This is part of 2017 #BloggingAbroad Blog Challenge. For the next 10 weeks I will be given a blog prompt to inspire me to dig deep into my cultural experiences and find a way to best present the idea. This is the first challenge the theme is Global Citizenship.
As a PCV I am in a unique position. I wanted to experience life outside of my comfort zone. I wanted to understand the struggles that others go through that I have never experiences. I wanted a greater understanding. I got a greater understanding. Not only of life outside of my comfort zone but of life in a completely different perspective.
Global citizenship, to me, means to be able to see outside of your own life and understand outside perspectives. It is about letting go of your prejudices and finding a way to understand the struggles and joys of others. It is about understanding relationship and understanding yourself. Once you peel back the layers you are left bare and exposed. You are left uncomfortable, but this is where you grow. This is where a new way of seeing something happens. You have to peel back your history, your belief system and your prejudices and get to the core of what makes you, well, you. You have to know yourself, even to the most uncomfortable level. Once you get to that stage, then, and only then, can you begin to understand the perspectives of others.
Last night is a perfect example, please understand that I am trying to explain a very personal experience and my interpretation of the experience, because no matter what I do, I will never understand the struggle that are part of everyday life for a Woman of Color (WOC). I have spent enough time with my new host “mom” to be comfortable asking questions that might not be appropriate in any other situation. We have been walking almost daily since I moved in and we have deep discussions about things I am trying to understand. Sometimes my understanding is quite painfully incorrect, but it does not harm our relationship, which I am thankful for.
Back to last night….. My host mom was showing me how her hair got ripped out in the back because she had some braided extensions put in for the Holiday season. She actually hates that, she prefers her hair natural, but she tells me it took a long time to get there. You see there is big money to be made in WOC hair products. Straighteners, oils, extensions, wigs, you name it, the majority of WOC buy it. Why? Because since the time of slavery WOC were told that their hair was not beautiful, their skin was not beautiful their,,, whatever was not acceptable. (These are my host mom’s words and my understanding of this.) I get it, we see it all the time. The models that are WOC are often shown with long straightened hair or short straightened hair, or sometimes shaved bald, but almost never natural. Most stars are the same way, unless the show/movie is somehow mocking them. Back in the 70’s/early 80’s we have a few shows showing natural hair, but for the most part, in my lifetime, it has been hair made to look like white women hair. There I said it!
I actually understand this personally as I have always been told my hair could only be done this way or that. I have hated my hair until a few years ago, when I cut my hair the way I wanted it, I wore it the way I wanted it. My host mom was talking about this last night and her daughter heard her and got upset. Twenty minutes later she came back and told me her daughter said she must apologize to me. We both agree that if we had not built up some form of a relationship this conversation would be totally inappropriate, but at this point it is not.
Why did I bring this up in a blog about Global Citizenship? Because it is vitally important, not the topic but the candid conversation and the expanded understanding. I understand now how it feels to be the minority, how it feels to be the “only”, how it feels to be stared upon all the time. It makes me ashamed of how I may have come across in the past. In fact a few months ago PCJ started a diversity and inclusivity group. One of the girls from my group that has been immersed in this program bared her feelings in one of the sessions. I suspected that I had at some point said something that she felt offended by, but she never said anything. I finally got the courage to just go up to her and apologize for anything I might have said that was offensive. I never meant to offend anyone, but my upbringing is pretty white-washed (lets be real about it). Her eyes got misty and she informed me that yes, in fact I had offended her. She then told me what I had said, and for the life of me I cannot even imagine what I had meant by the statement. I was offended by it when she told me what I had said. I told her that I was not even going to try to justify the statement, defend it or try to quantify it. It was offensive and I was so sorry, I wished she had not waited over a year to say something. She carried this pain for so long. She told me she appreciated my apology as it was sincere and that she is learning to voice herself when she is offended, this is actually why I am using WOC, she stated it was the preferred terminology and I appreciate knowing this instead of saying things that are offensive because they are accepted by society.
Had either of these incidents occurred before I understood my mental model, well they just would not have occurred. I might have continued on in my life offending people and not even knowing it. I might have also not understood how someone in a minority feels had I not been in a minority myself. The first step in becoming a Global Citizen is to understand the “other”. Putting yourself into an uncomfortable situation to try to get a basic understanding of how other people feel is not the easiest thing to do. I used to pride myself in being color-blind and we white people like to put it, but in truth that is a lie we tell ourselves.
There is diversity and there are “others”, by trying to be color-blind we are denying those different from ourselves their own story. WE begin to weave their story into our own and never allow them to weave their own story. Or we silence their story for long enough, they forget they have a voice, we become the storyteller and the audience and they take the role of puppets. This is denying their very humanity, we do this so often we forget that there are no actual strings attached and that we are playing this opera in our own heads. Reality gets lost and then the truth is forgotten and then we lie to ourselves enough that we eventually forget they are human, too.
Global citizenship requires us to cut those imagined strings, to let the opera play out, aloud and in full color. It requires us to be the audience and allow another to be the storyteller. It requires us to allow a full orchestra instead of a solo that silences everything else. It requires us to become part of the story within the story with others intertwining the stories into a beautiful art-piece to be appreciated for what it is, not what it could be. An orchestra of voices telling a multitude of stories all at the same time creates an amazing, wonderful novel to be cherished by all, with no solo performances, because the entire orchestra, the dancers and the audience must all be part of the story. The story is incomplete without all of us, this is what Global citizenship is.