Growing up, I spent a fair amount of time in other countries. From the summer of my eleventh birthday up through college, I spend time in places where I was not the same color as the majority of the people that I was surrounded by. I spent several months in Africa, traveled with missions trips to South and Central America, and lived in Costa Rica. I had been a member of the minority, and it was a healthy experience that did a lot to shape my perceptions in life.
What I have realized recently, though, is that I never suffered for being a part of the minority. Sure, kids in rural African villages would cry upon seeing the “white kid” because their older siblings had informed them that white people were cannibals. Granted, I had to pay slightly (okay, extremely) higher prices in the markets of Mexico.
I had never before, though, been looked down upon or refused service for the color of my skin, for the nation that I came from. I had been a part of the minority, but a minority that was, overall, respected and treated well. I had never been the victim of racism.
Just recently did I realize just how seriously different those two situations were.
The last day that my family and I were in Thailand, we went to a weekend market famous for being one of the world’s most expansive. Basically everything was sold in one of the 30 or so endless sections filled with swarms of people: food, clothes, jewelry, resale items, books, squid eggs (I didn’t know squid had eggs?), wicker furniture – you name it, it was there.
The section that I was the most excited for, however, was the pet section. From guide books and my own experience in Indonesian markets, I knew that they would have all kinds of crazy animals that one could never find/buy in the States. I couldn’t wait to introduce my family to these interesting creatures.
Asking questions and studying the map, I figured out the store that they would be in. The owner quickly stood up from his chair and came to block the doorway that my sister and I were in the process of entering through. “No,” he stated simply, with no explanation. I didn’t understand at first why he would forbid me access. As I stood there, surprised, three Asians arrived and were promptly admitted access to his shop. Anna and I tried to follow, but he stuck his arm out and forbade that we enter. “No. White.” He would not listen to anything that I had to say, but rudely interrupted with a gruff, “Go away, no enter. Closed.”
Several more times that day I received lesser service from shop owners and taxi drivers, or was completely denied service.
My utter disappointment quickly turned to fury. How dare he refuse me the thing that I had been looking forward to based solely on the color of my skin. It was ludicrous.
It was stupid and idiotic and racist and every other negative term I could conjure. My anger at this insufferable city grew, and I decided that I loathed Bangkok. How could such a thing be allowable?
As I was seething, though, I realized that it was only several decades ago that this was the way that things legally worked in my country. That it was my race that was responsible for treating others with this disregard. And not only did people act in such a way, but the government condoned it and that it was acceptable. That you could be penalized for speaking out against it.
What had frustrated me most was that I was completely helpless against the injustice. I cannot fathom having another wall of too-bad-you-can’t-do-anything-about-it installed by the government.
Most angering is that I know that this is not a thing of the past. I know that service is still refused, or lesser service grudgingly given. And I know that it happens on American soil, “the land of the free” where “every man was created equal.”
Being part of the minority is currently my life. It’s hard sometimes – a lot of times – but it’s beautiful. I love living in another culture (most of the time), and I love the happy marriage between cultures that co-exist.
Being a part of the minority, though, is oh-so-different from being the victim of racism. I cannot even begin to claim that I understand that, because I don’t. I simply had a taste of it for a few hours, and that was enough to send me on an angry rampage.
While I wish that everyone could feel what I did as the victim in this situation – and let’s be honest, it was very brief – I know that the reality is that the majority of white America will never be on that side of the coin.
I claim no expertise or anywhere near a full understanding of suffering from racism. As a member of the majority in my own country, though, I felt a need to share my own harsh lesson, to point out that this is still happening.
And that it sucks.
And that ‘we’, the majority, are the ones who need to do something to stop it.
We are so blessed to live in a country that is a melting pot. I know that I, personally, have found so much benefit and joy from the other cultures that have touched my life. It really is an opportunity to have the “best of both [many] worlds.” What do I miss most about America? Speaking Spanish. Which restaurant do I want to visit first upon my return? P.F. Chang’s. What kind of chocolate is my favorite? Belgian. The way that cultures have blended to create America is the reason that it is so great.
So why can’t we, then, respect all of these cultures and people that have made our lives so much richer?
I challenge you to ponder this as you go through your day today.