How I learned to embrace our differences and stopped being racist

Racism and homophobia are sensitive subjects. I wondered for a long time if I should write this article or not. But I decided to go for it. Let’s be honest, it is still a big taboo and most of the time it is not a subject discussed with strangers (and even with family and friends actually). People will judge me for what I wrote but never mind. Not talking about it won’t solve anything. I want to share my view and opinion, especially about the roots of those two issues. If it can help a couple of people I will be happy about it!

Different doesn’t mean bad

Humans (most of us) are afraid of the unknown. Being confronted with something we don’t know or we don’t understand often makes us feel uncomfortable. And this simple fact explains a lot.

Let me give you some basic examples to illustrate:

  • When we hear a new idea which totally changes what we know, the first reaction is often “that’s ridiculous”. Then we reject it and eventually, the more we think about it, the more obvious it becomes. We witnessed this phenomenon many times in history.
  • If we see someone in the street with an unusual haircut or dressed unusually, the first impression is to look at them with a strange look saying “hey weirdo!!”.
  • “You are vegan!! What!? Why? You’re crazy man!”
  • You find yourself in the middle of a crowd speaking another language, starring at you… that’s gonna make you feel uncomfortable because you wonder what they think and what they are saying. You could be scared of these people… just because you can’t understand them.
  • This list could go on and on for a while I think… but I hope you got the point.

“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident” Arthur Schopenhauer, German philosopher (1788 – 1860)

As soon as something is out of the mold, out of the pre-defined list of things accepted by the society and classified as “normal”, then you are considered as a weirdo, a rebel, a crazy person, a sick person, a problem… an abnormality! But why? Why should everything and everyone be the same, think the same, look the same and act the same?

There are two ways to deal with differences:

  • Reject them: unfortunately, that’s what most people tend to do. If someone different approaches us, our first reaction is often “what the hell does he want?”. How many kids at school get bullied because they are different (short, tall, fat, whatever)… a lot! It is a real social issue that should be taken care of by everyone: the government, the education system, and us of course.
  • Learn from them: rather than letting something different scare us, we should learn from them. We should look, listen and try to understand… so we won’t be afraid anymore. So many bad things happen because people misunderstand each other… when a simple conversation could have simply solved everything. So next time you read something new or speak to someone with different opinions, or a different culture, religion, lifestyle, whatever… don’t judge before trying to understand.

Our differences are what make our world and our species so special! So rather than trying to format everything and everyone as it should be (or as we expect it to be)… maybe we should embrace our diversity, use it to improve each other and build a better future!

“Religionism and Culturism” vs Racism and Homophobia

Racism and homophobia are two of the biggest issues we need to fight against in terms of how we treat people, along with misogyny.

For the case of racism, I don’t believe that most of the time people are actually racists. Not based on the root definition. Someone racist will dislike/hate people from another race. The most famous example is obviously Hitler and the Nazis. They deeply believed the Jews were an inferior race… that’s the exact definition of racism.

Racists today are not all racists. I believe they are more “religionists” and “culturists”. I’m going to take the example of France to illustrate my words. In France, there is a big wave of racism against Arabs and Muslims (well orchestrated by a political party). I don’t think people have issues with them because of their race (at all). I’m convinced that people have issues because they have totally different religions and cultures. And as I was saying before, rather than trying to understand them, they reject them.

They don’t eat pork? Crazy!! They don’t drink alcohol!? Mental!! But who cares to be honest! Are they valid reasons to dislike someone?

And in a way, the roots of homophobia come from the same place. France, just like America, has a strong Catholic culture and background, and many things are influenced by this history. So, as it is a sin in the Bible, being attracted to the same gender became abnormal.

We can extrapolate the same theory to misogyny. For years and years, women have been parked and forced to do domestic jobs. And that’s the main reason if now some men believe women should be in the kitchen rather than in an office… not because they think they are inferior.

Let’s apply my quote to those 3 issues:

  • First, it is ridiculous: ask a white person in 1800 what they thought about homosexuals or about working with a black person or a woman… they would have seriously believed you were joking.
  • Second, it is violently opposed: the 3 subjects raised at one point during the last century some big strikes and riots… those terrible moments resulted in multiple deaths all around the world.
  • Third, it is accepted as being self-evident: right now, fewer people believe those things are abnormal anymore. We probably all know a black person, a homosexual, and we know independent successful women! And that’s great!

Everything is not solved… but if we take into account the history, things are moving forward. We are currently going through a crazy period in our society, with terrorist attacks and political declarations not helping the situation. But we cannot let a bunch of people – a minority – ruin all the efforts and sacrifices done by plenty of people over the years.

My personal experience

I thought a lot about writing this last part or not, because of what people would think of me. This might change the idea some people who know me have about me, but I’m willing to take the risk… after all, I am who I am.

But I want to share my story to show there is still hope and people can change.

So, I grew up in a small village in the South of France, near to the Spanish border. That implies there were – and there is still – plenty of immigrants, especially Spanish, Portuguese and Maghreb people… It’s part of the village history.

During my childhood, racism was all around me, mainly directed towards people from the Maghreb. As I grew up in this environment, I have been racist towards them for a while as well. For years, without any particular reason (I had plenty of Arab friends at school and never had any issues with them) I didn’t like them… it seemed like the thing to think. I also found being heterosexual as a terrible thing. I can say that I was the cliché of an old-fashioned, close-minded, from the countryside kind of guy.

Now that I eventually got out and saw the world, I changed and opened my mind. I have been trying to understand where this came from. Why did I grow up thinking this way for years, for no particular reason? I came up with a theory, I don’t know if I’m right or if it will make sense to you, but I think it can explain some things.

I believe everything comes from the environment I grew up in. Like I said, I come from a small village. There wasn’t much going on, but once in a while, there was a little village party. Sadly quite often, they ended up with fights between drunkards… and often involved some Arabs. Step by step, there was less and less going on because of those fights and that was creating tensions. Then people talk, I heard adults saying things they should not say in front of a kid… and slowly, without realizing, it got in my head. It was their fault. Add to that the media influencing and pushing towards this way, it doesn’t help.

I didn’t travel much when I was a kid, so I took this kind of behavior as normal. Hearing and listening to adults makes you believe things… I was a kid, I didn’t question them much because, well they were adults! I thought that they were telling the truth and saying things to help me.

Media and politicians also don’t help the situation. Why in the news do you only see black people when there is a shooting, Muslims when there are terrorist attacks or some riots… and white people saving the world?!? I exaggerate a bit… but think about it, I’m not too far from the truth (at least in France). And the politics: rather than creating a united society, all they do is fight against each other, explaining that the other ones are a bunch of idiots… trying to divide us as much as possible. That’s the opposite of what they should be doing!

I started to change when I went to Australia in 2010 for my internship. I was 23 years-old, and I eventually discovered the world (a small part at least). But going away from France for a few months, meeting people from different countries, with other cultures and religions made me realize how wrong I was. It was a shock, everything I was taking for normal was not. Meeting my wife also helped a lot. She traveled a lot when she was younger, so she was way more tolerant than I was (which was easy at this time, to be honest)… she made me understand how stupid I was about some subjects. Being with her really helped, she made me change – in a good way – and I thank her a lot for that. I also stopped watching TV and reading the news… all they talk about is shit happening somewhere, it’s not worth my time because now I know the world and the people are better than that!

I am the perfect example that people can change. Traveling made me change and made me improve… that’s why I strongly believe traveling is extremely important, especially at a young age when we build our thoughts and our vision of the world.

My solution: educate to fight ignorance

I don’t see a miracle solution to fight and stop racism, homophobia and all those other horrible issues. But I think the best way to break the circle and allow future generations to live in a world without them is education.

I realized my mistake quite late when I went traveling. But I had the chance to travel! Everyone doesn’t. So we need to educate people (and re-educate some) to change.

For the younger ones, it starts at home and at school. Children need to grow up in a sane and tolerant environment, where people respect each other. Differences between religions need to be explained, along with culture specificities. By explaining to them how the world works, they will build their own opinion about their surroundings.

It is also important to show them what’s going on outside of their circle. But not by putting them in front of the TV which just shows them a pile of shit. We need to show them images of the actual world, through nice books and documentaries… or even better: for real!

For the older ones. It’s not too late. We are never too old to learn, improve and change (I talked more about this subject in a previous post here). I changed and believe me, I’m pretty stubborn! Now that I realized all that, I don’t blame anyone for being like that. They are just ignorant and no one ever took time to explain how the real world is like. It can be tough because those subjects are very opinionated and they can quickly degenerate into conflicts. But by choosing our words carefully and with let’s face it, lots of patience, we can change things. Even if it’s only one person, it’s worth the try!

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” Nelson Mandela

It will take time, probably another generation or even two to be honest… but if everyone put the right effort in it, all this shit can stop. Let’s not be impressed or afraid by those idiots (politicians, journalists, terrorists, etc) trying to divide us… we are all different, but in the end, we are all the same.

PS1: Yes, there are dumb people in the world and we won’t change everyone. Some people are actually racists and they will probably die like that. But here I’m talking about “normal people”. People like me, influenced by those idiots.

PS2: Just a little word to finish. I’m not saying I’m right here. This article reflects my opinions, nothing else. If you agree it’s cool and if you disagree it’s also fine. Yes, I’m a white straight man, so it’s easy for me to say all that because I’ve never experienced it. But my point is not to create conflicts, it is to open a discussion to find solutions. Do not hesitate to share your views in the comments below, I’ll be happy to discuss (just please, let’s stay gentle).

*Photo by Jerry Kiesewetter on Unsplash

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