Wednesday, 19 August 2009


have been meaning to write something substantial, but unfortunately other things keep intervening. one of those other things has been an interesting yet stressful discussion around postings to AEN. it's so hard to create spaces where different cultures can interact and raise issues, in a manner that's respectful enough that people feel safe to engage. and it's especially difficult when some of the issues raised can be particularly touchy.

i'm not one to say that touchy subjects should never be raised. indeed, they do have to be raised in order for stereotypes to be challenged and alternative perspectives to be given an airing. but on the other hand, if it's done the wrong way, then the challenge never happens and the alternative perspective doesn't appear.

the problem with belonging to a minority group is that the sources of attack are varied and constant. they come from media messages, insults hurled at you from the street, careless comments in the tearoom, interactions with shop assistants, and so on. in so many big and little ways, your points of difference are highlighted and sometimes thrown in your face. the pressure to conform is constant, the punishment for deliberately choosing not to conform can be harsh.

but the trouble is this. each individual who says something to me, well that's the only thing of the kind they've said that week, or maybe that month. but for me, it may be the 10th thing of a similar nature i've had to deal with that week. by the time i come to the 10th instance, my patience is gone, i've had enough and i'm pretty ready to lash out. the other person then wonders why i'm so damned sensitive and so easily offended.

so how, when i get to the 10th instance, do i patiently explain yet again the error and the misconception on the part of the person i'm interacting with. how do i explain the reality of my life, and how it is to live with this kind of thing all. the. time. and how do i know that the other person even wants to hear it. they think they're just making a joke, or pointing out (what seems to them to be) an obvious truth.

yup, sometimes it's not easy talking across different cultures. and it's really hard to set any kind of guidelines or boundaries as to what's acceptable and what isn't. so i've spent some time on email discussions, don't know if i've achieved anything at all. but i do have the satisfaction of knowing that i said what needed to be said.

1 comment:

Deborah said...

I have every privilege that there is available, except for being male, so I have to try to imagine what it's like to live ordinary old daily life as someone who is marked as other. Thank you for writing about this, Anjum.