story once a week, every year you have 52 new stories of the people you love and care about. So instead of promoting cat videos and staying updated about celebrities, you can do something interesting and useful. Even if your top student in a math class is a girl, it counts. There are still many people who think that STEM fields totally belong to guys.
So go ahead and keep learning!
Hamideh Iraj is a big data and data science researcher. She writes on a wide range of topics including Big Data, Data Science, Information Technology, Education and MOOCs.