MY friend Pankaz landed in the U.S.A for his new job at the Univ of South Carolina and this was one of his first experiences there:
“We were eating in a cafe, 5 of us, one each from Japan, Hungary, Czech, Sweden and I, at 2-30 daytime. Here comes a hefty black guys and starts talking, half of which I dont understand. He says, "i don’t have a gun, no education, I am poor, I want to ask a question...." etc. He is extremely dirty, long-bearded, has unkempt hair and most probably is mentally disturbed. Then, I look at him and turn my face, because I was shit scared. And after his speech, he asks, "Yes or no?" The swede replies, No. Then he points at me and shouts "This motherfucker is a racist." and goes away. I thank God that he didn’t pull out a gun.”
So out of an entire group of foreigners, it was Pankaz, the brown skin who was picked out because he looked different.
This brought back memories of my own experience in 1990. My husband was participating in the Salzburg Seminar at Vienna and on a Saturday a bus was arranged to take the participants to the Black Forest Region and Bavaria in Germany. My son and I were also invited to join in . So there we were, a bus full of people from all over the world, English, Irish, Australian, European and the three of us. At the German Border, the bus stopped at passport control. The man from the cubicle shouted something in German to the driver and the driver said something about “Inde” and so the officers came in and only the three of us were asked to produce our passports. It was amusing but humiliating too. Some of the other passengers were appalled too at this open display of “racism”.
I suppose it is a basic instinct to be suspicious of anyone who is “different”. We notice it among animals all the time. I am sure if we were to encounter a being looking like Speilberg’s ET our first impulse would be to scream and run. But I cannot understand this suspicion among humans based on the colour of skin or eye or hair after having shared the planet together for so many centuries and in this time and age where the distances between continents have shrunk and in the age of communication revolution through the internet. In fact in the past century, there seems to be an increase of xenophobia and racism. The internationalisation of the labour market and the concommitant immigration patterns and direct competition with migrants for welfare services are two of the reasons for this.
Much work is being done at a political, educational level in all countries and by many NGO s to weed out xenophobia and racism. But it seems to be well entrenched in the human psyche as seen from very recent events. This is one of the greatest challenges facing humanity today.
What will the future see? A world where people are able to appreciate and accept the differences among one another and still be able to respect one another and celebrate their differences rather than attempting to impose their own ways on others? Or one where everyone talks , walks, wears and eats alike( and much worse Looks and thinks alike )and not be very different from our mass produced and genetically modified vegetables.
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