Tags: Difference, Mockery, Racism
The above quote was sent to me by Freddy, and I feel it is the perfect title for this blog since it seems if I am in any one place for long enough, invariably I face some sort of “racism” or mockery for looking different. I put the word racism in quotes because I realize not all seeming racist behavior is actually bona fide racism. For example, it is extremely common for people here to call me “China,” and/or to greet me by saying “Nihau.” I realize these individuals are simply trying to get my attention, and there is likely no actual racism or other negative intention behind greeting me in this way, so it hasn’t bothered me too much (though I admit I much prefer it when I am simply called “sister”). Likewise, though I imagine these individuals are aware there are other Asians in addition to the Chinese, I suppose China’s dominance on the international stage excuses them for assuming I must be so.
The other day, however, I faced what I consider an incident of true mockery for being Asian. I was walking by a group of young men and one stood and bowed at me, palms pressed together, while repeatedly saying “Nihau” in a high nasal voice with what I assume was his best attempt at a Chinese accent. His friends sat behind him, laughing merrily at his performance. I, in the meantime, was instantly swept back to days of yore when people did similar things such as speaking fake Chinese/Japanese/Korean/Vietnamese/etc. to me, pulling at their eyes while saying “Ah soh,” telling me my eyes were like toothpicks, telling me I had a flat face, calling me things like “won ton” and “chop suey,” etc. Also similar to days of yore was how much this young man’s gesture both surprised me, and hurt my feelings. No matter how many times I have faced this kind of behavior before, or how much “older and wiser” I become, I can’t seem to develop any kind of a thick skin for incidents like this, and am always shaken when they occur. It also puts me in hypersensitivity mode, so it didn’t help that some time later, another gentleman tried to get my attention by yelling “Ching Chong” at me over and over, which was another first. (Sigh.)
However, one thing this summer has been about is gaining perspective on a variety of things, the other day’s incident being no exception. I can’t help but think of the pygmies and the discrimination they face, which makes the above event seem beyond minor. Not to de-validate what I personally think are warranted feelings of offense when stuff like this happens, but there are scales of discrimination, and being bowed at and nasally “nihau’d” isn’t even close to being in the same category as being, for example, arbitrarily arrested and thrown in jail simply for crossing over a hill; others deciding they want your land and paying a police officer to arrest you on trumped up charges so they can then just take it; others refusing to sit near or eat with you; having beer poured into your cupped hands as payment for sexual services that you have been forced into because your livelihood has been stripped from you; being raped by someone with HIV because they think sex with you will cure them of the virus; having your family and community members killed and eaten; having little and, more typically, no political voice or representation; being booted from your home to become a squatter on the land you and your people formerly lived in harmony with for centuries; being forced into slave-labor; being the victim, over and over again, of other people’s wars; being invisible to the world despite enduring such amazing atrocities they surely must be fiction. We hear of different groups and communities facing one, two, maybe three of these violations. But, collectively, the pygmies have faced all of them.
The pygmies are people who create amazing music; love to dance; are skilled artisans and craftspeople; understand how to live in symbiosis with forests lush with biodiversity; and cherish the forest since, as Freddy puts it, they see it as “their God that provides everything to them,”…all characteristics to admire and celebrate. Yet they are treated as subhuman by their fellow human beings. Why do we do this to each other?
Thinking about how I felt as I walked away from the young man and his friends who were mocking me, feeling in that moment that I’d lost my dignity, was lesser-than, was being viewed and treated as a walking freak-show, I tried to think of how the pygmies must feel, facing discrimination on a scale so many times over. And I find I can’t imagine it. But I can imagine that if I had to face what they have faced, and continue to face, I’m not sure I could bear it.
Still no work related photos (I hope to get some soon!) so here are a few more of life going on in Uganda:
Posted By DINA BUCK
Posted Aug 3rd, 2010