Disclaimer: I believe that people are equal and to be valued, regardless of race, sexuality, religion, gender, ethnicity. This was a difficult post to write. I write it acknowledging that working cross culturally is never easy. I am not in any way comparing my situation to the experiences that people have of racial persecution. Simply, this is something I am thinking through.
Barely a day goes by before I’m reminded of how “white” I am. I often think of that Sesame Street song; “one of these things is not like the other…” The colour of my skin has never been of so much interest to so many people.
Yesterday it happened as I was pedaling a massive pumpkin home. “Hey Palangi! Where you going? You buy me some noodles?” A group of young boys were interested in my destination and the contents of my wallet. (Which was zero by the way. I’d spent it on my pumpkin.) “Alu ki api.” Going home. Then they shouted a bunch of things at me in Tongan that I didn’t understand and chased me down the street.
I struggle to be seen as so white. I struggle to be called Palangi. I’m not just “white person.” I have a name.
The interest in me purely because I’m white, slowly turning a shade of bronze, worries me. The connotations of my whiteness worry me too. I must be rich (we can barely pay our power bill as we choose to live simply), I must have all the answers. I don’t have the answers. I’m interested in their answers.
In Tonga, being white elevates me to an uncomfortable position of authority. I don’t want to be treated according to my skin tone, especially not in the middle of my training on discrimination and stigma. Kinda defeats the purpose.
It makes me wonder, that in allowing myself to be seen as so different, if I am subtlety condoning identifying someone as the “other.”
To my co-workers I’m strange, as I don’t enjoy being the guest. I want to be their friend and be seen as their equal. They want me to take the first piece of cake. And so the psychological war begins.
The cake sits there. The icing starts to melt. I refuse to cut it, causing shame to them, denying their hospitality. They refuse to eat first, reinforcing the fact that that I’m an outsider. That some barriers I won’t overcome.
We all smile and laugh, masking our frustration. I’m sure we are all silently yelling, to just cut the damn cake.
But cake can mean so much more than cake.
“There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus” – Galations 3:28