Eradicate racial stereotypes in media and textbooks

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 June, 2014, 3:01am
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 June, 2014, 3:01am

Racial stereotyping is undesirable but difficult to eradicate in any society. However civilised and well educated people are, there exists some preconceived but not necessarily justified views about those who look, think and act differently. The latest controversy over primary school textbooks is a case in point. Like it or not, the local film, television and advertising media are flush with racial stereotypes. They are so common that their existence is often taken for granted.

What sets the recent incident apart is that it involves teaching material. Pupils are asked to match jobs with nationalities - British for English language teacher, Filipino for domestic helper, Japanese for restaurant owner, and so on - and choose the physical characteristics of different races, such as curly hair, thick lips and dark skin for black people.

The publisher's defence is to be expected. It argues that all jobs are equal and if anyone finds the content discriminatory, it is based on a discriminatory view towards the work done by domestic helpers. But to many Filipinos who were upset by the content, this is a lame excuse.

Stereotypes are arguably not as grave a problem as discrimination. But that does not mean they should be tolerated. Given discrimination often stems from misunderstanding, prejudice and stereotypes, there is every reason to be concerned if our future generations are raised with such a concept. Such an incident in the Western world would cause a major controversy. Intriguingly, the response from the local Chinese community was not strong. Some justified the books by saying that it is a fact that Filipinos in Hong Kong mainly work as domestic helpers. Such an attitude reflects poorly on awareness of a racially sensitive issue.

However much we like to think of ourselves as a tolerant society that embraces other races, there is a gap between aspiration and reality. The difference can be narrowed by better public education. Abolishing racial stereotypes in the media and textbooks would be a positive step.