The Otherside: We are all a little ignorant

Below is an article I wrote for my school paper:

Picture grocery shopping in a store with tiny aisles minding your own business, looking for bread. I turn the corner into the right aisle. I run into a couple. I’m there before they are.  I think that they will move over to let me slide by. That doesn’t happen.

The lady looks at me in disgust and asks me rudely to move. I am so taken aback by this situation that I just stand there, dumbfounded by her reaction towards me. She leans over to her husband and whispers loudly “the Mexican can’t understand English.”

At this moment, I’m not going to lie but it felt like someone slapped me across the face. What had I done? I didn’t realize moving from a city to a rural community was going to be a drastic change in my life. It has been a year since I last visited the community, and a year since I visited my dad.

I didn’t know the lady in the grocery stores story. Neither did I know what she’s been through, but she also knew nothing about me. The sad thing is, my story is not unique. To her, I was the unknown, and in this community the unknown was scary. She probably saw me and didn’t know what to think. Perhaps she never had the opportunity to interact with the “other.”

Even with the opportunity to interact with someone outside the community, she insulted me, only to return to what she knew. She had a chance to make the unknown known. But, she didn’t try. I left the community. She didn’t. Perhaps she is the victim and not me.

This community in Kentucky is like a bubble. It’s the same people who have always lived there. My dad is still friends with the people that he knew at elementary school. It’s custom in many rural communities to know everyone.

Principia shares many similarities to rural Kentucky. Students have the same friends from camp, middle school and even acorn group. So how does this close kinship of childhood friends impact our interaction with others?

Entering a close knit community is hard. It is even harder if you are a minority. In an interview with an international student who wished to stay anonymous says, “I never knew I was black until I came to the United States.”

“It’s not that I didn’t know I was black. My skin color is obvious, but I just didn’t realize my color had such a negative stigma. I was no longer just me, but me and my color. My color was not just a color, but all these negative stereotypes behind it,” she explained.

Since being in the states and having an acute awareness of her skin tone, she has become hyper aware of her accent. “How does it sound? Am I mispronouncing something, which is why people are giving me blank stares.”

“No student wants to repeat themselves multiple times,” in explanation why she chose to be more quiet in class and social interactions.

Adjusting to a new culture and country is not easy. It’s hard, scary, and lonely, but it doesn’t have to be. I can only imagine what many of the international students feel when first arriving in the United States.

And domestic students wonder why there is a divide within the student body at Principia.

“I think international students of color at Principia should first understand that U.S. students are generally institutionally ignorant about any other culture outside of the U.S.” said Professor Billy Miller.

“Indeed, most are ignorant about their own culture. Consequently, for the most part, too many are incapable of empathizing with the cultures of others. So, international students should not take the insulting and embarrassing cultural stereotyping personal when some domestic students engage in the horrible episodes of racialized behaviors.

International students should engage with domestic students notwithstanding their ignorance about the GLOBAL “other.” They should go forward with the greatest love and empathy for domestic students and take the highroad to loving them notwithstanding themselves” said Miller.

I must confess my own ignorance at this point. I roomed with an international student my first semester freshman year. We didn’t have the option to choose roommates. I have to admit I didn’t know how to meet her halfway, so we didn’t talk for most of the semester. But we both spent a lot of time in the room. She was doing homework and I was watching Tedtalks.

Then one day we spoke. I can’t tell you the specific day or what we spoke about, but we discovered how much we had in common. It’s odd looking back and realizing how afraid I was to be vulnerable and afraid to show my ignorance.

Sure I had to Wikipedia some information and google map her home. Only to realize it wasn’t what I expected. It was normal. Today, this woman is now one of my best friends.

This isn’t about looking down at domestic students, like myself, but for all of us to take moment to think about what the real issue is. We have an opportunity at Principia to enrich our lives by getting to know the “other.”

The “other” is that international student or person who you don’t normally interact with. Someone that might not only look different, but have a different political ideology.

So meeting the other doesn’t mean losing your identity or beliefs. It means loving your neighbor. To learn from one another we must all be willing to take down the barriers. Just like the incident that occurred for me in Kentucky. I realized I was once that woman.

We are all a little ignorant at some point in our lives. But we have the opportunity to change that. At Principia we have over 80 international students from six different continents; this is a chance to express Love.

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