Indonesia, arguably one of the most diverse countries in Southeast Asia, possesses more than 300 traditional languages and 200 different ethnicities. I am Javanese, and my ethnicity makes up the majority of the Indonesian population. Growing up in Indonesia, I have heard other ethnicities receive labels. I have heard this from my family, friends, and teachers. It is not uncommon to hear remarks that the people of Batak ethnicity, for instance, make excellent arguments and turn out to be prominent lawyers. That is a positive label; however, I have heard more negative than positive labels. Other ethnicities, such as those hailing from Sumatra, are seen as miserly.
When I was young, I was convinced of many stereotypes, without ever wanting to know the true essence of them. I used to think that my ethnicity was superior to others. In high school, I was enrolled in a civics class and studied the five principles of Indonesia’s national ideology. One of the five principles is “Unity in Diversity.” By learning these national ideologies, I began to see that, independently of our ethnicity, we are all human beings and are united by a shared national identity. Since then, I have been fascinated by the essence of labels in societies as my perception of stereotypes changed.
Later, I started devoting most of my free time to reading philosophy books to explore and better understand my beliefs on the stigma of superior ethnicity. At one point, I came across the book Republic by Plato. Plato wrote in his book about the allegory of the cave, where people who lived there could only see shadows of real things. There was one man who had left the cave and was able to see real things, not just the shadowy figures; however, when he came back to the cave to tell the people who only saw shadowy things what he saw, he was ridiculed for his finding. This is similar to my misunderstanding: I initially believed the shadowy figures to be true, thinking that I was superior to other Indonesians because of my ethnicity and disregarding the truth that we are similar in nature despite the differences in our background or ethnicity. As I read more of Plato’s works, I learned that education should encourage us to think deeply about the state of the world, the purpose of our lives, and our morals. For me, examining stereotypes is captivating because they remind me about the state of the world and the social issues we still have in societies.
Living by the majority, I was blinded when I was young, believing that I was superior to other Indonesians because of my ethnicity. When I came across philosophy, I was intrigued by the importance of thinking and learning to attain the truths of the world and a virtuous life. Learning a small portion of philosophy, I was able to think critically, eliminate my biases, and be as close as possible to objectivity. For this reason, I plan to learn more about philosophy to deeply understand the nature of perception and stereotypes in our societies. In the past, I did not want to hear the truth because I was convinced by my own illusions. Now, I am fascinated with the truth and desire to find them as I continue studying more philosophy.