When I was a kid, I was shocked to learn that some people treated minorities differently in my country. As a small town girl from the U.S. midwest, it literally never occured to me, at the time, that people may be treated different because of their color, nationality, religion or other qualities that can distinguish someone as a proverbial swan among ducks.
However, now that I´ve lived as a minority in East Africa, the Caribbean and South America these past 11 years, I can say that it´s a truly eye opening experience.
And one that I think everyone should have.
Because living as a minority is more than just suffering the kind of sensationalized oppression you see in the media. It´s a million little subtleties that collect like grains of sand on the vast beach of your life.
And like all beaches, occasionally there are shards of glass in the sand.
Though you shouldn´t let that discourage you. Because until someone has told you to your face that you “must be a whore”, because all women from your country are perceived as such in that particular place, how can you ever look upon any woman the same way?
Or when someone grabs you in the street, demanding money because of the color of your skin.
It´s the sound of children following you and laughing because you look different.
It´s the look of impatience in the eyes of your peers as you struggle to learn a new language.
It´s a special food craving you have, which is quickly dismissed or laughed at because it´s not part of the normal cusine where you happen to be living.
It´s people trying to charge you more money in a market because of your color.
It´s knowing that you always stand out in a crowd and sometimes not in a good way.
It´s the feeling of dread when a local tells you that you´ll likely be kidnapped because of the color of your skin.
It´s the nervous explanation that follows questions about your religon.
It´s people touching your hair or skin without permission, even if no harm is intended.
It´s having your opinion dismissed because you weren´t born there.
It´s having people make rude assumptions about your relationship as a mixed race couple.
And many times, it´s the feeling of being stranded on another planet entirely.
However, like all coins, there is another side to this. Being a minority somewhere can also be very enlightening!
Like when you make friends and connections that transcend borders and languages.
Or fall in love despite cultural barriers.
It´s the hard won respect of locals who no longer see you as some kind of interloper.
It´s the strength and fortitude that develops after having a thousand bricks thrown at you that never actually broke you.
It´s being able to move beyond negative cultural stereotypes.
It´s the understanding that all humans are the same in the way that they tend to fear things that are outside the status quo.
It´s the realization that people´s issues were never about you.
It´s the solemn resolve that you´ll never stand idly by while another person is oppressed for the same reasons you were.
It´s seeing how politicians throughout the world use our differences as a means to keep us divided.
It´s acknowledging everyone´s culture as sacred.
Lastly, it´s the tender recognition that our similarities far outweigh our differences.
Though it hasn´t always been a bed of roses (I´ve literally had to run for my life in some cases), I wouldn´t trade these experiences for anything.
Being able to see the world through another set of eyes is a gift not for the feint of heart, but a precious one none the less. So if you choose to dive into these deep and sometimes shark infested waters, I promise the reward is worth the effort.
Until next time, keep wandering folks.