Thursday, March 27, 2014

More comfortable with the other

We all have some kind of racial prejudice going on, simply because very few of us (if any) have been in contact with every single ethnicity in the world. In the absence of direct experience, we have to rely on secondary sources, and they are full of generalisations and other prejudices.

Those of us lucky to live in multicultural environments have a head start, as we are, more often than not, familiar with the sense of discovery that accompanies getting rapidly to know someone from a different culture. Perhaps I should talk about myself only - I'm aware that my friend in Bulgaria will probably not experience the kind of openness to 'others' that I have made an aspect of my experience, in her lifetime, simply because she lives in a country with very little immigration. Meanwhile, I have made close friends and dated people who had a different skin colour, who have been born in places I haven't travelled to and will probably never get the chance to see. They in turn have multicultural social circles which differ to mine. We have been shaped to be more open than most.

While window shopping in Zurich city I met a woman from Tibet who told me that she had learned to tell which African country visitors to her shop were from. I wondered if I would get the chance to accumulate such knowledge, seeing as most of Australia's immigrants weren't from Africa. She had the unique opportunity to get to know a certain section of the world due to its proximity to Europe, and her circumstances of being an immigrant herself, perhaps relating to them more easily as a result. There aren't too many outsiders in Tibet, I have been told, though there are more now than there were before (due to a relatively new railway). I feel like I can tell different East Asians apart after just a little time spent with them, though, and perhaps I can do the same for many Europeans.

I guess the best we can do is try to be open to each new experience. Take in as few assumptions as possible, and remain conscious that the ones we do carry may be wrong. Search for ways to be more curious, to ask more questions. Remember the old saying that a stranger is a friend waiting to happen, and that there was a time when you weren't friends with the people you're friends with now.

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