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Employment Discrimination and Stereotyping is Normal

Discrimination when it comes to employment is the rule of planet earth. The USA, Canada, some parts of Europe that have fair play, equal opportunity, affirmative action laws are truly global oddities — the ones that follow them are even more rare. When applying for a job in many countries, you must submit a photo [...]

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Discrimination when it comes to employment is the rule of planet earth. The USA, Canada, some parts of Europe that have fair play, equal opportunity, affirmative action laws are truly global oddities — the ones that follow them are even more rare. When applying for a job in many countries, you must submit a photo of yourself, not only a work history but a personal history, sometimes your religion, who you’re married to, family affiliation etc. . . It’s really an ask anything game as employers determine would and who would not fit into their work environment along the lines of very stringent typecasts.

Globally speaking, political correctness is a foreign concept, all too many cultures of the world don’t just use typecasts and stereotypes as guides but seem to believe that they are unalterable. This has the effect of making people more mindful of how they’re perceived, as they must show their social affiliation upfront, as few are going to bother diving deeper beneath the surface.

The photo is HIGHLY important and is often mandatory when applying for jobs abroad. The employer wants to look at you in order to determine if you may be the right fit for their company. Yes, the way you look — from style of dress, to hair cut, to facial features, to skin color are major determinants for employment. This is normal. It may not be right, but it is normal.

There are certain typecasts that employers are looking for in their employees. They are looking to fill a square hole with a square peg: diversity, in this case, is a round peg. Perhaps unfortunately, the typecasts that employers focus on occasionally revolve around racial, cultural, sex, and, in some cases, lineage lines. This investigation often goes beyond mere photographs, as the questions that are asked on resumes or in interviews are often very personal, focusing on the city, neighborhood, and, in cases such as Japan, your family legacy and background.

Cultures like the USA have been manipulated to treat people as individuals almost removed from their surroundings, while in most of the world people are treated as direct representations of where they come from. The Burakumin, the traditional lower caste of Japan, are often not permitted social mobility. How do employers know who is Burakumin? They look at the neighborhood they’re from, their family name, and, or some say, they can tell them by looking at them. “. . . a human resources worker explains that his company will not employ someone “if there is doubt about whether he/she comes from a buraku” -Japan Times. This is normal treatment for people outside of the norm of the dominant culture in most countries.

If you don’t look as if you fit the typecast of a company’s prospective employee profile, the road to finding a job abroad can be arduous. For getting English teaching jobs abroad, if you look and speak like the actors on the TV show Friends, your options are boundless. If you are black employers seem to think that you can’t speak what is called “neutral English” and will teach the students to talk like Chris Rock. If you look like me — with a shaved head, a long beard, spools in the ears, and tattoos fully covering your body from neck to feet you don’t fit the typecast of a teacher and may find it more difficult to land work in this realm.

“You don’t look like a writer,” I’ve been told too many times to recollect in various countries throughout the world, “you look like a musician.”

I’m the editor of one of the top independent travel/ geography websites on the planet but few people believe it, because I don’t look the part. I can’t complain, this is normal.

Knowing stereotypes is key when traveling. The basic tenants of outward projection seems to have been lost on many Americans/ Canadians — we seem to think that people should treat us as individuals and not judge us based on superficial parameters. But this ideology simply does not work in most other countries. Stereotypes are honored abroad, demanded, and upheld with the iron pillars of ignorance. Right or wrong is irrelevant here, it is normal. Perhaps culture is just a mechanism for a particular group of people to simplify and make sense of their world using symbols. Certain symbols — dress, hair style, skin color — project certain meanings and group affiliations within various cultures.

When traveling, when looking for jobs abroad, you will be typecast. You can either go with it and try to comply with the stereotype the employer is looking for or you can react against it and be typecast as something you may not be and face the consequences of having more of a difficult time finding work.

I now generally work for myself as I travel, but I have worked in many countries in many professions. Sometimes I fit the typecast of my employment — such as in archaeology — sometimes I don’t. I can still land jobs in professions like English teaching, but I’ll admit here that due to my excessive tattooing etc . . . that it is more difficult. Though often, even when getting a job outside of my “typecast” I often find it annoying that I’m treated like a misplaced rock musician rather than whatever the profession is that I’m working in. This isn’t a problem with them — they are normal parts of their society — it is a problem with me: I observed the cultural patterns before me and I chose not to abide by their ebbs and flows.

Filed under: Culture and Society

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3706 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

7 comments… add one

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  • scott January 5, 2012, 8:38 pm

    Well it’s not true what they say about a tattoo is “forever!” They rot off after you die. But in the meantime it can make parts of life difficult. Funny I was looking at a picture of you recently and I thought… Wow. My first impression would be along the lines of hit man, wife beater, drug user and I won’t get into the nasty stuff.

    As someone that has some tats for over 30 years. I can say I wish I never got it done. It was fun for the first 5 years. But then again sometimes I glance in the mirror at the grim reaper in battle with the dragon and think, “Oh yeah.”

    But on the flip-side, I think it is great you are exactly the opposite of what people might stereotype you as. You can’t judge a book by its cover!


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    • Wade Shepard January 11, 2012, 8:38 pm

      Hello Scott,

      Wow, a grim reaper fighting a dragon! Man, that’s heavy haha.

      I suppose everyone is born with an inherent set of stereotyping parameters (like race, class, neighborhood, skin tone) but then everyone also angles that off into more refined levels of stereotyping that are chosen. For example, some white guy who comes from a rich family who gets tattooed and ends up looking like me or a black dude from the ghetto who gets a good job and walks around in business suites. True, you can’t judge a book by its cover, but most book covers are designed to give an impression of what’s inside. I guess we all chose what social sphere we want to interact in on some level, and all too often acceptance in these spheres is based on how we present ourselves. We are still tribal animals.

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  • Pat Sheffield January 7, 2012, 8:48 pm

    I’m curious. When reading your pieces, there is often an ad for Endless Pools or Swim Outlet mixed in. Does that happen only because I’m the one reading it and those two companies are where I often go, to shop or for a question? Or do they show up for everyone who reads your stuff? It happens on other websites I go to, so I guess it’s due to cookies on my machine. Do you know? Suely they don’t pay to advertise on your site for everyone. It’s a bit spooky as far as I’m concerned.

    Good story, that last one!

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    • alf January 11, 2012, 7:01 pm

      Pat, online advertisement companies often determine your profile according to your geographical location, browsing history, language, and sometimes even draw information from everything you type.

      Based on this information they decide which ads to show you.

      It is good for companies, imagine you have a hotel in Cancun, you can choose that your hotel appears on banners of people that searched for hotels in Mexico, or to people reading travel blogs about the zone. As a consumer you only get shown advertisement that might interest you in a language you understand, I have worked in this industry for a big part of the last few year.

      I concede it is indeed spooky though.

      In my case, I get banners from the local banks probably because of my location, and from bicycle stores, as I have been investigating upon doing a long bicycle tour, no idea what Endless Pools or Swim Outlet are.

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    • Wade Shepard January 11, 2012, 8:28 pm

      Hello Pat,

      Yup, Alf hit the nail on the head here. Everywhere you browse on the internet is recorded. Your cookies, ip address, and probably even email/ social media accounts are recorded to show ads that are directly tailor for you. So when you go to the website of an advertiser you will be shown their ads wherever you go online. Now, the ads are also suppose be be tailored to the content of the page, but, in this case where the topic is not something that many advertisers are buying space for, ads are shown for the individual browser. We are getting into a spooky era of the internet, where not only ads but search results are being tailored directly to the individual.

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  • Edith Washington March 14, 2012, 4:46 pm

    I’ve been looking for a site that really addressed cultural perspectives. I like your honesty and your courage. It takes courage to tell the truth. I find this site much more interesting than the sites that focus on “hotels, restaurants and attractions”. You can find that information anywhere. I’m Afro-American and my husband I have traveled a bit in the Caribbean, Mexico and Canada, your comments and reflections seem to be very much on target. We enjoy the “people” part of travel. I truly admire your budgeting skills.

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    • Wade Shepard March 25, 2012, 9:56 am

      Hello Edith,

      Again, thank you for this excellent comment. Yes, I’ve found it a much better practice to accept the world as it is then work these parameters to suit me best rather than trying to change people and cultures.

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