Monday, August 31, 2009

Living in a Vacuum

I love living in the Ozarks! The climate is moderate through all four seasons. The landscape is beautiful with hills, rivers, lakes and beautiful skies. The people are pretty down-to-earth folks (though not necessarily pretty folks) that (for the most part) love their families, their country and their God (although I'm not really sure what order to put those in). If I were to pick a downside of living in the Ozarks, it would have to be the lack of diversity. We are a pretty pale section of the American population. Of course, there are many that would argue that this is a good thing...I disagree. It gives us a pretty narrow view of others and breeds all kinds of prejudice and misunderstandings of other races, nationalities, religious beliefs and cultures.

I grew up in a small town that was (and still is) a lot like Ozark. In all of the years that I lived there, there weren't more than a few African-American families that moved into town...and they never stayed for long. We had plenty of families with Mexican backgrounds...but that wasn't the same (or as bad) as being black. All in all, my sixties childhood was spent with white kids, white families in a white town.

I am surprised (and thankful) that I have had to overcome as few prejudices as I have. Hopefully, my kids will have even fewer.

That is a challenge when you consider that our part of the Midwest is pretty much white, middle class America, located in the middle of the Bible belt. Although we are taught to love our fellow man (friends and enemies alike) in the Bible, it is easier to deal with what we don't know by maintaining a defensive posture and expecting the worst from people than by opening our minds and hearts to a different way of thinking, acting or living. The hispanic population here is pretty invisible (by their choice). The Asian population is growing and the African-American population is still considered a suspicious minority.

There is a part of me that has difficulty with the changes that are politically correct--African/American vs. black, Asian vs. oriental, Hispanic or Latino vs. Mexican or other Latino Cultures. But I really need to make those changes because I don't want to unknowingly offend someone. It should be our goal to learn about and understand the cultures that are living around us and not to speak about them out of our ignorance and hatred.

There are certainly cultures that have evolved with (and value) a purity in their race or culture. That is not the case in the United States. We are a country of immigrants. We are a blend of cultures. We have many different religious beliefs. We are a nation with many different backgrounds and origins...including the Native Americans that were here before the rest of us. We are far from a pure race. But we are Americans. I believe that our differences are part of what makes us the greatest nation on Earth. (Yes, I still believe that we are the greatest.) The people of the United States are free to come and go as they please. We travel from state to state, leave the country for vacation and business and have very few restrictions. If we want to move to another country, no one will stop you.

Though we have overcome many of the prejudices that have caused problems in the past, we still cling to others. If you are gay or Muslim (or a Democrat), you can expect to be hated in the Ozarks. Some still cling to racial prejudices (and hatred) that is very unbecoming for those that claim to be upstanding Christian citizens. In many communities, it is still the "good ol' boy" network that rules. I am often surprised by the prejudicial garbage that I still hear coming from otherwise decent people. Perhaps it is a result of living in the vacuum of the Ozarks.

I hope that as my kids grow up and expand their worlds, that they will learn about other cultures and beliefs. I hope that they will make friends and experience foods and traditions from others as well as sharing their own heritage, traditions and beliefs. I think that there is more than enough hatred in the world. It's time for us to share some love...or at least some tolerance.

John <><


Mike said...

As long as there is only one person there won't be any problems. Add a second person to the mix and that's when things start going bad.

Amanda said...

What an interesting post!

I'm always asked about racism and whether I felt discriminated against growing up in Australia. I'm happy to say that I've never come across ANY discrimination. (In fact, the only time where I've come face to face with it was in Malaysia.)

On my first trip to the US, I wondered whether I would need to feel awkward there - at work. But it turned out to be even more multicultural than Australia. I enjoyed working with the Americans a lot!

Bilbo said...

Well said, John!