A couple of years ago, I was on a tram in Melbourne and overheard a very intriguing conversation about being white and non-white.
Sitting in front of and facing me on this particular tram ride were two Caucasian blue-eyed, blonde haired girls who I wagered were friends, Australian and undergraduate students not much older than twenty. Eavesdropping on their banter, I was highly amused to hear how full of themselves both ladies sounded as they chatted about being fair-skinned bodies.
I don’t exactly remember the conversation word-for-word, but I do remember parts of it vividly ‘til this day:
Girl 1: I’m heading to China during the holidays after this semester. When I finish uni, someday I want to work in China as a game-show host. You know, like on their wacky variety shows where they play games for outrageous prizes. And you know what? The people in China absolutely love white people! They think we’re so pretty. They look up to us because you are white! It’s so great!
Girl 2: Oh yes, I’ve heard about that. They do, don’t they?Girl 1: Yes! It’ll be great working there. The Chinese welcome people like us and it’ll be easy to make money there. They just love this: white! (vigorously rubs hands up and down her bare, fair arms)
Girl 2: Definitely. They really like staring at us. Sometimes they can’t stop.
Girl 1: They even go to great lengths to look like us! There’s a big market in China for whitening beauty products that they use to make their skin lighter. (puts both hands on cheeks briefly) They’re afraid of becoming dark. They worship us because we look, well, white!
To sum up the girls’ thoughts as per the conversation: “I’m white, educated. So that means I’m pretty, smart and deserve respect.” And it is quite common to come across people with such demeanour.
Along with the conversation itself, such a proposition is clearly shallow. It implies that role models who possess ethical morals are callously benchmarked against a certain skin colour and ethnicity.
It also harps on the traditional notion that the West is the superior race and the East inferior.
As one who has traveled a fair bit and mingled with people of different races, I’ve come to see whites, non-whites, Asians, Europeans, Australians in any part of the world – you name it – as just…people.
I’ve come to see this statement as akin to, “I’m a person, so that means I’m pretty and smart.”
To me, “white” is just a synonym for the word “person”.
Just as age is just a number, skin colour is just a colour.
No two of us possess the same physical features right down to the same miniscule pore sizes, so we’re all emphatically unique in our way. Heck, beauty – a notch up from pretty which is merely skin deep – comes from within and radiates from the nice things that we do and this has nothing to do with looks. People have different strengths and are good at some things and not so good at others, so everyone is smart as well in some sense.
The majority of us are very similar in many ways, especially in the everyday context:
- We work hard for our money.
- We pay attention to people who care and love those who are there for us.
- We love food and we eat food.
Yes, the thought “I’m white, so that means I’m pretty and smart” is shallow and reeks of racist connotations. But ultimately it is still a perspective and an opinion, albeit a rather ignorant one, that can be valid.
Rather than outright accuse individuals of Caucasian ethnicity who think this way as pompous and intentionally bearing racial prejudices against other races, I prefer to simply think that they have yet to discover just how attractive – in the physical and personality sense – and remarkably intellectually engaging non-whites who come from diverse backgrounds can actually be.
It takes effort on one’s part, and perhaps also the assistance of others, to change the repetitive, so-accustomed-to ways of thinking about the world and push beyond the barriers of stubborn ignorance towards the importance of other cultures ingrained within in order to see the flipside of different ethnicities at face value.
It takes the right occasion(s), or the right moment, to crop up and instigate one into consciously paying attention to the various cross-cultural contexts and issues that are ever so pervasive and have much significance in society today.
It takes time for one to learn to see situations from different cultural perspectives, and even more time to understand the entire gist, histories and complexities of other cultures.
I’ve yet to hear another shallow conversation like the one above for a while now. But perhaps tomorrow.
In the meantime, I’m not judging a book by its cover – keeping in mind some people can be straight up ignorant. I’ll wholeheartedly think of everyone around me – whites and non-whites – as awesome people with big hearts who each have their own stories to tell.
May we all get along and eventually come to understand and respect each other’s beliefs and backgrounds. And live in a harmonious multicultural society.