My first experience encountering any sort of racism or discrimination happened more than a decade ago. As a white woman, I have seen very little prejudice based on my race. But I remember this encounter well: As I was walking into a restaurant with my boyfriend at the time, I heard a little girl’s voice behind us ask her father, “Daddy, why is she holding hands with a black man?” I heard some sort of grumbling of an answer back, but was too stunned to fully comprehend what he said exactly. I was still shocked that a girl, all of four years old, could have asked such a question. The irony of this situation is that the man I was dating was born in El Salvador and had been living in the United States since he was a teenager. There were few times in which we encountered anything more than passing glances, but being in a relationship in which two people are of different cultures and/or races can pique many people’s curiosity whether they mean to stare or not.
Ultimately, if you’re into a relationship with someone of a different race or culture, you can face many points of opposition, whether it is from family, friends or society as a whole. Or you can find yourself surprised by the warmth and respect that each of you experience by the people in your life.Exploring Race and Culture
In society there is a notion that in order to not be called a racist you have to either be colorblind to race or culture, or you have to be friends with one person that is different from yourself, and you reach some sort of “safe zone.” To truly understand the strengths of other cultures or racial experiences, it takes more than just skimming the surface. Just as you would pursue a passion or hobby, so too can you begin to open your mind to others’ experiences.
The first step to understanding another person’s experience is to start a dialogue. By initiating a conversation where you ask a few questions and thoroughly listen, you’ll begin to understand how the person grew up, what different values and events transpired for this person and how that has shaped the person as a human being. There can be differences in beliefs, religion, family background and cultural celebrations, but as you get to know people of different cultures, you’ll begin to see aspects of how these unique traits can enhance your experience on this earth. You’ll also learn that many people have similarities to your own experience, given that we all are part of the larger race of humans.
As you find yourself immersed in others’ experiences, you may want learn more on your own. By doing research online about a specific country’s history or by reading books by authors of the culture or race you are exploring, you can gain a further understanding of a culture. You may also find events in your area celebrating different cultural holidays or points of importance for a race or culture. Go to these events and check out what you’ve been missing. Another way to further understand cultures is to explore the music, dance and art that is produced by people of other cultures and races. It can give you a first hand glimpse into the soul of a people and enrich your own life at the same time.
As you begin to explore and thoroughly get to know others from a different race or culture, you could find yourself entering into deep relationships, whether it be based in love or friendship. As you spend a lot of time with people of other cultures, some people from your own race may feel the need to comment, whether it be family or friends or just society in general.Coping with Racism
No matter how much lip service is paid to the subject, racism is still very prevalent in our society. And if you’re from a race that is more of the majority of people in the place where you live and you walk down the street or into a store with someone of a different race or culture, you will get noticed. I don’t think that everyone who turns your direction is attempting to give you the evil eye, but people’s insatiable curiosity about something that is seemingly different to them, can result into glances, stares and yes even dirty looks. Most of the time you can just ignore the stares; not that you won’t notice them, but you can at least dismiss them. But what can you do with blatant comments that leave you feeling worthless?
Often times, I think when the comments coming from family members or close friends, it hurts the most. When you have people already close to your heart that judge others because of differences, it is really hard to know what to say. Ultimately, the person closest to you often just thinks they are sharing an opinion or helpful advice because it may be a belief held dear to them. Sometimes the best think to do, is to ignore the comments no matter how ignorant a remark is given that severing ties may not be possible. Another way to cope with blatant racism is by having an honest discussion with the offender in private. By telling the person how you feel may not get the offender to change his or her mind, but at least they might stop harassing you with “advice” and comments. Other times, you might find yourself walking away from relationships with such people altogether, if it comes to that.
Ultimately, the only way to bridge the gap between ignorance and being able to enjoy relationships comes in the form of communication. By learning about others no matter what their background through honest conversation, you’ll find the strength in each other and the relationship you possess to combat anyone else’s opinion.