I have always thought that the fact that I was growing up in an all-white society really gave me a rather limited perspective on life and was sort of envious of people that were born in more culturally diverse societies. But about a month ago at the interculturalist congress and Granada, Spain, while sharing with a young American lady about various topics that had to do with racism, I have realized that perhaps not all was bad about my situation and that I have actually inherited something beautiful – the state of being colour blind. Let me explain.
You see, I grew up in the country that does not exist anymore: Yugoslavia. We were brought up in a discourse that the West, with it’s capitalist exploitation of people, was bad. And we were also taught that the East, with it’s communist dictatorship and ignorance to basic human rights, was also bad. We were taught that neither of the two extremes of the Cold War were of any good and that the world needed the third way. The opportunity for the third way was seen in the Non-Aligned movement that basically consisted of the Third World countries, and Yugoslavia, the only member from Europe. So the heroes that were presented to us were in general, along with Tito, of Asian and African origin, like Gandhi, Nehru, Naser, Kaunda, Mandela… We were taught to respect these people and race did not play any role AT ALL. In fact, white race was, in general, seen as aggressive and non-white as oppressed freedom fighters and a new hope for humanity.
Yet another fact was that we had no first-hand relations with non-white individuals at all. In fact NOBODY had any experience and there was no heritage in this regard whatsoever. Blank page. Nothing happened in the past. No stories, no biases, nothing. So, while talking to this young American lady, who had to, while growing up in the U.S., dig her way through all the cultural prejudices, personal and family stories, discourses of all sort of kinds, in order to build her own relationship (which will, no matter what she does, never be only her own, it will never be pure), I realized how lucky I really was. Whenever this white American lady sees an, say, African American on the street, so many associations automatically jump up, so many layers get stimulated, so many lenses pop up in her mind, blurring and biasing her image, on perhaps a very subtle and weak lever, but nevertheless it is there. This is at least how she has explained to me.
Listening to her I realized that actually my first contact with a non-white person was when I found myself, at age 17, in Africa on my escape from life. And there was no background to it, no pre-planted seeds, no attitudes, no preconceive ideas, just a simple and straight interaction with another human being. The colour of skin mattered just as much as the colour of hair. Nothing. On the conscious level at least.
And to this day I cannot find anything else in regard to my perception of diversity of the colour of the human skin. Seems like my relation to the question of “other races” started out of nothing and did not evolve in any weird ways. I feel like a happy colour blind person. So, as weird as this dead country of Yugoslavia was, I am actually really happy I was born here.
And, speaking of Yugoslavia, here’s a video of my ex-schoolmate with his artistic name Magnifico, about Yugoslavia – The Land of Champions. It is a nostalgic account of the times lost, with using the iconography of spaghetti western films (and some kung-fu movies too) that we all grew up watching and adoring, and with strictly sticking to the macho Balkan English accent. Enjoy!