Bridges Camp: Challenging racism and prejudice in South Africa

[[[image 2- small left]]]Julianne Hoss is a One Young World Ambassador from Germany who co-founded Bridging Gaps, an organisation working in South Africa to empower youth, enable education and overcome prejudices.


Many people share a certain frustration when observing how present stereotypes, prejudices and discrimination are in our societies. Others believe that these issues are no longer relevant in our daily lives.

To challenge this notion, Juliane Hoss started the initiative Bridges Camp, where young people from different backgrounds in South Africa come together and experience a great week where they can overcome their prejudices and minimise racism.

Speaking to other people about her passion, she often faces similar reactions that teach us a lot about common beliefs around prejudices and racism in our societies. Here, she takes the opportunity to reply to some of them:

“But teenagers don’t have prejudices, they are still open-minded”

Unfortunately our work with teenagers shows us that irrespective of their background, they have clear ideas about each other and believe that they won’t be able to become friends.

These reactions become understandable if we consider the fact that stereotypes and prejudices are learned by children as part of their socialization. Children are not only told, how other people seem to be but also learn these things in a more indirect way by observing their environment: Even if I don’t tell my child that white people are different from black people, it will observe my behavior and still assume that if we only have friends that look similar to us. Another example is that children will pick up if I show fear or a sense of superiority when interacting with people of another group.

I often asked people why they hold certain prejudices and always find it astonishing how much they struggle to actually provide valid reasons. This clearly shows us that stereotypes are not merely rational but closely related to emotions! This is no surprise as children hardly receive an explanation why they should believe certain stereotypes about other groups.

“I don’t think stereotypes are a problem because essentially we are just different types of people!”

What often surprises me even more than the teenager’s prejudices is their deep conviction that they are fundamentally different from each other and therefore can’t be friends. They are surprised to even learn about very small similarities, such as a shared interest in soccer or a love for fancy food. This fundamental assumption of significant differences reflects in the way many people speak, often referring to “Us” and “Them”.

Another way to describe this distinction is the concept of “othering”. We often think that “they” can’t be compared to “us” and the way “they” live is essentially different from “our” approach to life. I am convinced that this differentiation and the process of “othering” are the fundamental basis of stereotypes, prejudices and discrimination and we should therefore question the purpose and the legitimacy of this notion of “us” and “them”.

“Most people are not even racist or prejudiced, it is just a few that discriminate or hurt others!” 

This statement reflects a common misperception what it means to be racist or hold certain prejudices. Many people seem to have a very limited understanding and believe discrimination only starts when I walk up straight to someone and insult him or her. We struggle to understand that discrimination in several forms is deeply rooted in our societies. The different treatment of people that are often portrayed in very stereotypical ways seems to be such an integral part of our everyday life and we are often unaware of that. It is important to understand that all forms of discrimination are painful even if they seem harmless.

Understanding that these processes are such an integral part of our society suggests that nearly all people have prejudices and discriminate others to some extent. This also brings us to the question of guilt. To me, the question of who is guilty is less important as our first step should be to become aware of stereotypes and discrimination in our society. And secondly we should take responsibility to change our harmful attitudes.

“You are wasting your time! We will never overcome prejudices and racism in our society!”

We are not naïve in our approach and are aware that we won’t change the whole society by working with a bunch of teenagers. However, we believe that our work creates a space for them to learn that most prejudices they had before the camp were actually wrong. We hope that they can realize how stereotypes, prejudices and discrimination affect us and the way we live together in society and be motivated to develop an understanding and more tolerance for each other. We have seen a real change in the behavior of many of the participants who share this in their environment. We believe that all our efforts are worth it, if we can “only” achieve this!

About Bridges Camp

So far, the team has organized 6 camps, giving 120 teenagers the opportunity to have an unforgettable and unique experience. However, the biggest challenge for most teenagers is to return home after each camp and face prejudices and discrimination in their daily life. 

Many teenagers really change and implement what they have learned in their community where they spread respect and tolerance, but others struggle to keep this positive attitude. To remind all the teenagers of the positive vision of togetherness and everything the have learned at Bridges Camp, the team wishes to have a huge camp that will bring together all 120 participants of the previous camps. They are still looking for support to organize this camp, and your donation can help all the teenagers to further grow as individuals and of course to see all their new friends again!

Follow this link for more information and your chance to help Bridges Camp to overcome prejudices and racism in South Africa.