Racism has become an immensely troublesome subject to tackle of late, with the Charleston shooting and Rachel Dolezal appropriating a black culture to which she doesn't belong and so many, many white commentators telling people of colour how they should feel about their ethnic origins.
There is nothing more obnoxious than a person who has not lived the experience of racial discrimination telling someone else what is and is not racist. When it comes to oppression and prejudice, two terms which have become repeated so often in mainstream media that some people have conflated them with "gratuitous martyrdom", I have but one belief: as a white-cast Italian-Maltese-Australian woman, it is not my goddamn place to tell people they don't qualify for "feeling oppressed." Instead, I have cast aside judgement, and made it my mission to listen and understand why, rather than scrabbling for justifications as to why not. And I have learned.
Every single day during my travels around the world, I am finding myself humbled and awed by both the diversity and commonality of human experience. All people have basic similarities that transcend identity, race, geographic location, gender, or sexual orientation: we value happiness, and dignity, and community, in whatever form that may take.
But the chains that connect all people can carry the great weight of humanity's flaws, also. Opportunism is one example. Greed is another. Selfishness, to a degree, exists within us all. But the most disappointing baseline upon which all humans seem to function has, for me, been proven to be racism.
People have always been tribal in nature; it comes back to our deep need for interpersonal relationships in the form of community. To feel like we belong somewhere and with some people is to mandate places where we do not belong, and people with whom we do not relate. And so racism is an international constant.
In Myanmar, even the oppressed ethnic minorities have little compassion for the Rohingya people. In Hong Kong, a peculiar social hierarchy exists in which expats trump locals, who in turn are superior to the Filipino domestic servants, who in turn denigrate the Indonesian domestic servants... and somewhere beyond this microcosm of racial ranking, there is an overarching contempt for the "mainlanders" who hail from China proper. In Canada, the persecution of First Nations people is in the slow, tenuous process of atonement from government and general population alike, but the loathing of Chinese economic migrants remains scathing in the extreme. And always, regardless of minority, there is the same refrain: "They don't have it so bad. They're just playing the oppression card." As if anyone finds empowerment in being pitied, prostrating themselves before others to proclaim, "I am a victim."
And the examples that I have witnessed are just a few amongst dozens and hundreds and thousands of ethnic groups and nations and statehoods and personhoods of places I have been, have not, will, and will not. And it breaks my goddamn heart.
So instead of blindly following the casual tribalistic patterns that have become so ingrained in the human psyche, I am making a conscious decision to call out (politely) any such casual racism. Because it is confronting to hear someone slam Vancouver as "Hongcouver", just as it is to see the greater Australasia region effectively spit in the dirt at the mention of the Rohingya people, fleeing genocide. And I am finding it harder and harder to discern a context in which the word "assimilate" is not as loaded as a chambered bullet.
To those I meet along the way: forgive me if my "naive foreigner" gambit becomes prying. But as someone who comes not from the communities who are kindly allowing me entrance, I do not intuitively recognise who are the "haves" and who are the "have nots" until I am told - because that is the only way these groups are determined at all, is it not? So I will ask questions that may be uncomfortable to answer. Questions like: "Why would you say that about this race? Can you explain this stereotype to me?".
And if the answer fails to satisfy... well then, you will know what my face looks like when equal parts bemused and confused as I remark, "Wow. That's straight-up racist."
And I hope that this label, not so dissimilar to those that you have bandied about so wantonly in stereotyping others, inspires you to take pause and ruminate upon the venom you have burbled. I want to help bring compassion and acceptance to the fore.
And so I will comfortably trot out my ignorance... in the hopes of curtailing yours.
Scarlett Hawkins writes novels... But in her spare time, she writes rants.