I have done this, I have said things, and I have tried to justify them. I have been stressed out immediately after opening my mouth-feeling sick with regret. At the age of 15 I spent way to much time crying in my room because I was pretty sure I had lost my friend for over something I did or said. As an adult, I have tried to make changes, take a pause before I speak and be more in tune with why I say what I do and how it may be perceived.
Today I came across a group on a social media outlet that used their space to share what was thought to be humorous moments, specific to the country that they are working in, in an effort to ‘alleviate stress and discuss cultural differences’. This may not need to be an issue, but what was regarded as humour was at the expense of the very people they were there to work alongside. Once others entered into a conversation calling out the behaviour, I was stunned and disgusted to see what unfolded.
When you travel to another country to serve, work, lead, provide support or teach a trade you are entering someone else’s world. You are the visitor (no matter how long you stay), and you must adapt to how things are done differently. Think about how, within the very country you grew up in, things can vary greatly from home to home, state to state or province to province. Now imagine flying to a different country and immersing yourself in another culture; not everything will make sense. Do you really believe you can set foot in a new country and automatically think your way is the right way?
In this group pictures were posted of people doing things within their culture, albeit differently from North American methods, but not necessarily wrong. Commentaries and off-the-cuff jokes were made underneath the photos and that was the general vibe of the group. When those brave souls came along to defend their culture they were told why they were wrong and were asked to justify why they were offended. I was stunned, the white folks were attacking them for speaking up against their culture being the root of the jokes.
I watched white person after white person justify their actions, their jokes and their posts. The conversation went so far for someone to say that the country’s own diaspora wouldn’t return to the country to serve because they know it isn’t safe. Yet all the white people were ok to travel there and serve? The white saviour mentality bubbled up, and white privilege was rearing its ugly head. Almost no one could see why their behaviour was wrong because they looked at it only from their perspective. The argument was the group wasn’t actually mean-spirited because the intention was for things to be in jest, not to be hurtful.
My problem with this is that I have been spending some time educating myself, and making changes from that “I was just joking” person I was. I used to be super sarcastic and think pretty quick on my feet, making almost everything open for a wise crack. I abhorred anything to do with racism, yet often my jokes came at the expense of those around me. I was the naive person who said “I’m not racist” and I most certainly knew my heart didn’t support overt racism, but didn’t understand subtle racism. Since becoming a transracial family I have had my eyes opened and my perspective forever altered.
My world changed when I stopped thinking about my heart, and my intent and I opened my eyes to the impact of my words.
I usually know what I am saying when I say it, and I can defend my words to the ends of the earth. But what I cannot argue about is how my words may make you feel. I cannot see inside your heart, I cannot see your upbringing or what you may be going through right now. I can’t stop people from taking offence to what I might say the wrong way, but I can be cognizant of the people around me and take them into consideration. If where I am has largely become fuel for my laughter, why am I there? What impact am I having on the community I am in if, one moment I am working with them, and the next I am making fun of them?
When what I do or say has a negative impact on a person, group or a culture what I intend is irrelevant. I can defend it until I am blue in the face, but it will not erase a person’s hurt.
That is the real issue, it’s naive to think that we can explain away a joke, when the joke is about someone. When you stand face to face with your (un)intended victim, will you recognize them for who they are, their value and their humanity? Or will you continue to try to explain your reasoning to them?