It was time for me to experience some of the advantages and disadvantages of my own background.
I got two prestigious appointments in the European parliament in Luxembourg and the European Central Bank in Frankfurt. But in neither country I felt welcome by the locals. In fairness to the Germans, who go the extra mile to appear tolerant, possibly for historical reasons, at the time I arrived, most people from my country were notorious for drug dealing, prostitution, swindling. It takes such an effort to allow someone to break the stereotype you have of them that most people simply don’t want to waste their energy.
To my surprise, however, the Turks that we historically hate in Bulgaria came to my help and rescue, whenever I needed it.
When I came back to Bulgaria, I had a clash with race again, when I took up an appointment as a teacher in school primarily attended by Roma students. When I started the job, what I had in mind was my American dream school, where I had been so happy. This is why it was a huge shock for me that most of my students were not interested to study, behaved disrespectfully, and complied with all negative stereotypes I was familiar with.
This is where I learned that when we speak of true integration, it is both parties that have to make an effort, not only the one that seems to have the upper hand. Otherwise, the result is a fake integration, where the more powerful pretend they are OK, without ever fully accepting the oppressed.
Delving deeper in the issue of race, our current perception of it is incredibly skewed into a clear-cut division of four distinct races – white, black, yellow, red with a few additional ethnicities and mixes modifying the blend. To understand more about this, I took a DNA test from National Geographic. The results were startling: I was 40% Slav, 30% Greek, 12% Spanish, 9% Turkish, 9% Jewish. Which God should I pray to now? Jesus, Allah, Jehovah? And if I accept only one of them, what would that mean for the rest of me?
Similarly, I remember a white supremacist in the US, who agreed to take a DNA test and it turned out he was 20% black. I think genetics can help many people that have ideas full of stigma related to race, to think of it in totally different perspective. It is one way to see people as: I am white, they are black. It is totally another to consider – I am a mix, they are a mix.
The topic of race, especially in recent weeks, has become inflammatory. Many people are quick to demonstrate how tolerant they are, many institutions follow their lead with beautiful statements. My own college sent me a couple of emails how important racial equality was and what great efforts they are making to achieve it. I felt jealous. That’s right – a white heterosexual male felt jealous of African Americans because when I wrote letters of plea to my college to help me with visa, all I got was – “we can’t help”. I felt like if I have studied for four years, worked for one year, have perfect papers and am contributing to the community and society, I want to have the chance to stay legally and not have my life raffled on a lottery ticket. Not a word about that. Not a word about the humanitarian crisis with refugees in the Middle East. Because it is not fashionable.
This is not to steal the moment from African Americans and the gross injustices they face on a daily basis. This is to point out that we, humans, often deal with racial problems on stampede basis, continually refusing to see and address all challenges, everywhere, all the time. The problem with this approach is that when the fashion passes, things tend to go back to “same old, same old” until a new crisis erupts a few years later somewhere else around the globe.
I believe this media outburst produces fake tolerance. To me, if you aim at true equality, you won’t wait until someone is choked to death to start your integration and support policies. I believe many white people are joining the bandwagon simply because they want to be perceived as tolerant and not because they truly believe in equality or want to do anything about it. On this topic I strongly recommend the miniseries Little Fires Everywhere that exposes the fake tolerance of an entire American town and its perfect citizens.
I also wrote an article about this fake tolerance, which examined a leading English newspaper’s reaction after a soccer game between England and Bulgaria – ‘Lions v/s Animals’. In my article, I criticized both the Bulgarians for terrible organization and attitudes, and the English – for claiming they had overcome the issue of race, while at the same time having no black coaches or black executives in the Football Association.
When we bundle people into race, we inevitably fall into the trap of missing the entire story, which is – every race has criminals, every race has great people, which is why our attitudes should not be based on color only.
Recently, I had a mental break-down, better known under the name – burn-out. Some of my friends included me in a social media group about bike tours. I wrote that I am having psychological problems and I was almost immediately excluded from the group without any further explanation. It hurt. Just as it always hurts to be excluded or violated just because of who you are, something you can do nothing about.
This is why I often think about the best way for people to accept difference, and for different races to live in equality. To be honest, I am at a loss if there is a way and what is the right way to move into that direction, given that we are all humans, that humans have fears, and the easiest way to fight fear is to attach it to a certain difference, the easiest one being the color of the person, followed by their ethnicity, religion, nationality, behavior, mental state.
Of course it would be perfect if those in power agreed to provide more and better opportunities for those oppressed or excluded, and those oppressed or excluded made a real effort to overcome victim mentality, but I realize there will always be a great many on both sides, for whom the status quo is just fine, because it provides easy answers to very difficult questions.
Since I can’t decide if the glass is half full or half empty, I choose to keep my faith with those who are making a daily honest effort with their own lives, regardless of race or any other personal circumstances, so that we can all breathe freely in the world we live in.
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