Growing up in the United States my view of the world was generally limited. In grade school, our history lessons were solely focus on the history of the US. Sure, they made a brief mention of the other countries that existed but the content was centered around an inaccurate, glorified, man made view of the country’s history.
Thanksgiving is a prime example. Many people, or at least myself, aren’t too proud to celebrate a day we were originally taught to believe was about a jolly dinner between the Pilgrims and Indians when really it derived from a massacre of Native people. Now that I know that I can’t run around in a Pilgrim costume celebrating on that day. I completely understand it’s a day dedicated to giving thanks, but we should be doing that everyday.
On the other hand, there are some people who live in a world clouded by ignorance. By definition, ignorance means lacking knowledge or information. We are all are ignorant about many things. There are many things I didn’t know before traveling abroad. but I knew very little about the cultures and climate in other countries. But there’s a difference between not having information and not wanting to acknowledge the truth.
I was at a gathering in honor of Thanksgiving at a friend’s house here in Berlin. She insisted on cooking and having people over so I joined her for the wine and home cooked food. After several hours of cooking a small group of us sat down and began to talk about the tradition of Thanksgiving. A German native said that he believed Thanksgiving to be the most popular holiday in the US. To which I responded that it may be his perception however the popularity of the holiday had definitely declined, especially with what was going on at Standing Rock.
My friend, who was hosting the gathering, proudly proclaimed that Thanksgiving was in celebration of “the Natives and Europeans breaking bread over dinner”. I didn’t want to depress the room with the truth about the day so I did my best to bite my tongue. Albeit disappointed, I wasn’t surprised that this girl said that since she already told me she had no idea what was going on in Standing Rock. She chose not to be informed about what was going on in the world, even in the country she came from. She had no reason to be affected by the conditions surrounding the Natives fighting against a pipeline or the shootings of Black people or the increased hate crimes against Muslims. She was a blonde, white woman who had the luxury of thinking that all was right in the world.
I can’t say that I’m not guilty of ignorance. Living in the US I had no idea what was going on in the rest of the world unless it was a terror attack highlighted across the news. The information given on world news was usually limited, biased, or purely negative. I stopped watching the news because it was depressing. However, while traveling and living abroad I gained a different insight about what was going on in other countries.
Most profoundly I realized that as Americans, we weren’t alone in experiencing a surge in discrimination. Aside from the Brexit, right wing politicians and racist rhetoric was rising in several countries including Austria, Spain, France, and Germany. I would hear stories from people who were feeling the same worry and shame about the hate speech coming from their homelands. Luckily the near miss of electing a right wing politician in Austria halted the projected downslide of Europe after the election of Trump.
There are so many refugees who are fleeing unthinkable conditions in their home country but are then being faced with racism and roadblocks in the countries they are running to for help. Which has also led to harassment of people who, in a nutshell, aren’t white. Especially in international cities like London where people are told to go back to where they came from, even though they came from the UK.
At my work holiday party, along with everywhere else I seemed to go, once people found out I was from the US they wanted to ask my opinion about Trump, the future of the country, and the racial climate. I felt like I was getting interviewed everywhere I went. The girl sitting next to me, who was a white woman from the UK, acknowledged that she never had to worry about someone questioning where she was from or having prejudices about her because of the way she looked.
Then she told us about a friend who had been asked while in London, “Where are you from?” To which he responded, “From London”. But the person kept probing, “No, where are you REALLY from?” As if being born and raised in London didn’t grant him the right to say he was from there because, somewhere down the line, his family came from Africa.
I’ve been asked on a weekly basis at my former job, “Where’s your accent from?” or “Where are you REALLY from?” Unless you’re from the south of the US or somewhere like New York, I don’t have an accent, but I do speak, as many have described, like a white girl. So people would probe me about where I grew up and where I went to school because they seemingly didn’t except me to speak “properly” or told me I looked “exotic” like an animal only seen in its natural habitat.
Since they weren’t satisfied with my answers they would proceed to guess different places or countries. “You’re from the Caribbean, right?” “Are you Spanish?” “Ok so, where are your parents from?” “What are you mixed with?” I tried not to think too much about it because if I did, the inquisition into my ancestry, especially while at work, would’ve angered me to the point of an outburst.
While there are many things I don’t know about the world, I can’t afford to live in ignorance. I must learn about things that are going on in other countries because it all has a continuous effect. Whether people of color are suffering, being discriminated against, or enduring violence in the US, Africa, Europe, or the Middle East I want to know about it, I can’t ignore it, because that could be me. I can’t breeze through life not thinking about the suffering of other people. I don’t have the luxury of being shielded by a cloud of ignorance.