I have been reading a lot of non-fiction lately, and also perusing a lot of content in regards to culture and race, most notably after reading this book – In the Land of Invisible Women , watching this Instagram Video about Asians being Model Minorities, and thinking in general about all the ways we ALL find ways to separate ourselves.
I do it, myself. I find myself gravitating or talking more with people with whom I feel have a shared cultural background, because there are things I can say that do not need to be explained and they get it. It is easier. Easier and lazier than trying to connect with someone who doesn’t have my shared background and to have to work to understand them and vice versa – not that I am averse to it, but I can see myself putting a tiny bit more effort into getting to know people whom I think will be ‘given’ as connections or friends, just because of our shared cultures.
I even see it in children – the ones who speak French stick to those who do as well, or English, and as you get older, you start getting little cliques (little girls are the worst for this) or clumps of people where you “bond” together on the fact that you’re both blonde, or that you’re both from a similar area in the city.
It makes me wonder about kids who are caught in the middle of both worlds – neither one nor the other, any mixed-race kids, or even those who were from one country ethnically (or at least their parents were), but then were born in another; they are caught in a strange sort of limbo of not belonging to one or the other.
I have a friend who is a Romanian Jew from Spain but his parents immigrated to in Canada when he was younger. He always talks about how he is not one or the other. He is everything and not anything at the same time.
He is Jewish yes, but he is also not.
He is Romanian yes, but he is also not.
He is Spanish, yes, but he is also not.
He is Canadian yes, but he is also not.
Any country or group of people he goes to, to say “Ah! You are just like me!“, he is told he is not. He is told his accent is not Russian, it is Spanish/Canadian. He is told he doesn’t speak Hebrew like a real Jew (that’s a lie, it sounds fine to me.. LOL).
We always find a way as humans to include or exclude others, intentionally or not.
I read in one of Harford’s books, I think it was this one – The Undercover Economist – that no matter how you try your best to introduce or force diversity into a neighbourhood such as having one house have one race/culture, another a different one, and so on, over time, these neighbourhoods will eventually segregate themselves, with clumps of one race in one area, clumps of another in another area and so on.
When I read this, it fascinated me, and now I am unable to unsee this in my own neighbourhood. We have an area where only those who are Jewish are, or another area where all of the Spanish-speakers live… and I see it now. And it makes sense.
People like to be with those of a shared or perceived of as shared cultural background – and I am no different. My closest friends are the most like me in every which way possible.
It started to make me think about all the ways this also affects women as a result — with that ubiquitous glass ceiling we always hear about. Women can’t seem to ‘break through’ this glass ceiling because everyone is acting the way they normally act; they’re segregating themselves into like-minded, similar groups because that’s what humans do.
Of course that doesn’t excuse any of the pay inequality, racism, sexism and so on, but when you learn this, you start seeing it everywhere you go and in everything you read such as:
Black women taunting each other for being too white – in Africa from what I have read/watched, it is ‘better’ to be VERY black; if you’re lighter-skinned, they know you’ve “mixed” and aren’t “pure” (whatever the F that means). In that book I mentioned above, Saudi Arabians even go as far as to say: No I am Pure Saudi …. to distinguish themselves from being an Iraqi Saudi, etc. AS IF IT MATTERS but okay, it is a way to exclude people, essentially.
But here in North America, if you are TOO black, you’re teased. I have read accounts of young black girls getting teased for being too black, or having their hair in a natural state, with many of them finally delirious with joy that at least ONE PERSON most notably Lupita Amondi Nyong’o, is shown as being a successful black(er) actress. Here’s a little girl dressing up as Lupita for Hallowe’en because she is HER role model and representation in the media.
Or how about when the movie Crazy Rich Asians exploded? The comments on the movie (I liked it a lot), had a lot to do with: FINALLY. We are seeing Asians in a contemporary Western film, speaking perfect English, handsome/beautiful in a conventional sense, and most of all, NOT doing stereotypical things like martial arts or being an accountant (or whatever stereotypes there are).
Looking at that glass ceiling again — we don’t see many women because the ones in power, are not women. Yet. Women need to be in positions of power so that other women can see it is possible, get ‘helped up’ (even just seeing it as a possibility makes a difference), and that representation in the areas and industries we want to be in, is possible.
Even looking back at race – how many black female engineers do you see? How many non-white astronauts? Or those in any position of power? To not see any anyone who looks like you, doing a job you think you might like to do, has a profound impact on a child.
Once you see the representation being skewed, you can’t.. unsee it. At least, I can’t.
Even within each culture/race, they break themselves down even further into tinier groups with the strangest filters possible – how many grandsons do you have (UGH patriarchy.. I hate that girls are not valued especially as a successful woman myself), or who drives what car, or owns what house, etc. We will ALWAYS find a way to classify ourselves into groups.
We as humans, will always find a way to find people who look, think, act and are very similar to us because we find strength and solace in knowing we are not the only ones who are like this out there. We bond over skin colour, race, shared language… ANYTHING. We are always trying to find a bond with someone else – a stranger, in any way possible, and skin colour unfortunately is the easiest one for us to use.
I have no real point to this post, just an observation, a swirl of thoughts that has been happening in my brain in the past few weeks, even years.
Update: I re-read this post and I in fact do have some points (haha)
Representation matters a lot
Seeing people LIKE YOU in higher positions, makes a huge difference in what children (and even myself today) can imagine for ourselves. I am very happy to see this changing.
When I grew up, only white Barbie dolls existed. Now we have still super unrealistic expectations of a Barbie doll being super tall, with a chest so massive that if she were real, she’d topple over, but nevertheless, I am seeing more inclusion.
We have to work against our own ingrained biases
We should recognize this, understand we have a bias or a preference and actively work to think objectively even though we find it difficult.
It is like how we all have grown up under a very patriarchal mindset for the most part, and I am finding I have to unlearn the most banal of misogynist examples I have accepted as part of my biases such as:
- When I say “doctor”, a man comes to mind immediately, or any other kind of role, whereas “nurse” makes me think of a woman
- I think of French for instance (or French people) and they have a certain stereotype of being elegant, etc and superior when they are in fact not more or less inferior or superior than anyone else in terms of culture (e.g. even speaking French language is seen as a sign of prestige or class)
- I am slowly finding it less uncomfortable to watch a man express emotion or cry – this is such a good thing, as where I grew up, I was really not shown this in any way or taught this
- I am able to recognize toxic masculinity now when they say: “You throw like a girl” as an insult, or “Where I come from, REAL MEN don’t do that”
I need to work on ALL of this that is in my head, and I am working on not passing these on to Little Bun.