He stood amongst what appeared to be an infinite array of coconut trees, his petite frame dwarfed by even the daintiest of sunflowers. A fox by both 1993 and 2017 standards. OK, a 16-bit fox on the Sega Mega Drive, but a fox nonetheless. For those of you who may require an introduction at this point, the name for this selection of pixels is Tails. He is the sidekick (and at times henchman) to the more widely known Sonic the Hedgehog. My baby incisors were still intact when I first encountered Tails. Whilst Sonic was more popular, Tails was definitely my favourite.
Tails occasionally scrawled love letters for me and left them under my snotty Care Bears top-bunk pillow. Naturally I was delighted, albeit somewhat curious about the intermittency of the letters. What made me so special to receive them? Some time later I discovered that the infrequency of the letters was not linked to Tails’s demanding day job of collecting Special Stage rings and then losing them again. But rather, how motivated my older sister was at any given time to wind me up. Deception knows no limits.
Now, whilst Tails was most certainly spectacular in everything he did, he wasn’t the only fictional character that was important to me… The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario, Donkey Kong, Toe Jam & Earl, Final Fantasy and Altered Beast were all pretty special too. Even though a few of these games were ridiculous. I mean, have you ever played Altered Beast without wetting yourself? The video games that I truly loved all had one thing in common, they were all Japanese.
But All Japanese People Love Anime Right?
I haboured love for Japan from an early age, but to put it frankly, my love for Japan was superficial. It was conjured up entirely within my imagination.
Doesn’t this make it comparable to most people’s first loves? I was a typical Zelda fan who assumed that Japanese culture revolved around rice balls, cartoon characters with sweat-droplet-clad forehead and TV shows where people got shot with cannonballs – willingly, for the glory alone. Whilst I may have loved all of these idealised characteristics about the Japanese, even if they were fundamentally superficial, these views were extremely bigoted.
Throughout my adolescent life, I rather arrogantly considered myself to rank relatively low on the ‘possibility of holding prejudice scale’, if ever such a scale existed. Afterall, I came from a relatively liberal and diverse background myself. But as I grew older (and hairier) I started to question the categories that I, and others, had placed myself in. Sure, I may be able to tick a couple of the boxes on an employer’s Equal Opportunities form, but so what? That’s all they are – boxes.
We are all capable of prejudice regardless of how many ‘boxes’ we tick, which culture we come from, what gender we are and how many holidays we can afford a year.
Do Categories Define Me, Do They Define A Country, Do They Define You?
With regards to prejudice, Aristotle was perhaps the first Western philosopher that concerned himself with the notion of stereotypes. He claimed that diversity in people reduced the likelihood of stereotyping. But hey, this was 2000 years ago, before the media and its three heads got involved.
Last year I read a book, which I for the life of me cannot remember the name of, which argued that more homogenous countries are less likely to stereotype ‘outsiders’. Why? Apparently a more homogenous country is less likely to have a pre-conceived idea about a ‘type of person’ because they have not encountered that ‘type of person’ before. Makes sense right? So, what does this say about a more homogenous country, suchas Japan (98.5% homogenous*) in comparison to the UK (87.1% homogenous*)?
Now, you may have cried, laughed and/or moaned about two of the West’s most highly speculated political events in 2016, i.e. the UK’s decision to leave the European Union in July, and Donald Trump’s nomination as president-elect of the USA in November. The media loved associating these events with the rise of the right-wing and rise of xenophobia. (Xenophia was Dictionary.com’s ‘2016 Word of the Year’). So, do these apparently xenophobic political milestones define these countries and all of their people? I certainly don’t think so.
Personality Before Prejudice
In my opinion, interacting with somebody on a personal level, and interacting with somebody based upon a pre-conceived assumption of him/her are different. Stereotypes bombard us consciously and sub-consciously every day. We may only be aware of prejudice when we are directly confronted by it. We can always challenge it – in ourselves and others.
When I catch myself forming an opinion of someone, I try to identify where it came from and challenge its origin. It doesn’t matter if the opinion seems positive or negative, or if it is linked to a friend or a stranger. I can still think about it and challenge it.
We are all responsible for what we say, what we do and how we treat other people.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King.
Art by Naomi Burgess @ Pumpernickel Junction
*According to Wikipedia data!