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How I Discovered That I Was Discriminating

I consider myself to be a very open-minded individual, so the recent realization that I was being discriminative shocked me. The last thing I want to do is discriminate -- it wasn't intentional, it only lasted about ten seconds, and I discovered that I was doing it almost entirely by accident.

I want to share this story with you so that you can be more aware of your own actions and mental processes and hopefully avoid making the same mistake that I made.

As I travel around India, I receive many stares and looks from the local people. Even some of the animals look at me funny! But it's not everyone. Some people stare non-stop until I pass them, but others just glance at me and then look away, as if I was any other human being (the normal type of interaction you'd expect between two strangers).

After a few weeks of getting stares, the fact that it wasn't everyone staring started to bug me: I'm just another human, why do some of you have to stare at me?

I started thinking that some people were being discriminative -- they were seeing that I was different and singling me out as someone they should glare at.

I thought how in the United States, if I saw an Asian, Hispanic, Indian, or African American, I wouldn't think twice. To me, they're just another human being and there's no reason to single them out as any different.

Wow, I thought, people in the United States are less discriminative than other people around the world because we have so much diversity that we've come to see everybody as humans, regardless of their skin color.

(Now that's not to say there is no discrimination -- I'm sure there is plenty -- but for the most part, average people see other people and don't stare at them just because their skin color is different, at least not where I'm from in the Northeast United States. Then again, I'm white, so I could be totally wrong.)

Suddenly I remembered an incident that occurred during one of my first jeep rides here in India. We were headed into town early one morning and all the kids were going to school; the streets were full of little groups of girls and boys dressed in uniforms carrying their bags.

When the jeep stopped to pick up passengers, two of the kids walked by the jeep and looked at me. Their jaws dropped open and their expression turned to one of utter shock. It was as if they were looking at an alien from another planet and they couldn't believe what they were seeing. Even after they walked passed the jeep they kept turning around to look, as if to make sure what they saw was real.

Wow, even the kids here discriminate!

But wait, young kids discriminating? That doesn't seem to make sense. Was it really discrimination? Or was it... curiosity?

Suddenly it hit me like a meteorite smashing into a tower made from legos.

I was the one being discriminative!

Me and my self-righteous, know-it-all, "America is better than everyone else" attitude (yes, that could be called discrimination too, but as an American, I know it's partly true) automatically assumed that people in the United States were better at accepting others and that people here in India were more discriminating because they were more likely to stare at someone with a different skin color.

It's not discrimination! They're just curious, as would anyone! People of a different color are so uncommon around here that of course a lot of people are going to stare -- it's just human nature to be curious!

In places where people of varying colors are commonplace, you wouldn't expect anyone be curious enough to stare. There's nothing out of the ordinary, so why should they? In most cities in the United States, people of varying colors are usually a common occurrence, so most people don't stare. It has nothing to do with discrimination, but everything to do with curiosity.

This entire discriminative thought process lasted only for a minute before I recognized that it was simply childlike curiosity that caused people to stare. Thankfully, remembering my experience with the children staring at me immediately made me recognize that I was, in fact, the one being discriminative.

It's incredibly easy to jump to conclusions and then hold on to our assumptions. The more we think in one direction, the more "true" that assumption becomes. Keeping an open mind means not holding on to preconceived notions and continuously challenging our own beliefs.

Have you ever caught yourself jumping to conclusions and convincing yourself that your assumptions are correct, only to later discover how wrong you really were?

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  1. Hey Raam – Wonderful post! And I know the feeling as it is definitely strange at first to suddenly be stared at so often by so many people. But the good thing about it, is that it makes you think and try to understand what is happening and clearly, you reached the right conclusion.

    It is similar when people try to charge you more money for things in India. At first, I took it as an offense until I realized that due to the poverty, everyone is just trying to get as much money as they possibly can in order to survive, and they would gladly charge a local more money as well. They are not discriminating, they are surviving.

    • Hey Earl! Thanks for the comment!

      The money thing hasn’t really bothered me that much, probably because I’m so used to seeing my mom wheel-n-deal with people that I just naturally do it too! πŸ˜€

      I’m definitely being as frugal as possible though… taking busses or walking instead of rickshaws and usually asking several shops for the price of something before getting an average price and going from there.

  2. Earl is very true with those last words of surviving by charging more. Let me as an Indian add an extra something here. We bargain a lot with the street vendors here, everywhere its very common and natural. Even they know about it ans so keep higher rates for us as well but its practically obvious even to them that a foreigner in our soil just means he’s got some more money to come visit us and so he adds a few more bucks for that occasional profit. Its just like an incentive to them.

    Raam, your curiosity is the right answer to this. Maybe its like what makes him come here to our place? What is so special here than there? Then we look at your clothes and then wonder, is life different there? In a city it is different because people of different kinds stay but in the village you never see a local walk out in shorts (unless he’s out to play) and trying to get used to the foreign atmosphere. That adds to the stares. Infact, me being an Indian from Mumbai people used to stare at me initially but it was more of glances and nothing more because the colour still isn’t foreign!

    I guess I made my point! Spoke too much infact! πŸ˜› πŸ˜‰

    • Hey Aadi! Thanks for the comment and for visiting! πŸ™‚ I love your music!

      The vendors are just being good businessmen (and women) by maximizing their income potential. I totally understand that and would expect no less!

      It’s very interesting to see things from an Indian’s perspective and I’m happy that you shared it with me! Thank you!

  3. Very sharp observation.

    you were able to take Jesus advice and “seek first the beam in your own eye before looking for the splinter in the eye of your brother.”

    Its the only way to grow, Katie Bryon is great at teaching how to take our judgments and reflect them back at ourself.

Webmentions

  • Sid Savara October 30, 2010

    How I Discovered That I Was Discriminating – http://bit.ly/abS8JC (via @raamdev)

  • Derek Earl Baron October 30, 2010

    A tale of open-mindedness from India…"How I Discovered That I Was Discriminating" – http://bit.ly/abS8JC (via @raamdev)