Here is an email I received from a friend recently:
Have you ever come across racism? Has the issue ever arisen where you were concerned? When people don’t see you as a person but as a fraction of a race? Have you heard of “She’s Chinese, don’t bother she won’t understand what you’re saying”, or “He’s British, he’s a snob”?
I have read it in books and heard about it, but until today I never had to worry about it. Many take pride in themselves by noting that they can get along with anyone, despite color or origin. And true, anyone can claim that. But when that value is tested, that’s when we know for sure.
Today, walking home, a boy collapsed in front of me. He fell backward and at first I was looking to see if it was a movie scene being filming. I live in a town where lots of pictures get taken and filming happens all day long. However, no camera was in the vicinity and so I ran to assist. I didn’t know what to do; I wasn’t sure if he had fainted or he was dead. I removed his earphones and shoes, as I tried to gesture to people to please come and help. They were just walking oblivious of what was going on.
How do you just walk by someone who falls backwards in broad daylight? In our modern society, have we become so pre-occupied with ourselves that we don’t see beyond our eye lids? Or are we unsure of ourselves and don’t know how to react to such situations? Or is it fear? Do we fear that we could be blamed if the person we are trying to help dies in our arms?
Think about this; what if someone you love fainted in the street, and passersby just went on their way, and he or she died because of lack of attention, then a day later the police call you. As you listen to their details you realize if only someone had ran to you friend’s aid, their life would have been saved. You wonder how insensitive society can be!
As I tried to get the boy some help, I went to a nearby guard house and asked the guards if they could help. They came, smiling, wanting to know – was he my boyfriend? They said I could take him to the guard house. I motioned to some young men to come and assist, they reluctantly came and we shuffled to the guard house. When the guard called first aid post, they wanted to know what race because I kept hearing him repeat “Negro”, “Negro”. There was a girl among the onlookers who knew where the boy was from, and she called someone to inform the ambassador of his country.
It was only after he came that the first aid person made her appearance, fifteen minutes later, with bidding from the ambassador. But then she left after checking his blood pressure. We stood there, the ambassador and his assistant, the former trying to get an ambulance and me feeling guilty that there wasn’™t much I could do. I stayed on, holding the boy’s keys and brief case.
I stayed because I come from a culture where someone in need despite tribe, color, age, etc, will get assistance when they need it and because I believe in helping where I can. Well, what if one day something happened to me? What should I expect from people who still refer to darker skinned people as Negro?
The boy was lying in the guard house for 40 minutes, he had difficulty in breathing. But since the paramedic had just made a brief appearance and left, no gas mask was available. The ambulance had not arrived. When he came to, his head pained and he didn’t know what had happened. I left at this point.
I haven’t felt as sad in a long time. I have been sick many times, but never fainted. I felt sad for this boy, far away from home. I felt sad for all others who try to make a home in foreign lands, where acceptance doesn’t come easy, and where even writing this kind of an article might earn me the electric chair.
That is quite a nerve racking experience!
I do not have first hand experience about racial discrimination, but I totally agree with you when you say “Many pride themselves noting that they can get along with anyone, despite color or origin, and true, anyone can claim that but when that value is tested, that’s when we know for
There are many things that people claim that they are prepared for, but never quite know how they will react until they are tested. I know that feeling different is never a comfortable feeling, but when it is constantly pointed out to us, I suppose it takes us back to lower primary school when being different was something of a novelty and something to be made fun of.
Your story reminds me of my older sister who has been epileptic since we were kids. We used to be classmates in class 2 when she began getting the fits. Of course when that happened, other children would look at me, and I would feel very helpless, especially since in most cases, all of them would back away and I would be expected to attend to her. Even today, I can tell you by name all those kids who used to laugh at her and call her nicknames and how bad it made me feel. I often wonder how much worse my sister must have felt. Most of the times, I just used to pray that she doesn’t get an epileptic fit. I still dread those episodes and to this day, I get nervous when I am around her. I sometimes feel as if I wouldn’t know what to do if it happened.
Another thing that your experience reminds me is how lucky we are to have compassion. I have experienced total strangers taking care of my sister whenever she got a fit when none of us was around. I even remember one woman who fished her from the river one morning when she fell on her way to school. She saved her life. I believe it is this remarkable quality that made you look after the boy and stay on until you were sure that he was safe.
These kinds of experiences come to us in order to teach us the not so much talked about lessons in life: Lessons about being human. All those people who walked by must have had thousands of lessons in being engineers, or salespeople, or secretaries, or businessmen, or even doctors, but what about compassion…being human? But please, do not let what happened blind you to the fact that there are many people with compassion burning inside them all around you. Yes! They just didn’t pass-by that day. Compassion is a human character everyone has, but that becomes temporarily obscured by busyness, like the sun sometimes disappears behind the clouds for days. Look up! There are many beautiful things that you have already experienced in that country that should not be stained by what happened. And still there are many more beautiful things to come. Anticipate them.
Make the most important lesson out of this experience not to be about racial discrimination, or other people’s ignorance, but one about your gifts as a compassionate human being, regardless of where you are or how inconveniencing it is to you. As you said, anyone can claim anything but it is not until that value is tested, that one knows for sure. On that day, your compassion was tested. What do you now know for sure?
God bless you always, my friend.