As I write, the European football championships are under way in France. I love football, so Iâ€™m very excited about it all. But less than a week into the competition, several England â€˜fansâ€™ have been arrested after clashes with locals and supporters of rival teams. Unfortunately, Englandâ€™s track record here is not good: we do have previous for turning up at major tournaments and getting drunk and aggressive. I worry that the rest of Europe will see the recent news from Marseille and Lille and assume these thugs represent all England fans. Itâ€™s not pleasant to be on the receiving end of stereotyping.
Of course, this experience of stereotyping is nothing compared to what an awful lot of children have to contend with. Children on the streets of Kinshasa, as well as struggling just to survive, have to get used to adults assuming they are criminals, troublemakers and â€˜witchesâ€™. Disabled children in Zambia have to overcome not just their physical limitations but the belief that they are somehow worthless. And Rwandan young people living with HIV have to convince their neighbours that they wonâ€™t catch the virus simply by associating with them. Stereotyping is ugly. It robs people of their individuality. It prevents individuals from fulfilling their potential, because it stops others from giving them a chance to show who they really are and what they can do.
Jesus doesnâ€™t have much truck with stereotypes, either. In one of his most powerful parables, Jesus presents us with a man being beaten up and left for dead, then helped and healed by a person everyone would have assumed to be his enemy. There are many lessons we can take away from that parable, but among them, thereâ€™s definitely a challenge to see the individual, rather than simply a representative of a faceless group of people. Our project partners reach out to children others would stereotype and write off. They see the hearts, gifts and potential of individuals, and they give each of them the chance to shine. Itâ€™s wonderful to see.
But what about us? In the UK, there isnâ€™t the same degree of stigma connected with HIV or disability. But do we make assumptions about teenagers? Muslims? Immigrants? What might happen if we decided to get to know the individuals, rather than passing judgment from a distance?