I was chatting with a lovely lady from India recently, someone who is quickly becoming a new friend. We were talking about all sorts of stuff, and I asked her if she’d been exposed to hatred as a child – the sort of hatred or prejudice that your parents/society have and gets transferred to you. Naturally, Pakistan came in top of the list, as India would if I was talking to a Pakistani, although I’m sure America would be a pretty equal first these days for most Pakistanis.
Anyways, she told me how growing up, not only did she know “caste” hatred and superiority, but also hatred towards Pakistanis. It wasn’t until she was an adult that she realised it might all be a load of bollocks.
As she has gone out into the world, met people from all walks of life, but in particular, met and made great friends with Pakistanis and the “inferior” from her State, she has reassessed her thinking and realised that she is lucky. She’s lucky she was able to move beyond the ignorant stereotypes she was indoctrinated with as a child. But she can also see that the people who made her think this way aren’t ignorant, they just haven’t had the opportunities to see the world through her “new” eyes.
Another story of racism comes from a crazy bitch I used to work with in London and she hated “Pakis” with a passion. Of course, “Pakis” refers to anyone from India, Pakistan or Bangladesh – which in itself is insulting. This friend grew up in Birmingham and the social and cultural challenges of this city are massive. As a result, she had horribly racist attitudes towards anyone with dark skin, and I often found her opinions completely disturbing. I got lucky. I had a Dad who didn’t have a racist bone in his body and everyone in the world fascinated him – he was open to everyone and took every chance he could to speak with people from other countries. That was how he “travelled” the world before he first got on a plane.
His way was quite contagious and made me open to all, but also a bit of a fighter against racism and prejudice, because I learnt that people really are wonderful when you get to know them – not everyone for sure, but most people. So in the case of my racist English friend, I challenged her views and I went pretty hard – she was a tough bird and could cope with my barrage. I also introduced her to “Paki’s,” talked about my wonderful experiences of travelling around India, and all the while, I constantly asked her opinions on people and then challenged her views. I didn’t think I made one bit of difference, but as I was doing my “Farewell London Drinking Binge” before moving to Boston, she thanked me.
I said “what? I didn’t think you listened to a bloody word I said?”
And she said “no, I really did and thank you. I really appreciate it.”
I was thrilled to have made a positive impact on just this one person.
I suppose it’s been a bit of a mission of mine, to surround myself with people from all walks of life and if anyone expresses anything racist/ageist/sexist/other, I try to take the time to find out where that belief comes from. Not everyone is open to my probing questions, so I choose my battles well, but I do think that most of us never grow beyond what we know, or question what we learn. The great news is when someone does move beyond what they know; it is a beautiful thing to see.
So have you ever met someone who hates “someone” they’ve never met? Or perhaps you have some views you’ve never questioned? For example: Do you hate Muslims? Do you hate blacks? Do you hate Jews? Do you hate gays? Or lesbians? Or transvestites? Do you hate your local indigenous community? Do you think all white people are arrogant patronising turds? Do you think all Malays are lazy? Do you think Chinese people are unfriendly? Do you despise Born Again Christians? Do you think all Afro Americans will rob you? Do you think the Dutch are tight with their money? Do you think Germans are humourless-sunbed-stealing morons? Do you think all Russians are gangsters and prostitutes? Do you think the French are arrogant? Do you think the Poms whine too much and have pasty skin? Do you think all Americans have no sense of humour and speak too loudly? Do you think Aussies are big-mouthed, self opinionated twats who are always talking about how many medals they’ve won in relation to the percentage of the countries’ population and therefore, superior? Suffice to say, Steve, my English husband, added that last point. Fair enough.
But then you could also hate rich people because your parents told you rich people get rich off the backs of others? Or you hate all alcoholics, druggies and street people, because you’ve been told they’re pathetic? Or are you a man who hates “fags” ‘cos they frighten the hell out of you? Or Perhaps you hate top-paid executives or blue collar workers?
I could go on, but the point is made. The reality is who do you know that never questions their hatred? Who has never asked why?
In support of my “awakening,” here’s a powerful memory for me. My Dad made a big difference, but so did this moment. When I was about 14, two Laotian sisters came to our school. They entered Australia as asylum seekers and one day, the entire family came to our school to tell us their story. We were all pretty intrigued by these girls, because the pretty-much white town I grew up in didn’t have too many people who looked like this. Anyways, it turns out the Dad tied all 11 children, mum, grandma and himself to the bottom of a train and they escaped the country overnight. On the train journey one of their brothers died, as did the grandma and eventually, after what must have been some really painful shit, the rest made it to Australia. I still remember sitting there thinking, wow, I cannot even imagine anyone going through this and couldn’t fathom that any person could be in a situation where life became so cruel this was the families’ only option for survival? Amazing and brave and heartbreaking all in one.
It changed my life that day and opened my eyes WIDE. It made me curious and always wondering what I could do to help. Maybe this blog can do that?
And then there’s another memory. When I was travelling in Guatemala, I met a Chinese American lady. As we became friends, it turned out she grew up in Cambodia and when the Khmer Rouge came to power, her family – being Chinese – were put in brutal camps, where many of them died, including her mother. After a few years of unbelievable misery, a Christian family in the US sponsored her family to come and live in the US, where she has built an incredible life for herself. When I think about it – my childhood memories are of running free on the safe streets of Wodonga, whereas Yvonne remembers starvation and being forced to eat cockroaches to survive.
I’m so pleased my life has given me so many wonderful opportunities to be touched by people from all walks of life. I’ve heard stories of joy and pain, heard views I’ve never considered, and understood beliefs that never made sense to me before. I believe that all of these encounters have given me greater compassion for all people, but also a greater understanding that we’re not all that different. The only difference I ever notice is a difference in values and an inability to grasp where each other is coming from – essentially, mankind continues to struggle with understanding what is important to each other and why.
But there’s definitely more great people than bad, and here’s the perspective of an amazing and very bloody funny friend in Sydney – the great Gav- who once said something along the lines of ‘let all the asylum seekers in. I’d rather have someone who’d been through all that shit as my neighbour than the lazy bastards who whine about them stealing our jobs. These folks have been through complete shit, they work harder than anyone at building a new life and giving opportunities to their kids, and every one of them is welcome in my country.’ I’m with Gav.
I’m having a laying-down-of-challenges-kind-of-week, so here is my challenge to the world – get out there and meet someone you’ve been taught to “hate” and do it with an open mind. Spend time with them, talk to them and let me know if they change your mind? Hey, you never know, maybe you’ll change their mind about people like YOU while you’re at it?
Yours, without the bollocks