When I was young, innocent and avowedly stupid I used to think that the best cure for racism was getting to know other peoples, and that aside from multiculturalism, travel was the ideal way of doing this.
Then I traveled.
In a country with a skilled migration program like Australia, you only see a small sliver of a country’s population. I knew Indians all my life. To me they were brainy classmates, engineers, restaurateurs, business men and assorted other respectable types. I had noted a touch of arrogance about them, but generally acknowledged their industrious and talented nature.
I never knew a single stupid Indian until I traveled to India. There, one just needs to look out the window to see any number of astonishingly stupid things going on. Those skinny, iodine-deprived, low caste fellows are the ones that didn’t make it to Australia.
I had previously been led to believe that poor countries are poor because of colonial interference. In India, you see, the British had destroyed local industries, forced them to export their raw materials at a cheap price, crushed their indigenous societies etc. etc. And all this is true, but it does not alter the one, inescapable cause of India’s present situation: India is full of Indians.
There’s a cruel joke in Africa I wouldn’t dare repeat here. Oh, you insist? Well, okay: What’s the difference between a tourist and a racist? A week. Again, an examination of a country’s inhabitants will tell you all you need to know about why that country is the way that it is.
And sometimes the real-life experience of travel makes one’s thoughts venture in the other direction. Many Westerners in Japan are extremely impressed with all they’ve accomplished. The infrastructure, the customer service, the octopus porn: we could learn a lot from them. And all of it, good and bad, stems directly from their native abilities and culture.
Travel sometimes makes one become more specifically racist. For example, I once had general ideas about ‘Asians’. Now I have well-fleshed-out ideas about Koreans, Japanese, Taiwanese, Mainlanders and all the rest, and also specific regions within those countries. Those Kansai Japanese are a hoot! Except the Kyoto ones, of course. Hint: locals’ stereotypical ideas about their near neighbours are an excellent guide. Ask me about Kiwis!
Similarly, I once had an image of ‘Africans’ but I can now break this down into smaller divisions. When Aussies complain about Sudanese migrant criminals I remind them that these are mostly South Sudanese, and my countrymen wonder what the hell I’m talking about. But the Sudanese would understand.
Travel makes you see the world as it really is. And having seen this reality once, you don’t then have to go travelling to each and every country to figure out why that place is the way it is. I’ve never been to Mexico but I think I get the picture. Ditto Bangladesh, France and Tonga.
There are some, of course, who manage to travel extensively without noticing any of this. The pattern described here totally escapes many NGO and UN types. Is this surprising? It is their job not to notice. Humans are very good at it. Medieval monks could study the Bible for decades without noticing any contradictions, and plantation owners could boldly justify the moral rightness of their behaviour without ever noticing that the slaves weren’t that into it. Man’s sixth sense is his blind spot – his ability to turn off his other senses when convenient.
Where I part company from the more enthusiastically race-realist bloggers in this part of the web is that I think the role of genes can be oversimplified and thereby overstated. There is a complex interaction between genes and environment, and one environmental factor is culture. Yes, culture is to some extent downstream of our DNA, but it is nevertheless changeable. On this side of the equation, nations can evolve in decades.
Within very short timeframes, the Scandinavians went from Vikings to sitting down to piss. The Chinese went from an advanced civilization to barbarous pushers, yellers and spitters. The Japanese went from beheading, invading, raping lunatics to polite, shy, pacifist shut-ins. And the Russians – actually, Tsarist, Soviet or whatever it is they’re doing now, they never really change.
But the underlying point is the same. Forget about all your bold plans to rescue Africa, to liberate China, to soften the murderous edges of Latin America, or to wean Australians from the demon drink. We are what we are. If and when we change, the change comes from within.
My most Zen colleague copes well with any insanity thrown at us. If malign neighbours cut off our water, or if remittances take a month to go through, or our customers go berserk, she simply shrugs her shoulders, looks at one as calmly as a Brahmin cow, very almost chews a cud in blissful contemplation, and says: ‘Let Africa be Africa.’ She’s been on the continent a very long time and this is the best advice I’ve received so far.