Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Fear of Other

Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations is one of my favorite television shows. The idea being that you can learn a lot about other cultures by how and what they eat. This week the crew travelled to Saudi Arabia at the invitation of a viewer, a woman by the name of Danya Alhamrani. A show filmed in a country that places very strict limitations on the travel of women seemed doomed to failure, but quite the contrary it was a fascinating look into a rarely seen culture. Danya was an amazing hostess and did an excellent job of giving the audience a look into everyday life in Saudi Arabia.

Growing up, my parents both painted and there were National Geographics all over the house. I could barely wait for the new one to arrive in the mail. From a very early age I wanted to learn more about how people all over the world lived their lives. Heck for awhile I wanted to become a National Geographic photographer (until the realities of mosquitoes and limited bathing set in). That being said, I was born in one of the most xenophobic regions of the U.S.A. The Ozark Mountain region is notorious for not exactly welcoming outsiders with open arms. Even I, who was born but did not grow up in the Ozarks, must answer the ubiquitous "Whose your family?" question before thawing the chilly facade.

Since the attack on the World Trade Towers I have noticed a shift in the U. S. in how "others" are viewed that is much more like the attitudes in my hometown. We, as a nation, have become distrustful of people who do not look and sound like we do and ever more willing to marginalize their rights to make Us feel safer. You can see it in changing immigration policy and in the way we treat and talk about Others. You hear so many more comments about "Those people" and "Them" and the every growing list of racial and ethnic slurs. While I can sympathize with the fear from which these attitudes spring, I do not approve of the manifestations it has taken. Fear is never a wise position from which to make decisions.

Ironically, we are a nation of Other. The English, Irish, German, Italians, Russians, Africans, etc. - none of these are the indigenous peoples of the Americas. In fact, if there was ever a better case for xenophobia it would be in the treatment of the Maya, Navajo, Cherokee, Inuit, and hundreds of other tribes by European settlers on this continent. So this idea that somehow it's Us against Them is pretty ridiculous. We are, all of us, Them.

Am I offended that women in Saudi Arabia can't drive cars, can't vote, and must be completely covered in public? Sure I am. I'm also offended that the sport of bullfighting still continues in Spain and Mexico. I am offended that female infants are sometimes killed in India and China because male children are preferred. Nor do I wish to participate in the African Masai tribe's tradition of drinking cows' blood.

But here's the trick, you don't have to agree with every aspect of a culture to learn about it, appreciate it or maybe find beauty in it.


Elise Sheppard said...

You did such a wonderful job explaining this. Chris and I are often scorned by others for expressing these same thoughts. You would not believe the looks we get from others when we explain to them that had their ancestors not been "them", they would not have the opportunities and freedoms we have today. The diversity is one thing that appealed to us most about our neighborhood. However, I am so sad to say that it can be tough to not let these thoughts creep in, especially with what we've experienced lately in the neighborhood.

I'll keep you posted on how the neighborhood watch goes. I really appreciate your encouragement, A LOT!! Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I'm such a conservative, politically, not one to look for the state to save me or anyone else, please and thank you. BUT I have been giving this particular issue you mention here a good bit of consideration lately with the immigration issue. As a Christian there is also a spiritual aspect to it, as we recall God's instructions to remember that we were "once aliens, too."

There is beauty in the world that my eyes are not accustomed to recognizing - but I am hoping that realizing these things and considering them are half the battle. And I think I can remain conservative while welcoming the stranger into our midst...

Beautiful pictures, by the way...

Feathering My Nest said...

This is very well said. I wish I could comment as well as you can post. I'm truly thankful that my parents brought me up with attitudes of accepting others for who they were and not their looks or skin color. Once I mentioned that my teachers were all Hippies, and that I didn't learn to read or write, but rather to save whales and to recycle garbage. I also learned all big words stereotyping and discrimination; and about slavery. We must have had six years of learning about segregation and equality. I'm truly glad. I'm not sure, but I do believe that most schools in Oregon taught these things, and for the most part are very loving and kind to anyone of a different color (I hope); (Is this just wishful thinking?);(I think it's true 'cause I think it); (I might be very very wrong); (It seems that way when I speak with others, and for the fact that we had one, and only one Black guy attending our high school, and one Black PE teacher, and they were concidered very very coolguys). I may be way out in left field, but this is how I see it. I loved your post. Kathi