This post is translated from my recent post in Japanese per my friends' request. It's not straight translation. Some contexts are presented differently to better suit in the languages.
Here is a little context for this post. In Japan, they MOSTLY live without interacting with other ethnicities in their country. For that reason, they HARDLY see racial matters in their own life though they are aware of such matters in the world. They don't have big gaps between social classes. Most of them belong to the middle class. Their lowest class would be still far from poverty, which is seen in other cultures. They wouldn't get exposed to so it called classism in a way in other cultures.
When I went to Japan recently, my friend gave me this book. She said that its author was her favorite these days. She said that she loves every single word the author writes. It seems she's been synced with the author a lot. The author lives in Brighton, UK with her husband and son.
The book is titled "I'm yellow, white and a little blue." The author found her son wrote this at the corner of his notebook. He was born in the UK and goes to school there. He doesn't speak Japanese as the base of his life in the UK. Her husband is a British. When she wrote this book, her son was 12 - 13 years old. Being a half Asian, he looks more Asian especially from white people's eyes. As a mother who has experienced getting discriminative words towards Asians, she cannot help thinking what made him to write this. As the book touches some racial matters, she gave the book this title.
The book is mostly about her son's 1 1/2 years in his middle school, his transition from a Catholic elementary school to a public middle school, which is a totally different world where he used to be.
It shows us a reflection of the society, where various ethnicities, social classes are mixed in, in the school. In their world, the way children act and react against races, genders, wealth, poverty and so on could be much more direct, obvious and honest as their hearts naturally respond without any filters adults have. Because of that, it could be a vicious world to live in to them. On the other hand, I think we adults could objectively observe and think about what's happening in our society through their world.
The book mentions that the education for children to understand their own rights as children, diversity in the UK, awareness and acceptance of others starts in their early age in that country. I'm quite impressed by that. I don't know how the US handles these matters for children, but I've seen that media report people, who believe they're treated unfairly, claim their own rights through lawsuits, protests and so on, but it's so rare to see talking about the roots of those issues or what actually creates those situations in media. We could make a law to define certain activities as illegal and punishment against such activities, but that's not necessarily change people's perception, where the actual source of the issues lives.
Discrimination exists anywhere. It seems that every culture handles discrimination in their own way. Discrimination against race, age, sex, poor, disabilities and so on exists where I live, too. I take this opportunity, and talked about some of them I've seen, heard or experienced in my 20 years in the US.
I've never felt the gaps in social classes around me. Sure, I had some financially rough time to myself, but it was still far from poverty. I've seen homeless people on the streets in New York and Boston and sad trailer parks in rural areas. I have driven through some areas where houses in rough shapes lined up. But, I'm not aware that I've ever directly interacted anybody who lives in poverty, either.
There are rich towns and poor towns. You see big beautiful well maintained houses in those rich towns. Their streets are quiet and peaceful. On the other hand, poor towns have uneasy air. You don't feel safe. Their streets are trashed and cluttered. Shooting is a daily incident in some of them. Whenever you see shooting incident on news, you'd guess "It must be in that town again", then your guess would be usually right.
My co-worker at the place I used to work had 2 children in elementary school. A part of their school district was a poor community, and the parents couldn't afford Christmas gifts for their own children. So, the school set up a Christmas tree at school, had students from that community write what they wished for Christmas on cards and put them on the Christmas tree instead of ornaments, then asked people who came to school help.
As she learnt that, she picked some cards from the tree and we prepared gifts for those kids. What they asked for was not a computer game, neither a Barbie doll. They asked for an Eric Carle's book and a painting kit. We'd never met those kids, so I've never got a chance to see how they were living.
I've noticed there are some sort of segregation, but I've never directly heard or seen actual classism against individuals... although I might not be aware of that.
White people has a perception that white people are different from non-white people (= colored people), and there is segregation for that matter with their superiority over non-white people. That exists within them just like the gravity exists or the air exists.
Let say, there is a couple of a white person and a non-white person. The non-white person got treated unfairly and disrespectfully from other white people. He tells what he experienced to his white spouse. Then, she responds "What's the matter?" So, he points out the unfairness and disrespect of the incident. Still, she doesn't get it. No matter how obvious the unfairness and disrespect are, that's not the point to her. The way she sees it is that he is not white, so that's how it's suppose to be. She is not aware that why she sees it that way and has no doubt with how she sees it. She doesn't understand why he makes a big deal of it. To her, everything is normal and there is nothing to discuss.
Along with this sample case, I heard this from the white phycologist I used to get counseling.
When you think of race discrimination in America, you might think it's mostly based on skin colors, but I've heard there is discrimination between white people.
People who immigrated from all over the Europe, English, Irish, Italians, French, German, Jewish, Polish, and so on, and their descendants could discriminate white people whose roots are different from theirs. You might have seen such scenes in American movies. They have their own discrimination between them.
Not only white people, but also African Americans, Asians, Latinos and others could have discrimination against other races.
These people from different roots live in a neighborhood, and work in an organization together. When they get to know each other in person, they get along despite of their race and roots. Of course, if they discriminate others in an apparent way, they know they could lose their jobs...
To avoid misunderstanding, not everybody discriminates others. Many people see others as an individual person beyond race, and get along with people from different roots.
Media report many conflicts in the Muslim world. Their culture is mysterious and not known by others so much. As long as I know, Muslim people are loving and thoughtful. At least, the muslim people I've met are like that. After the 9.11, they were misunderstood and treated unfairly for a while. Everybody should have known it is not the truth "Muslims = terrorists." Some people couldn't accept that.
This is a story when I had a part time job at a retailer. A young Muslim couple came to the store. The husband asked me about what they were looking for. The store didn't have it, so I told them we didn't carry that item. Then, he snapped and started yelling at me with rage. "Just because we're Muslims, you don't sell your stuff to us? We have no reason to be treated this way!" The manager heard his voice and came out to the counter, and asked him what was going on. He told her about what they were looking for and I told him the store didn't have it. She confirmed that the store didn't carry the item and told me to go to the back. Then, she faced him and said "Well, it is true that we don't have what you're looking for, and nobody in this store discriminates you. That girl is an Asian. She is a minority. What makes you think she discriminates you? We don't need such trouble. Please leave the store now."
After they left the store, I kept thinking about his behavior like paranoia. Probably, they'd treated unfairly wherever they'd gone. They were hurt deeply. Just imagining what they'd gone through made me cry.
I was surprised with finding unreasonable perception around me. One day, I was walking to the train station with my boss after work. He started talking about the TV program he watched. "It said the Muslim population would be XX% in the whole population by 20XX. That's terrifying. There would be always wars in the world." I was thinking how he could say such nonsense seriously... It is the historical fact that we've had so many wars in the Christian dominant world. Plus, in the 15th and 16th centuries a.k.a the era of Age of Discovery, the invasion of the European countries as Christians is well known as a process of bringing gold, spices, silk, cotton, tea and so on to their countries. He kept talking "I don't know what they are thinking." So, I said "We have a Muslim in our team." He was truly surprised and responded "Is that true?" I confirmed it was true, then he stopped talking about the subject. My Muslim co-worker has no idea about this, and he likes and trusts the boss.
Concept of Discrimination
After a couple of years since I moved into the US, I had an opportunity to join the project to develop a website for a non-profit organization, which was run by a local programming study group. I visited a developer with Caroline, the founder of the group and who invited me to the group. The developer was a white. He looked in mid fifties. He apparently looked down on me, treated me as if I knew nothing. Back then, I didn't have much English vocabularies, but it was quite obvious he was saying something discriminative against me through his attitude and some words I could pick up. Nonetheless I didn't care whatever he was doing in the meeting. It was right after the Y2K. The recession triggered laid-offs. Many programmers got laid off. I often heard that American programmers said that their companies let them go, but the companies kept Chinese and Indian programmers... He might have seen me as a problem which would take jobs away from Americans like him. As soon as we left his house, Caroline exploded as if she was the one who was insulted. "He shouldn't treat you like that!"
A couple days later, we had another meeting with a programmer. Caroline opened up her frustration from the last meeting. Dave quietly listened to her. He was also white and seemed to be in mid fifties. When she finished talking, he put a little pause, then calmly started talking. "Hum, I don't think discrimination never goes away no matter what. I see discrimination as a survival instinct to protect own species." He saw discrimination was a biology matter beyond sociology. He still didn't justify discrimination, but introduced us a new perception for it. Putting superiority to own species over others and do whatever it takes to survive. This has been repeated in our history despite of the scale of it. It is true that is also happening in the nature in various scales. Dave's words completely changed my concept of discrimination.
True Meaning of Discrimination
The Oxford Learner's Dictionaries defines discrimination as:
- the practice of treating somebody or a particular group in society less fairly than others
- (approving) the ability to judge what is good, true, etc.
- (formal) the ability to recognize a difference between one thing and another; a difference that is recognized
The Collins COBUILD dictionary defines discrimination as:
- Discrimination is the practice of treating one person or group of people less fairly or less well than other people or groups.
- Discrimination is knowing what is good or of high quality.
- Discrimination is the ability to recognize and understand the differences between two things.
The respected Japanese dictionary defines it as the first and third ones above.
Discrimination happens anywhere we find difference between two parties. Although when we hear the word "discrimination", it triggers some negative emotions and we map it to the first definition. Then, we automatically position discrimination in the negative side. The first definition involves prejudice, bias and negative emotions with the third definition. But I believe "discrimination" was initially defined as the third meaning: the ability to recognize a difference between one thing and another; a difference that is recognized
In this world, nobody is identical to others. We could be individuals because we have differences and we are unique. Of course, we have a lot of similarities to each other, but still none of those are identical between elements any of us have. Nobody has the same features, skin colors, hair colors, voices, senses, perceptions, and etc. When we feel we have something same as others', the element just has similarity almost looks identical, but again, they never be identical.
Many people feel safe when they find themselves same as the majority, recognize they belong to the majority. But, the "sameness" doesn't exist as the truth. The truth is everybody is unique and everybody is different. Our world consist of the uniqueness. If everybody thoughts exactly same and do only same things, this world wouldn't exist.
We've been taught that we're all equal, and we deserve to be treated equally as we've faced discriminative matters. But if we have an instinct of recognizing we are different from others, the perception faces a contradiction. Our DNA wouldn't agree to it.
Isn't that healthier to admit we are all different instead? Everybody is unique. It's time to accept that uniqueness as difference lets us survive together. When the uniqueness is genuinely presented and is accepted with respect, that becomes beneficial to everybody. Then, the world would be easier place to be for anybody. Instead of excluding differences, including them. We are all different and unique and we are the aggregation of them. Everybody has a place for themselves in this world. It would be much easier to live with that perception rather than finding a reason to fight for differences to eliminate everything different from you.
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