I will focus on telling stories on racial discrimination. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
You’re in another country, a predominantly white country. You get on a tram and you’re probably buried in a book – or listening to some music via earphones while admiring the passing countryside. Suddenly, for some reason you’re brought back to the present and you realise several things: 1) you’re still the only one on your seat – a seat meant to sit three people, 2) all the other seats are occupied, 3) there are several people standing but they would rather stand than sit with you. Racial discrimination at its peak!
How does that make you feel?
You have to be pretty used to it for it not to get to you. Or maybe you’re walking down the side of the road and you suddenly notice that people are crossing to the other side just to get past you – or the ladies are clutching their bags and speeding up their pace when you get close.
You can’t help but wonder, do I have something on my face – or is it the smell?
How about this one (and this is the one that kills me)? You’re at one of the international airports of your own country. You’re there to pick up a friend or family member who hasn’t been in the country for several years; you’re understandably excited. You want to get into the airport to wait, but the well-dressed policeman at the door points you to the other side of the road where people like you are waiting.
Grudgingly, you go there only for you to see the same policeman stand aside for a family of another race. They’re probably airport staff,you tell yourself consolingly.
But then, the same thing repeats itself within moments of the first time. And then, you cannot help but wonder what country you’re in and how it is that people of your own skin colour do not work in that airport.
Any of the above sound familiar?
Experiences like these build a deep-seated feeling of resentment within the strongest of us all. It’s a quite upsetting feeling to realise you’re being treated like a second-class human being just because of the way you look. It’s even worse when it’s from someone who looks like you. But then, how do you react?
I’ve met a number of foreigners who live and work in Nigeria – and an interesting number of them are quite nice and polite. But I must confess, a couple of times I have had to smother feelings of anger and resentment.
It’s not as though I know for a fact that those people are from the countries that gave me those unpleasant experiences that I described earlier; I do not even know if they even had anything remotely to do with the situation. Just because I had some unpleasantness done to me by someone who looked like them, my hackles automatically rise when I’m meeting someone who looks like them.
Now tell me, who’s the racist?
I know from experience the dumbest of all things to do is to relate on someone simply because of what they look like. I also know you cannot separate people from their experiences. We know not to generalise; people are constantly throwing generalisations in our faces – being of a particular tribe, being from a particular country, a particular continent, a particular sex. Wonder when someone will generalise us with “being human”. It’s the human in us, though, that makes us err about certain things.
A brand – it was either Coke or Pepsi – had a small social experiment in which they had a number of people seated around a table in a dark room with blindfolds and they were asked to make assumptions about the person in front of them based on touch, sound and smell (I think). After a few minutes, the lights were turned on – and NOT a single one of them was right.
Stereotypes abound all around us; the media, movies, news and so on feed us these things – these lies – regularly. If a bomb goes off somewhere, the Arab or Muslim did it. If a store got robbed, the black guy did it. And because our realities are different from these things, we should know better than to treat someone else in some mean kind of way just because.
Animals do not discriminate. How then are we better than them? What has been your experience with racial discrimination?
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