Many people work for years in multi-cultural communities and are thought of as non-racist, and then some situation comes along that they react to in a racist manner. Why?
Although the issue is very complex, part of the answer lies in an instinctual wariness of individuals outside of our pack, or group. In school it is easy to see kids alienate any other child that is “different” in any way: maybe their glasses are too thick, or their hair is different, or they have an accent, or a disability, or their clothes are different. Most families try to teach our children to see beyond this. As we age, most of us encounter more “differences” in life and learn to see beyond these differences and accept people as they are.
Yet sometimes we still feel uncomfortable when encountering someone who is substantially different than what we have encountered before, and we still may struggle to accept them. This needs to be anticipated, as we will always encounter something new. In my life I watched as people struggled to accept hippies, then punkers, then folks with piercings and then facial tattoos. I have watched my Vancouver community struggle with the arrival of Sikhs wearing turbans and Jamaicans with dreadlocks. Even though Vancouver is a presently a densely multiracial and interracial community where immigrants are embraced much faster, world events have stirred up racist actions targeting Chinese, even though Chinese immigrants were part of the fabric of Vancouver when it was being built, and many Chinese families have been Canadians far longer than those that are targeting them. There will always be some group that is “othered”, and we must work hard to overcome these times, and support those that are targeted.
Traveling the world, I have encountered racism everywhere. Sometimes just small things like I encountered when young children in Asia screaming in terror at seeing my white skin, or a large group of kids throwing rocks at me as I entered a remote village, because their parents told them that a white ghost would come to get them if they were bad. Often though racism can grind a person down, and is oppressive. I have friends that encounter racism every single day on the streets of Vancouver.
Accepting each other no matter our culture, race, language, or lifestyle takes an active effort. We must make the effort to learn to understand the person inside first, before the instinct to judge the outside takes hold. We must remind ourselves that we may look as different to others as they may to us. The differences between us are opportunities to learn new values, languages, lifestyles, food, and ways to love. Cultures are rich and encountering one that is different from ours for the first time is an opportunity to explore those riches. Our instinctual rejection of “difference” lessens the more we make the world around us, and our own life, full of people with different cultures, lifestyles, languages, or ways of thinking.
Celebrate our differences as a human family, and we all reap the rewards