How Prejudice Can be Removed
In London a Unesco study conducted by H. E. O. James and Cora Tenen, showed how personal experiences might affect the nature and content of stereotypes. What they did was to obtain from schoolchildren their opinions of other peoples, particularly of African Negroes, and bring them into contact with two able African women teachers, who spent a few weeks in the schools.
The “before and after” picture is very striking. As an example, a child before the experience stated that “I do not like black people; it's the colour; it makes me nervous; they might be savage, they are different in nature to us, more savage and cruel sometimes, so you don't trust them ever”. The same child after the experience said: “Miss V. and Miss W. were nice people. There does not seem any difference between them and [ unclear: ] s except the colour. I think the Negroes are like that—just like us, except for the colour. I like them. They are nice people”.
The authors give many examples of similar changes that occurred. Stereotypes cannot always be modified so strikingly nor so fast, but the fact that they can be changed at all as a result of experience is itself encouraging.
An important first step will be taken if we treat “the pictures in our heads” with a strong dose of scepticism, and if we keep our minds closed to stereotypes and open only to facts. No one is denying the existence of national characteristics.
A knowledge of them can aid our understanding of people, as well as our enjoyment of the varieties of behaviour and personality that are found in different parts of the world. We need to make sure, however, that the “pictures in our heads” correspond as closely as possible to reality.
(From an article in Unesco Courier)