I have encountered so many westerners who either brag or complain about how their western countries are the world’s diversity hotspots, with MAGA Americans being the loudest.
I always counter them with the data which clearly indicates otherwise. In fact, because I have too much time on my hands, I wrote an entire blog about it.
Months laters and I still encounter those people to this day, making the same predictable talking points. The more I encounter them, the more I disappointed in myself, though.
Almost all of them act like they know how it feels to live a multicultural life. I am disappointed in myself because I have been noticing that for a while… and yet, I haven’t written about it.
Overall, it does not make any sense. How experienced you are with other cultures is not determined by their mere presence around you; it is determined by your interactions (or the lack thereof) with the people. You can live in one of the most diverse places on earth and still trapped inside a cultural bubble. For your information: New York City is (not was) infamous for its segregated schools.
In fact, not only they are too proud of themselves, they tried to discredit me as a bubble dweller who know nothing about the outside world.
Yeah, about that…
My Indonesian hometown Batam has not one but five dominant ethnic groups (due to it being a planned city) and, while being predominantly-Muslim, churches and Buddhist temples are easy to find; it is also very close to Singapore and Malaysia, making it one of Indonesia’s gateways to the outside world. I have lived in two cities in the Jakarta metro area, which many Indonesians migrate to and also one of the country’s gateways to the world. I also lived in Melbourne for about a year.
I, an indigenous Indonesian Muslim, attended a middle school where the student body was predominantly Chinese-Indonesian -whose religious affiliation was Buddhist (and possibly also Taoist and Confucian)- and many of the teachers were Filipinos, with one American and one Aussie. My high school also reflected my city’s demographics: visible Christian and Buddhist minorities and multiple dominant ethnic groups. I briefly attended an Indonesian university which attracted students from all over the country. I graduated from an Australian university with an international student body.
Apart from Australia, Singapore and Malaysia, I have also visited other foreign countries like Thailand, New Zealand, China (Hong Kong included), Japan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel, Palestina, the US, the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Czechia, Austria, Hungary and Switzerland.
On Facebook, my social circle consists mostly of foreigners and there are lots of times when I get myself reprimanded for resorting to cultural stereotypes.
How is that for a bubble dweller?
After realising how culturally-rich my upbringing was and interacting with so many misguidedly proud westerners, I learn two lessons about what it means to be a multicultural individual.
Lesson one: being multicultural is not about simply enjoy cuisines and arts from other cultures. It is actually interacting with the people we divisively refer to as the “others”.
And I am not talking about professional situations; I am talking about ones where we interact because we sincerely enjoy each other’s presence. While intimacy is not required, informality certainly is. Those are the occasions when we can get to truly know the “others” beyond the labels.
I am not saying enjoyment of other cultures’ cuisines and arts is bad; in fact, we should always encourage ourselves to broaden our tastes. But, they are surface-level aspects of cultures; if we are too focused on the surface and disregard the more abstract things beneath, we may end up making caricatures out of the people. Weeaboos are a great example of how NOT to appreciate other cultures. Admittedly, stop stereotyping people after doing it your entire life is easier said than done.
I am also not saying interaction alone helps. If we only care about affirming our preconceived beliefs or having token minorities in our lives, no amount of interactions will ever enlighten you. But still, if you want to understand your fellow human beings, wouldn’t it make sense to… you know… actually interact with them?
Lesson two: being multicultural is not about tolerance, it is about resilience. It is less about accepting and liking the trivial differences (emphasise on the word trivial) and more about how well you are in dealing with them.
Someone may annoy you for being too polite or rude. But, instead of wasting your time whining, you should move on with your live and accept that none of your fellow human beings will be 100% likeable to you.
I have to say reactionary monolingual Anglophones score really low in the resilience department. For someone who love to call people snowflakes, they sure can’t handle the mere sounds of any other languages. Even Indonesians who are very racist against Chinese people are not that triggered by the mere sound of Chinese languages (as far as I am concerned); mind you, Indonesia used to banned any public of anything perceived as Chinese!
Humanising your fellow human beings and skilfully traversing trivial human differences. In my personal views, you need both in order to truly experience multiculturalism.
Oh, and about the people I argued with…
Some did end up acknowledging that diversity does exist outside the western world and more prominently so. But, it was not an admission of error on their part.
After the acknowledgement, they proceeded to talk about how politically unstable those diverse African countries are, proving diversity is bad for unity.
Now, did you see what just happened there? In case you didn’t notice, there were goalposts moving and gaslighting happening.
They acted as if they already acknowledged the diversity of non-western countries from the very beginning, even though their refusal to do so was the reason why we argued in the first place.
They acted as if we were arguing the merit of diversity, even though we argued about its existence outside the western world.
And they also acted as if I defended diversity as an inherently beneficial thing, even though I never made the argument. Not even once.
I know some people are against this behaviour. But, I can’t help myself: my opponents clearly lost.
Well, they already lost when they made a claim proven false by data. They lost for the second time when they started moving the goalposts and attempting to gaslight me.
And one person lost for the third time when he said my refusal to vindicate his make-believe was a sign of autism.
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