- Posted August 23, 2014 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Black Lives Matter protests (2014)
I currently live in North America where the subject of race is an uncomfortable topic. I personally rarely witness people around me hold racist conversations. As being socially-intelligent becomes more valued in education, we are learning to appear a little more politically correct.
I have become more sensitive to people disliking other cultures rather than actual races.
I grew up in a multi-coloured and multi-cultured family. No one in my immediate family is the same colour. None of my siblings have the same skin tone, my parents are a different colour from each other, and none of us share their shades either. We are a family of five, and we have five wonderfully different colours in our family. From the get-go, race was a non-issue in our family and yet race was celebrated…or should I say, the mixing of races. It was beautiful, but never considered more than skin-deep. No, what really fascinated us was cultures.
Racism has been a part of every country's shameful history. My maternal grandfather was a French plantation owner in the South Pacific islands of the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu). It was a French/British colony condominium in his day. Although blackbirding and slavery had been eradicated by the time he came on the scene, there was still a social segregation of races between the French and the British colonists as well as between the colonists and the Melanesian natives. My French grandpa married an Australian staff-member of the British Embassy (my grandma). Neither of their families were happy about this union…white people being racist amongst themselves although technically they originate from the same race. I guess the French and British colonists were not hostile to each other's race, but rather their different cultures.
Mentalities were changing as their children attended school together, but cultural differences kept them from socializing together. Mistrust also prevailed between the French and British colonists, but with a new generation came a lowering of fences and it became more common and acceptable for them to mingle.
My mother appreciated native culture and also enjoyed the company of her Melanesian friends. Although this was not considered scandalous, it was still frowned upon by the majority of socially-standing colonists, including her parents.
My father is half-Ugandan and half-Swiss. Since I grew up in my "mother's world" of Oceania, I consider that I do not know enough of the world he grew up in to comment on this background being influential on my views. He grew up in London and is very much a European gentleman.
Come to reflect on it, it is ironic to realize that my mother made a choice to have a more ethnic and native influence on her own culture. My father would be considered a lot more proper in a European culture than she would. And yet, he is the dark-skinned one and she is white. I guess this built a foundation for their children's colour-blindness and lack of value for racial stereotypes. No, we only saw cultural differences, and were taught to study them, celebrate them, respect them and above all, not let them affect the way we appreciated others. Being culturally-aware, as well as the continuous thirst to understand different cultures was valued and considered enriching to both our intelligence and souls.
There were only good people and less-good people in this world.
As idyllic as this sounds, how did it translate into our day-to-day living? I think back and realize that I had an integrated doll collection. I had two white dolls, a brown one and a black one. My childhood bookshelf contained stories and illustrations of many different cultures. Early on, my parents (whether consciously or not) were normalizing the mix of races and the appreciation of other cultures. My birthday parties were also integrated, with friends from different cultures. My brother and I were put into language class to learn Mandarin Chinese.
On top of making sure that we were fluent in both English and French, we are encouraged to learn greetings and words from native dialects that surrounded us. My mother made us eat food she prepared from recipes that came from all around the world, and the music played in our home were from a wide variety of artists of all cultures and languages. Music, art and even dancing was a celebration of cultures. Polynesian waltzes, rock-and-roll, swing, Caribbean biguine, middle-eastern hora and French folk dancing were part of our parties. Although my parents are both of the Christian faith, we were encouraged to learn about other religions in order to understand people who were different from us.
It sounds like we were very talented and cultured, when the fact is that we were regular kids simply being taught to be interested and learn. As human beings, we tend to fear what we don't know. I find that the people around me who have judgemental, skeptical or xenophobic tendencies are those who have had the least exposure to the world that surrounds us.
Even I still have a natural penchant for recoiling from unfamiliar exposure.
Caucassian North American culture has been known to sometimes have a way of annoying me. I excitedly press my friends for details about their trips abroad or compare our experiences. The majority will wrinkle their noses and tell me about how dirty the streets in Europe are and how they disliked local food. The hotel was below standards in Thailand, or they know of someone who had her scarf stolen in Brazil. And don't even get them started about their run-in with weird insects in Australia! I nod and smile politely while inwardly face-palming myself. Then I realize that the way I inwardly react to them is just as ignorant .
Why can't I simply try to put myself in their position? This is a perfectly normal reaction for someone who has been raised in North American culture. Again, the antipathy I feel is simply a reaction to what makes them different from me. My initial attitude goes to illustrate that the fear of what is not familiar to us is what holds us back in so many ways. Fear of foreign cultures often leads to contempt and xenophobia which in turn can spawn racism.
An elderly lady at a gathering in Canada once came up to me and told me that she liked my curly hair. She ended by saying that she used to be "afraid of black people" until some African neighbours started attending her church, and she got to know them. Now she says she realized that they're just like her family! I laughed-out-loud at her sweet honesty, but realized that this was valuable wisdom I could learn from.
How many times, I wonder, has my indifference for Asian religions stopped me from noticing the beautiful craftsmanship in a Hindu temple in Fiji? Has my lack of interest in Eastern European culture robbed me of learning about the rich political history of Russia? But more importantly, how am I continuing to educate myself with the intent of not missing out on wonderful human connections ? Ethnically being such a unique mix of different cultures, I often consider myself to be the future of tolerance. Yet whenever I stop being interested, or feel that exposure is unnecessary, I regress in knowledge and appreciation of the world that surrounds me. I need to continuously educate myself in order to truly understand what it means to live in an integrated society. Although I was infinitely lucky to have been given a foundation of open-mindedness in my childhood, I realize that my journey has only begun.