13 March, 2008 | No comments | Category: ethnicity, I.dentity, i.mmigration, peace & conflict
i have worries and fissures in my heart – about my country
…i worry about my country plunging into perpetual conflict if the question of nationalism is not resolved… i worry about the fact that a majority of all conflicts of the world that happened since the nineties are ethnic conflicts (Angola, Burma, Sudan, Iraq, Russia, Turkey, Ethiopia, Bosnia, Rwanda…)
i see the way i was conditioned by society, mostly isolated from those different from me
… after seeing the way i was conditioned. not to ask critical questions, not to discuss ‘unconventional ideas’ with classmates who were from an ethnic group with deep grievances. i was conditioned to stop in my tracks from exploring and understanding the unknown, understanding a part of their identity. when these classmates of mine held strong beliefs, they easily earned a comfortable label: radical. this easily validated my silence. when i had known these classmates since childhood, it never occurred to me to ask and listen.
…after seeing the crippling influence of silence about differences. seeing a society without the virtuous exercises of energetic, spirited dialog (not rabid argumentation or debate)… observing a society that does not encourage the constructive clash of opposing opinions. instead, seeing a society which commends a culture of complacency and assimilation. at most, a society that commends passionately emotive arguments without compromise or dialog, without listening.
In ethnically diverse societies where different groups have varying holds on cultural trends, social norms, traditions and access to the media; the concept of ‘the other’, stereotypes and prejudices take prominence.
i have felt that deep pang of being ‘the other’.
i have experienced that itchy feeling of being a social outsider whose core identity did not fit the mainstream…i have felt that hunger for acceptance in various settings, that waiting for the validation of my identity in that system. my most extreme experience being culture shock in the US at discovering my blackness, and thus, my lack of privilege…
…most astoundingly, around the same time, i discovered my blindness to my ethnic privilege in Ethiopia. Because truly its about privilege! The privilege that comes with being part of the ‘mainstream’, the privilege to assume rather than to assimilate…the privilege of access…
…having had enriching experiences of personal growth connected with being thrown into multicultural settings, of being yanked away from my comfort zone into unfamiliar waters.
… having learned, from experience, that each of us are individuals seeking the place we belong. Each of us rightfully bringing up our entitlement to self-validation and to pride in our roots. as social beings, we each seeking a social message that reaffirms for us: ‘all of me is acceptable and honor-worthy’.
the issues differ; race, class, gender…ethnicity. but the inferiority-superiority fissures and chasms, the identity crisis and conflict to fit in…the emotions are all the same! This component… pride, anger, grievance, hate, inferiority, superiority; this root makes these conflicts incredibly potent. Powerfully, the root exists in the friction that takes place within the essence of self. This root is what motivates people to commit atrocities against fellow civilians, against fellow humans beings, against women and children. This root is what motivates well-meaning individuals to massacre old neighbors, cut them up with sharp machetes…at the most extreme, these emotions are the motivators for genocide.
I write about ethnicity to express the need for willingness to walk a mile in someone else’s blister-causing shoes and see life through their eyes. I write about the need to really listen, because we are all seeking the same thing- yet getting caught up in the absurdities of un-rewritable history. And maybe, just maybe, I write in hope that understanding based on empathy could lead toward peace, compromise and tolerance which would not be superficial.
On Ethnicity and the Nation
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