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Friday, May 8, 2015

Please Shut Up, I'm Speaking

There are a few things that get my blood boiling. Injustice. Discrimination. Unfairness. Tonight it was a FB post discussing religious freedom and Caucasian monocultural Americans making inaccurate statements about Islam.

I was born and raised in the Middle East but unlike the brash Americans who speak their mind without thought, I learned to speak softly and in truth. I learned to respect my elders and call them Auntie or Uncle, rather than brazenly address them by their first name even if they were in their 40s and I was a teenager. But this is not about cultural expectations, though I could wax eloquently on that. This post is about the TCK's (third culture kid) need to defend cultures not their own because they understand the common bond of humanity.

I defend cultures I have never lived in, religions I do not practice, and people I've never met. I become pricklier than a bear in a blackberry patch when I perceive ill-founded assumptions are being flung about as if absolute truth. My heart starts racing as I formulate and reformulate my words before carefully writing them out in reply. If I must speak, I will often say No, that is not true, and then attempt to speak truth.

The problem is. . .they never listen.

We grew up learning to listen, to absorb, to integrate multiple worldviews into a single kaleidoscope of a myriad of rainbow colours. I still spell in British, I crave Middle Eastern food, and I book airline tickets to Asia. Even as I slip between cultures, I take pieces of them with me, hoping they will change me.

Then there are those who resist. They have not lived in someone's home, eaten their food, wiped their tears, or held their hands. Their experiences are limited to a single solid colour of varying shades that can never expand beyond clearly defined boundaries. In the same way, they expect to place their endpoints on other worldviews, certain those will fit neatly into a predefined box. It is not so.

It is possible to live in the United States of America and be a bigot even if having Middle Eastern neighbours, shopping at the Asian supermarket, and eating pasta for dinner. Moving across state lines or even traversing from one coast to the other does not guarantee the ability to open one's mind to a broader perspective. Of necessity, cultural understanding is best found when lost outside familiar borders.

The TCK knows this. They purchase visas like American teenagers pick up a pair of jeans at Gap. They navigate public transportation systems easier than riding the Greyhound. They eat unpronounceable and unrecognizable foods when children refuse to eat their vegetables. They carry passports like state IDs, ready to exchange currency, purchase an airline ticket, and step into alternative universes where monoculturals see extremists in every foreign face. They are fluent in culture while others cannot pronounce "Iran" correctly.

Ours is a lifelong battle. Even as we learn to accept our gift to live in liminality, or between places, we know it comes with a price. Our understanding means we are now called to be guardians of truth. We must defend; we must protest. Ours is a lonely battle, familiar only to those who fight it with us.

The borders are rapidly shrinking. Our world is becoming less compartmentalized and more open to the diversity we have always carried within us. It is to this tune we march on, ever hoping, never flagging. We will defend; we will protest. Until everyone knows little girls dream of puppies and little boys dream of trucks the world over.

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