Perpetuating stereotypes

I’ve lived abroad for 4 years now, between Estonia and the UK. I’ve lived in mainland Italy, outside of my native Sardinia, for 20+ years, more than half of my life.

What I want to write about is as true in Italy towards Sardinians, as it is abroad towards Italians.

I find myself now in a position of strength. For over 10 years I’ve worked with great companies, did my job for some of the largest brands you can think of, and elbow to elbow with top-class managers and SEOs. I co-wrote a book, and taught at a University. It’s a job that I bloody love. I mean it’s easy for me, on the job place, to be respected – regardless of how well deserved this may be.

I will never be able to achieve the status I had back in Italy, here in the UK. I don’t have the same fluidity of language, I have an accent, and my name sounds weird. English people are amazingly openminded re: this, don’t get me wrong. In Italy we’d do way worse. One of the many reasons why I love them. But still, I know that I have to live with the fact that I am the Italian guy.

So what I did about this, I chose to embrace it. I make ‘hand gesturing’ jokes at all events or client pitches. I insert Italian jokes in my slides. I often reference my heritage.

It makes sense right? I’ve always felt this was the wise approach. Until now. People around me are talking about racism, sexism, bullism, gender-related abuses of all sorts. And it got me thinking.

People making fun of my accent, will still respect me when it comes to my job because I’m an amazing web marketer. People saying Italians are untrustworthy will come to love me, because I have studied at length what soft skills it takes to be in my position. People calling Italians lazy, will see that I’m hardworking as anyone, because I work on projects and with people that I love. But is this true for all Italians abroad?

Of course not. An 18 y.o. comes here to follow their dreams, entitled to dreaming as anyone. People will tease them for not knowing the language, and they’ll have no answer to that. People will not hire them, because they don’t have the same level of seniority that I have, and a weird surname. People will call them lazy, and they’ll just have to accept it. People will emulate their accent to their face, not realising that not being able to communicate wholly is a heavy burden to carry for a human being. How easier is it for me to live here, than for them?

From my position of power, I am enabling this situation. I’m making the world harder for this young person who only wants to work and follow their dream. I’m not even aware of it, but I’m perpetuating stereotypes. Stereotypes against Italians are relatively safe, non violent (although it did happen to me, too, years ago…). But they get the ball rolling: if you are entitled to discriminate a European white bloke, why shouldn’t you discriminate black people too? And Indians? And Muslims? And gays? And women? Every time I let a stereotype go, I empower all stereotypes. To stop stereotypes that are really dangerous, against all people different from me, we white straight males must be the first to strongly hold our hands up high and stop every instance of discrimination, no matter how innocent it appears.

We must risk to over-do it.

The stronger your position, the more responsible you are. That Spiderman quote is indeed wiser than one would expect: with great power, comes great responsibility. Even better, with any power comes responsibility.

On the other hand, the weaker your position, the more you should be looked after: your weakness derives from society, not from you not being enough as a person. Each and every one of us is an amazing, incredible speck of universe. Let’s just help each other: a good position for someone else does not make one’s position worse: in fact, it makes it better. A juster society. More money and jobs for all. A healthier environment. Safer streets.

A better world.

Let me add: you know when earlier I wrote “People around me are talking about racism, sexism, bullism, gender-related abuses of all sorts. And it got me thinking.”

Well, this is exactly why we MUST speak out loud about injustice. We MUST speak out loud about discrimination. We MUST speak out loud against hatred, bigotism, and ignorance.

Because it gets people thinking.