“We cannot trample upon the humanity of others without devaluing our own. The Igbo, always practical, put it concretely in their proverb ‘Onye ji onye n’ani ji onwe ya’: ‘He who will hold another down in the mud must stay in the mud to keep him down.'”
–The Education of a British-Protected Child: Essays, Chinua Achebe
And a quick reflection on this quote: as Achebe refers to the Igbo’s practicality, I find myself feeling a “yes, and…”
Yes, that is a stereotype. Stereotypes always press a button for me.
And, this is also a style of speaking that I hear differently coming from someone who is self-aware and reflective about their own cultural identity, than coming from someone who professes not to have a culture but is willing to point out other people’s. When I hear my mother talk about Koreans, white US Americans or other groups of people, I hear how her awareness of her own identity, as formed by her cultures as well as her individual experiences, has activated her recognition that people aren’t just individuals: we’re all members of groups and cultures that share beliefs and ways of living, and that inform our beliefs and ways of living. This is another “yes and…” Every person is both discrete and unique, and resemblant of others within their cultures.
Case in point, that button pushing I mentioned when I hear a stereotype? That’s a cultural, not just an individual response. And I believe that in order to value the humanity of others, we need to recognize who they are individually and collectively.
* Thanks to my colleague LM for this quote.