Put it into words. 言葉にして。



Understanding

My thoughts about studying another culture can be summed up like this:

“Please teach me about your culture.  I seek to understand things as they really are, not as I have heard they are from a foreigner’s viewpoint.  If it’s not alright to be here, then I will leave, but please know that I seek to understand your culture, first and foremost, as you would have me see things.”

I can’t say I’m free from any bias, of course.  I know that I view things through the lens that my experience has given me.  Even so, the point of studying other cultures is to understand other people and thereby understand yourself, in order to create bridges between similar aspects in all of us.  Studying the world enriches ourselves, it enriches others, and it can enrich the world, if we choose to use our experiences to do all of these things.  Anyone in a position of power has the ability to misuse it if they would like.

I get frustrated when I hear people say things to the tune of “Oh, Americans (and/or Westerners) don’t understand anything about the world!  They think they know so much, but they don’t know anything at all!”

…I can see the point.  A lot of people have interest in others as far as their cultures may be commodified.  But I don’t want to be the kind of person who says “Oh, I love _____ culture!” while actually knowing very little about it.  I was a little bothered by the portrayal of a Western character, Jo, in the recent Bollywood film, “Love Aaj Kal.”  Mind you, I am halfway through the movie at the moment, but it bothered me when she was portrayed as saying “Oh, I love Indian culture!” after the main character, Jai, diverts her from his failed attempt to kiss her (which has greater significance in the story as a whole, but I won’t get into that here) by pretending it’s an Indian custom and saying “Om Shanti Om” (which is, of course, the title of a very popular Bollywood movie from the last decade).  The fact that she fell for it, and then went on to say that she “loves Indian temples, like the Taj Mahal and the Himalayas” (neither of which are temples!!) as a Western character frustrated me to no end.  I can’t say that I expect that she will be portrayed in a better light any later on in the movie.  It’s not the first time I’ve seen the portrayal of Westerners to be negative, by any means, but I am saddened that this kind of perception probably won’t change any time soon.

Do I sound pompous when I talk like this?  I hope not.  I want to be someone who can go to a foreign country and respect other people.  That’s all.  I know I’m a foreigner and no matter where I go some people will always see me as such; maybe everybody will.  But I want to have the experience anyway.  I want to learn, and I think that’s a reasonably good place to start, without pretense.

Edit:  I forgot to mention this completely, but I was very frustrated when viewing a clip of the film Namastey London to see that the British at a party insulted the main character, who was of Indian descent.  The things said were nastily hurtful and I am disgusted by them.  I’m sure that was intentional on the part of the film’s creators, but I am wondering just what the statement was.  It seemed to suggest that Indian culture is superior to Western culture, a sentiment which I can understand (Hare Rama Hare Krishna seems to be another film with this theme, though I haven’t seen it) given the history of contact between India and the West, specifically Britain.  Even though I can logically comprehend it, I was greatly saddened, and I hope that the general impression of Westerners is not this negative.

For this matter, I think it is wise to do as a very close friend said and realize that stereotypes are not about myself personally.  Even if someone believes a stereotype, I might break it for them.  It’s not something that I should let hurt me.  It’s frustrating to see what these stereotypes seem to be predicated upon; that is, for one example, the history of Western imperialist thought and conquest.  Why is it frustrating?  Well, because I would have hoped that by now the world would have changed to become a better place, including the people in it, who I hoped would have learned to respect other people for who they are and not attempt to “civilize” them to fit the needs of the colonizers.  But the legacy of imperialism is long lived.  I’m not even sure about the world becoming a better place–can it really?  I will try to do my part to make that happen, anyway.  I think it’s true that if we don’t study history we are doomed to repeat it.  I want to make a positive change in the world.  I hope that in my travels I can do that.

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