The Human Condition: Casual Racism and its Damaging Reality
As a not so proud Australian, I cringe every time I see or hear about an act of racism in that so-called democracy; believe me, there's plenty to cringe about. From the current government, right down to the lowly paid labourer, many Australians still don't seem to get it; people are people, and no race deserves less than any other. Still to this day, in 2016, many people in that country just do not care about, or are even laughing at the plight of desperate Syrians, fleeing their own war torn country as a last resort to save their families from almost certain death. Entire families, pleading for some form of assistance only, are being turned around by the boatful and sent to what is essentially a glorified Alcatraz; a prison island, Nauru. What sort of person would find that funny?
I often wonder what bigoted Australians think. The belief must be, that Syrian refugees want to spend months at a time on an overcrowded, diesel fumed, leaky boat, and just can't wait to have to start a new life in a completely foreign and hostile country, where steady employment is becoming limited to the privileged and qualified, and animalistic hatred governs their lives. Sounds great! Seriously, refugees are not the bad guys; those that fail to see that, may you one day end up in the same situation.
Where did this holier than thou sense of entitlement to a land that wasn't ours to begin with even come from?
Why is it that so many indigenous cultures around the world are treated so poorly, for the simple reason that they just happened to be there when white man decided to invade and take over?
Is it a human condition to be a racist arsehole?
I sincerely hope not, but hope is fading fast.
Escaping narrow-minded bigotry is not the sole reason I left Australia and now live in Latin America; but it did play its role in my decision to leave. Everything here in the Spanish speaking world seemed dreamy. On the surface, there didn't seem to be any racism or prejudice; I, as a 25-60 bracketed, white male, have been treated fantastically well by locals everywhere I travel. It was easy, but not deliberately, to be blind to any form of racism here. But then, as was inevitable, I learnt the language and became immersed in the culture. Things started to shock me.
As a result, these days, I really do have trouble calling this region Latin America. It's simply shouldn't be; there are too many indigenous cultures here to call it anything of the sort. But they are fast diminishing.
The once powerful colony that the Spanish and Portuguese fought over so ruthlessly to the point of a near genocide, may finally get its wish and become purely Latin America. The land's numerous indigenous cultures are fading at the hands of racist negligence at an alarming rate. Incas, Mayans, Aztecs, Indians, Chinchas, Quechuas and many other races, now only make up 15% of a population of 626 million. A decade ago, it was nearer the 20% mark. At that rate, within half a century, they will be gone.
Having spoken to, and now worked with, many indigenous cultures, especially in Bolivia, Peru, Guatemala and Mexico, I have discovered one common thread; that it's incredibly overwhelming to be dark-skinned. Prejudices are spewed forth every day by lighter-skinned, slightly more well-off Latinos and, in a nutshell, it's ugly. Discriminatory employment opportunities, service refusal in supermarkets or stores, health care denial, as well as a vast inaccessibility to housing and education, are all part of daily life for all of these beautiful, and more importantly, influential cultures. You, and me, would be nowhere without them.
In Mexico and Guatemala, the blatant racism directed towards Mayans, Aztecs and other native cultures is abhorrent. I witness it first hand every single day; in cafes and markets, on public transport and in the streets. As stated, it's a problem that's very easy to gloss over, many people, be it expats or tourists, don't even notice it exists. But take a closer look, and it will become apparent, almost immediately.
On the streets, who are the homeless? In tourist meccas, who are the beggars? In the cafes, what race are the children that are sent in by desperate mothers to panhandle or shine shoes? Rarely are they Latino. Just as white Australia treats the Aboriginal cultures, Latin America is no different towards its land owners.
The snowballing problem stems from the fact that there is no interaction where it counts. Forced into an insular climate by lazy and corrupt governments, and poor treatment in society itself, indigenous cultures aren't aware of how to associate with the modern world. The children don't know how to interact, because their parents and grandparents were never allowed to interact. The education system is poor too; those who can afford to go to school, are often ignored by teachers and fellow pupils alike, and many children aren't even familiar with the Spanish language. It's all to their detriment, and once again, Europeans are to blame.
This is no exaggeration; in my three years here in South and Central America, I have only witnessed maybe a handful of homeless people who are of European descent. I'm sure there's more out there, somewhere, but I now make a point of noting just who the poorest of the poor are, and while many Latinos do live below the poverty line, it's the indigenous cultures who are forced to survive in an even lower class bracket.
But we're not all racist, are we? Look at it this way though; one racist person, with the damage they perpetrate, socially, culturally, and economically, may as well count against the efforts of four humanitarians who are desperately trying to repair that arrogant attitude's damage. Luckily, in this part of the world at least, and many others I'm sure, there is a growing influx of ex-pats living in the region who genuinely want to help. Many have even founded charities of their own. But now, they are being accused of racism by the Latinos, because most charities here are geared up solely to aid indigenous cultures. Sometimes, it feels like our efforts are doomed from the very beginning.
In the stunning Lake Atitlan district of Guatemala, there is a purposefully progressive charity organisation called Mayan Families. This non-profit collective represent the region to provide members of the many surrounding Mayan communities with education, employment, agricultural training, and with the installation of fuel-efficient stoves and water filters. They are one of the few charities online that publish their financial records and make them so readily available; where the money goes is transparent and accountable. 60% of the charity workers are indigenous to the area and all have been severely affected by poverty in one form or another. Now, because of interaction, they are receiving not only an education, but a boost in self esteem and personal confidence. Workers are paid in a variety of methods for their invaluable services in order of necessity, and the lives of the willing participant, and their families, have improved significantly.
Entire education and nutrition centres are constructed and funded by Mayan Families, again with members of the indigenous communities running the show. Doing this allows many children, and adults, a chance at an education for the first time in their lives.
It is of the utmost importance that indigenous cultures all over the globe are allowed to be fairly integrated into mainstream society, not necessarily to absorb our wicked ways, but to at least learn the basics of its machinations, especially the economy and the value of the dollar. This is solely for their own immediate, and generational benefit. No one is setting out to change the years old culture of tradition and values, only to remove the culture of fear and helplessness that runs rampant throughout.
This really does go for everywhere; Australia too. To those back home, to the U.S. citizens who are left with the bleak choice of Trump or Clinton as president, to the mostly wonderful Latinos of Central and South America, think about your daily attitudes towards people that you perceive as being different to you. Think about the domino effect that that one, seemingly harmless action against someone will have on not only that person's life and community, but yours too. Be nice, help someone. You don't have to give money, nobody is asking you to love or sacrifice, just help. With a smile, with a hello or a warm embrace. Believe me, that sort of positive reinforcement is all encompassing. The flow on effect is massive. Surely it's far easier to be nice, than to carry around the soulless burden of hate.
Seriously, is that too much to ask?
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