With thanks to Stan Brown for the topic and the wisdom of his response to yesterday’s post….
This one may hurt; may pack a punch and result in a bruise. But bruises heal and scars show that our hearts are alive to pain and growth.
My post yesterday hit several of my nerves – I regretted posting it as soon as I hit publish. But as is often the case when we are honest, others come forward with the same struggles and share wisdom.
It was my brother Stan’s comment that challenged me to look further at prejudice and bigotry in the third culture kid: “There’s a series topic here for you Marilyn: Exploring TCK bigotry……”
Full disclaimer: In this area, among sinners I am chief.
To the non third culture kid – let me explain: Our life circumstances have gifted us with many things — a love of travel, flexibility, a strong identification with others who have lived abroad for extended periods of time, and a world view that extends miles, nations, and borders past our passport countries.
But along with that we struggle with being invisible immigrants – people who look like those who surround them but think so differently that they feel like chickens in the midst of humans, or aliens in the midst of natives. We are those who feel ‘other’. We don’t know the rules and make massive mistakes in our passport countries. We can be arrogant about what we know and insecure about what we don’t know. We are the only ones without a license, without a sense of fashion, without the common language of idioms and pop culture.
And though it’s difficult to voice, we are prone to prejudice and bigotry in our passport countries. This is ironic. That which makes its mark on us with indelible ink and shouts flexibility, adaptability, maturity and fun is suddenly hidden under disdain and inability to relate to those around us. Mark Twain wrote these words years ago – and those of us who are third culture kids love these words:
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
Yet what happens when that quote we love turns on us? Like pointing the finger at someone, and suddenly realizing the other fingers point back in our faces? What happens when we take all that life experience — travel, cultural humility established through many years of negotiating cross-cultural interactions, our ability to understand dual causality and be capable of complexity — and turn it into weapons against those who have not traveled?
We become that which we dislike. We become narrow-minded in a reverse way. We become the dictionary definition of a bigot “a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices”.
My faith tradition comes down hard on prejudice and arrogance. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,”*
“That’s simplistic” I want to cry out “It doesn’t take into consideration that this is hard for me, that I struggle with feeling ‘other’ and so out of step with those around me, that this is all I have.” The words above from the Holy Scriptures dance in my head but they need to be imprinted on my heart.
Stan’s comment from above didn’t end there. It goes on and challenges me further:
“So my problem is this and more – I find myself alternating among prejudices depending on where I am geographically. Sometimes I find myself feeling prejudice against my passport countrymen; then against my birth nation; then against my fellow TCK generation and, not surprisingly, mostly then against myself for feeling this way. Thankfully the opposite happens more and more where I find myself rejoicing in the diversity of cultures, appreciation for my passport country, and, again not surprisingly, at peace with myself.”
And hear this for it is critically important to the discussion:
“The degree of my prejudice seems directly related to the amount of direct and personal interaction I have with people of a variety of cultures (listening, learning) or, on the other hand, how much time I spend avoiding such interaction, leading to introspection and bigotry.”
When you sit down and learn about someone, see them as a person and get to know them, it changes the dynamic. I learn that the person who has lived in the same town since childhood went to a Catholic school in a poor area of Boston and tells amazing and humorous stories about the priests and nuns. I learn that a friend with an Irish background grew up in an all Italian neighborhood and learned early on, as she went from house to house eating pasta before finally heading home to her mom’s boiled cabbage dinners, that she liked Italian food better. I learn that someone who has lived in the same town her whole life is a voracious reader and can talk about all kinds of places where I’ve never been with a knowledge far beyond mine.
And I begin to remember – it’s all about relationship. It was the key to loving my adopted countries, it continues to be the key to living in my passport country. As an Adult Third Culture Kid, I’ve had to re-learn the value of relationships, of give and take, of knowing and being known as a fundamental antidote to my TCK bigotry.
The antidote can be summed up like this: When I learn the story of another, when I’m willing to be in relationship, it’s hard to remain a bigot.
What about you? No matter who you are or where you live, prejudice and bigotry can be subtle. Do you struggle with prejudice and if so, what is your antidote?