It is a fact that the world classifies people, separating: the attractive people from the not-so-attractive; the intelligent people from the not-so-intelligent; and so on. Imaginary lines are drawn, creating fraternizing barriers which are at times virtually impossible to permeate. Now before you think I am going all Mean Girls on you, consider for a second that there is some truth in this cheesy Hollywood teen movie. It may not be as childish as the slackers on the grass, and the nerds in front of the science labs, but it’s definitely something that exists. Think about terms such as cheese-girls and guluvas, BEEs and comrades, or conservatives and liberals. Instead of grass cafeterias and gym halls, we have suburbs, rural areas and ekasi. Then we have the Coffis, and the Market Theatres; and in the stadiums: the box seats and the stands… Geography marks the boarders of interaction, separating the “elite” from the “plebs”. Society elevates beautiful people, expecting them to interbreed so as to create more pure-breed beauties, and the same applies to clever people, rich people, professionals, artists et cetera. The saying has changed to birds of a feather should flock together and it is assumed that people are one-dimensional and easy to pigeonhole like that. The truth however, is far more complex than the neat little boxes society would have us fit into.
People are a lot more multi-faceted than that. We are made up of many different characteristics, each of which contributing to the holistic beings we are. And this does not just refer to the physical, mental and spiritual components. It extends to our professions, our hobbies, relationships and even the neighbourhoods we choose to live in. Just as a man can be a husband in his house, a director in the office and a beginner on the golf course, so too can a people exist within multiple quadrants. There are people who live outside the stereotypes of their chosen neighbourhoods and whose professions are far removed from their hobbies and passions. Hence there are stockbrokers who paint beautiful portraits, socially impaired brainiacs and insecure beauty queens. It is assumed, however, that professionalism and art are at loggerheads, that book smarts and street smarts are the same smarts and that beautiful people are flawless because society has no place for antithesis’s. And so we label these boxes, paint them with stereotypes and pack them into hierarchies, in hopes that this will bring about order in this chaotic world of social relations. Those who crossover, or fit into more than one box become exceptions, boarders are established, visas are required and some are happy to live in their little boxes without ever having to wonder what life is like outside their classifications. As a young girl, my father used to tell me that the world was my backyard and that I should play in it.
He told me that I should travel every chance I get, never judge a people according to my standards and always know that there is plenty to learn. And so I decided that it would be my mission to see more, experience more and taste more. This would in turn allow me to grow more, learn more and eventually love more. Travelling opens up one’s mind to new cultures and ways of living. When we encounter different people, they affect us somehow. They teach us lessons through both negative and positive experiences, leaving us matured somehow. These encounters, however, also expose our judgmental nature. We judge people’s food, customs, and ways of thinking; classifying them as “backward” or “primitive” and thus not worth our time. Meeting an Egyptian Muslim woman opened my eyes to a misunderstood culture of respect: for others, ourselves and all things life. It allowed me to see past American propaganda and realise that these are women who are proud to be a part of this way of life. They are women who believe that this is how things are meant to be. It also taught me that there are also those who don’t. As with any culture there are those who wish to “break away” from it all. The same goes for Swati women, or inland (orthodox) Zulu women. Travelling doesn’t necessarily have to involve a foreign country though (or a short left for that matter). It could be as simple as a conversation with someone you would never ordinarily talk to, or a visit to a place you wouldn’t normally visit. Who knows, you might just enjoy it. But if you don’t, that’s ok too. Of his journey to Lagos, Moky Makura said: “Nigeria is not for everyone, but then again, neither is bungee-jumping”. So there is a difference between understanding something and not liking it, and dismissing something you know nothing about. The former can be viewed as a preference while the latter is clearly a case of ignorance which informs prejudice.
Prejudice produces hierarchies which lead to discrimination: xenophobia; racism; sexism; ageism… Prejudice leads to young boys carrying younger corpses, and innocent displaced men with burning necklaces. But that is in its collective extremity. Prejudice also leads to missing out on Bafana Bafana vs. Brazil because you don’t have box tickets, or never truly knowing the love of your life because you couldn’t get passed his spotie (hat). When we refuse to step outside our boarders, we miss out on the joys and experiences that make life worthwhile. We make assumptions about what things are like out there and we miss out on the truth. Curiosity is the scent that makes us hunger for life. It forces us outside our doors into the big bad world. All of a sudden we find ourselves questioning stereotypes and breaking out of our boxes. We begin to realise that as people, we are all different patterns of the same cloth. A drive from Sandton, across the robots into Alexander will reveal a familiar zealous spirit enduring, enjoying and at times escaping its realities of life. A curious writer peaking into the windows of corporate South Africa will recognise a passion for an unfamiliar art. And an unlikely conversation between a street-sweeper and an overworked executive will expose two tired men trying to keep their families afloat. Through these minor journeys, one will begin to see that there is no place for elitism, and that there are no such things as pure-breeds. Most importantly, though, respect will grow: freely and without shame. Those small boxes will merge into a colourful globe and birds will be birds; free to flock wherever and with whomever they please because the skies have no boarders and are theirs for the enjoying.
*FIRST PUBLISHED BY http://www.consciousness.co.za/ * (July 2009)