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May 18, 2012, Friday

Dealing with prejudice

Sadly, prejudice and discrimination are still commonplace around the world.
I was interested to hear a couple of friends from New Zealand share reflections about the experience of spending time with a group of fellow New Zealanders recently.

For a whole weekend, they said, they did not have to worry about saying anything that would be misunderstood by those around them because they were all on the same wavelength -- they were all from New Zealand!

One of the group, they explained, was Maori. At this some non-Kiwis listening looked blank, so my friends went on to explain that the Maori people comprise about 15 percent of New Zealand’s population, and that they are of Polynesian origin. I also found it interesting that my friend stated the Maori experienced no prejudice at all in New Zealand. It reminded me that living in an international community we can tend to simplify things we say, and to avoid comments that could be deemed offensive. This is a subtle stress in the expat’s life.

Living in Australia for a couple of years back in the 1990s, I observed that Australia was miles ahead of other Western nations as a multicultural society with little prejudice. It seems that New Zealand is also in this category, and that other nations could learn from them.

Prejudice is such a negative energy. It causes so much harm to one’s spirit and sense of identity. When we believe we are being rejected by those we want to be accepted by, it may result in extra stress, and sometimes anger. Anyone who has lived abroad knows that living in another culture can bring out the best or worst in a person.

I receive letters from frustrated foreigners living here, and also from frustrated Turks living abroad, who express concerns about the issue of prejudice. A number of the letters I receive are from foreigners who are in a relationship with a Turk and who are trying to make it work. It is obvious from these letters that the writer has had a negative experience and has been hurt. Unfortunately, I hear more often from those who have had a bad experience than from those who have had a good one. That’s true about most things, isn’t it? How often when you have a good flight or good experience in a hotel do you fail to send a positive comment, but after a bad experience or terrible flight send a complaint?

It’s important to remember that one bad experience does not mean everything is bad.

Regularly I have negative experiences where I live, usually related to bad traffic or business dealings, but I am glad to say the good outweighs the bad. So the ol’ saying “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water!” holds true.

One of the main reasons people leave Turkey, and that Turks who have lived abroad return to their home country, is because they have had a negative experience where they were living. Many letters I receive express the idea that the problem comes down to prejudice and discrimination they have experienced. A few even reveal that they have reached a “rage” level of anger -- they are ripping mad. Out of this hurt they feel, possibly as each of us at one time or another has felt, that they hate the person or thing causing this anger forever. This is usually a place of employment, an institution where somebody has studied, or people with whom they have lived.

Robert Burns, a great Scottish poet, knew about life. As he writes: “I want someone to laugh with me, someone to be grave with me, someone to please me and help my discrimination with his or her own remark, and at times, no doubt, to admire my acuteness and penetration.”

The key to life is to stay positive. By this I mean to stay positive in the sense that when difficulties come your way, be it prejudice or discrimination or rejection, you do not become bitter and let it affect your well-being.

Prejudice comes in different forms, due to things such as the color of your skin, the shape of your eyes, even the color of your eyes or hair, or considerations such as your educational background, nationality, race, etc…

A Turkish woman sent a note asking, “Is it ever possible to marry someone from another culture and for the couple not to experience any discrimination?”

I wonder what you think about this question -- post a comment or send a note!

“Prejudice, not being founded on reason, cannot be removed by argument.” -- Samuel Johnson

Note: Charlotte McPherson is the author of “Culture Smart: Turkey” 2005. Please keep your questions and observations coming: I want to ensure this column is a help to you, Today’s Zaman’s readers. Email: [email protected]

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