27 August 2002

Respect for Different Ethnicities and Cultures

Équipe -Pose ta question!-

Where are you from?  That's an interesting accent…

It is automatic for people to make judgements and assign labels to everyone they meet.  Whether it's because of the way someone talks, or the colour of their skin, there are pigeon holes for every type of person, and it makes it easier for some people to deal with the world if everyone fits into one of the categories.

Whether or not it is intentional, casual interactions are rule by first impressions, arbitrary judgments and stereotypes,  pre-conceived ideas of how a person should act – usually according to what we think we know of a person's ‘'type'' – are comfortable, and as a result we fall back on them when uncomfortable or uncertain.

This does not mean it's okay, or even appropriate.  Stereotypes and judgments are another kind of prejudice, and lessen a person's worth when they are forced into a specific mold.  As we have already demonstrated, most people do not fir into general categories, and must be dealt with on an individual basis.

Any label will foster a falsehood, if only because labels tend towards stereotypes, which do not take personal quirks and foibles into consideration.  Stereotypes are designed to simplify, to break down an entire group of people into its lowest common denominators, and exaggerate them into caricature.  It is virtually impossible to have a healthy relationship with someone by starting from this point.

Prejudice is a difficult obstacle to overcome, but it is possible.  We must be ever mindful and vigilant, however, to resist stereotypes and automatic judgments.

Am I obligated to choose between my sexuality and my culture?  Will I be forced to abandon an important part of my self?

In the conflict between the sexual and the cultural, many are tempted to sacrifice one for the other.  It is even encouraged by one side or the other, as if one were somehow ‘'better'' than the other.

It is a choice no one should be asked to make.  The gay community is only as strong as the diversity of cultures is hypocritical when compared to the discrimination and hatred the community already faces from the rest of the world.

The same can be said about any other cultural community.  There are stereotypes about every kind of race, religion, and ethnicity, which are forms of discrimination and should be rallied against as a whole.  To belittle or reject anyone within that community because of being different is counterproductive.

The assumptions people make about the gay culture can often be hurtful and insulting, as can be any assumptions or judgments about any culture.  It is important to avoid not only assumptions about other cultures, but also about the superiority – or inferiority – of our own.

Perhaps the worst aspect of cultural discrimination is its eclipsing nature.  When one particular group, be it ethnic, racial, or sexual, is considered inferior or unacceptable, any positive or redeeming features are instantly discounted.

The thinking that any culture is superior to any other is only flawed and misguided.  Every culture can be criticized, but it is essential that intolerance not cloud our judgment.  It is only by learning to accept one another's differences, first within our community, that we can possibly hope others to accept our differences, who are not part of our community.

What if I was the one labelling other people?

All cultural communities have a sense of solidarity, which occasionally comes out in a sense of superiority and discrimination, especially when a culture is in the minority.  The sense of being outnumbered weighs heavily and the instinct to snap back with arrogance and insulting stereotypes becomes stronger. 

Not all labels are insults.  In the gay community, “fag” and “queer” the words have been reclaimed.  Now, these are used as terms of endearment and camaraderie, and are worn with pride by many homosexuals.

It is possible that ethnocultural minorities may resist the challenges of cultural awareness about cultures which are different from their own,

It is perfectly possible that the very cultural diversity that makes the greater gay community so rich is also its greatest problem.  With so many separate loyalties, each fighting to be recognized, it may be tempting to resist integration, for fear of losing one part or another of ourselves.

So it becomes necessary for the gay community to accept that, just as they are different from the greater heterosexual community, and that there are differences within the heterosexual world, so are there differences within the homosexual community, and the homosexual world.  Since homosexuality can be found in all cultures, races, and beliefs, these differences must be respected in order for the community to be unified.

When you need a doctor or a social worker…

Unfortunately, even social and community workers can be uninformed, and can fall into stereotyping.  Though this can be discouraging, and even a bit frustrating, these professionals are trained to help people, and ideally should be able to adapt and learn to deal with people from all walks of life.

It often helps to talk to professionals about the conflicts that arise between cultural and sexual realities.  Though support groups and friends are also good, someone trained to guide someone through an emotionally and psychologically stressful time can be quite valuable.

As with anyone else, health care professionals and social workers are subject to personal beliefs and prejudices.  There are occasions when those trained to help people contribute to the greater harm.  Keep in mind that if any one person persists with attitudes that belittle, degrade, or even outright discriminate, they are breaking the law.  No one is allowed to discriminate on the basis of physical, spiritual, or sexual characteristics.

Adapted from ‘I Am Of Many Colors.  Have Pride in Them All’  published by Séro Zéro.