I played hockey from before I was 11 till i was 18. In Australia, hockey is played largely on grass and basketball courts. The ball is hard and the sticks are wood with a short curved end. You cannot use the back of your stick. You cannot use your feet other than transport. If the ball hits your feet it is a penalty to the opposing team. For two thirds of my life I have had it heavily ingrained in my behaviour, that when you play hockey it is offensive to kick the ball. It is against the rules, it is wrong. Throughout my time playing hockey, I had trained myself to avoid touching the ball with my feet. Giving my stick priority. Every time.
In Australia, it is rude to lean across the table to grab something. If you lean across someone, it is rude, it is not nice, it is offensive. If i did such a thing at my grandmas house she would have given me a death stare, or made a comment about my manners.
I use these two examples to make a point. When I came to Sweden i started playing Innebundy every week. Innebundy is very similar to indoor hockey. It is only different in stick size, goal size, ball density and – you can use your feet to control the ball except for shooting goals. So i enter this very similar world and it starts internally offending me. Every time the ball hits someones feet, or even if someone KICKS the ball, it hurts my sense of justice. It is unfair that someone could get away with using their feet on the ball. Because, in my mind, I am still not allowed to do that. Its a penalty. So the more I played, the more this dialogue in my head – “Why are they allowed to do it and I’m not” The injustice of the situation that my trained-from-birth culture says, whilst reality was quite different.
When it was explained to me that the reason ‘swedish arm’ exists (reaching across the table to grab something) it made me happy. It was connected to Swedes valuing conversation so much that they didn’t want to interrupt each other by asking for someone to pass the tomato sauce, so they just reach for it. For some Australians, it is still incredibly offensive because all of our lives we have been taught by our grandmothers to wait and ask.
Throughout my 29 years I have met and done life with many different cultures, and there have been moments of intense conflict and discomfort because i get offended by the clash of two opposite truths. And when we do our research, both cultures are saying good and positive things, but, in our hearts, deep down in the essence of who we are – it hurts.
A part of racism is the broken ability to arrogantly think our conclusions are the only and the best. When the English invaded eastern Australia, the primitive technologies of the Aboriginal people were looked on as laughable. The fact that the indigenous people had lived on that land mass for 40,000 years and had kept themselves fit and healthy was ignored as the English had concluded that their way was right, and any other way was not as good. And therefore less worthy and valuable.
When a fully connected instagram celebrity walks into a village in Indonesia with not even phone reception, there is a moment of brain explosion. ‘How could you live without the internet?’ Who likes your photos here? And its moments like these that transform “different way of living” into “these people must be less worthy than us, and therefore easily oppressed”. Which is exactly what the Dutch east India company did. As well as all the other slavers and large industrial corporations. The people at the bottom are stupid sheep that can make the top people loads of money. Whoever is at the bottom are then seen like that by the top and the progeny of the top for generations.
Because then, our grandmothers teach us that culturally we don’t associate with “them”. In my rather multicultural schooling I didn’t associate with those in “other” churches. Or those from “other” schools. It was less about race and more about ideology. But the idea is similar. The labels we give other people also effect how we respond to those labelled ‘other’. If one student from a certain school hurt me with their opposing culture, then ALL of them must be the same, so I will treat them all with the same caution, or disrespect, or violence that i accorded the first one in vengeance.
Currently in our world all muslims must be terrorists because one or two muslims are. All Russians must drink a lot of vodka and not really care about their leaders corruption, because one or two of them drank vodka in a James Bond film once. In Australia there were seasons of ‘well, he’s from Lebanon, he must like starting fights’ or ‘he’s from Vietnam, he must know someone in the heroin trade’ We hear these random one offs and then paint everyone with them.
It’s easy for our brains. Because our brains aren’t very good at individualising all 7 billion of us. So it makes sense. But its also weird that we paint everyone negative so much more than we paint everyone positively. Every Indian I have met has been peaceful and friendly. So why don’t I assume that every Indian I meet is friendly and peaceful? and you could go through most cultures and pick out positives, but instead we don’t.
I could easily be racist because I have been bullied by a Serbian, I got sick eating Cambodian street food, I have been rudely interrupted by a dutch and a german and I have been deceived by members of many other different cultures. But instead I like hanging out with different cultures because they instinctively show me which parts of my Australianness are ridiculous. They celebrate things i don’t, that should be celebrated. And they laugh at funny things that I have never found funny but should.
This world is being torn apart by unnecessary racism because in the end we are all the same. We just translate the world a little differently.