One day, a long time ago, a friend of mine was assaulted and as I went to visit and asked her the details of the incident, I proceeded with my next question. “So was he Malay/Chinese/Indian?”
To which my friend answered, “Why? Why does it matter?”
Why does it matter?
This little scene in my life will then proceed to become one of those small occurrences that passed me by, unnoticed by my own self but undoubtedly making a huge impact on me later on. Perhaps I was only asking to help myself further visualise this human being that assaulted my friend. But perhaps, it was also my subconscious mind showing the effects of many years being exposed to direct or indirect projection of racial profiling within the community I grew up in. I would later learn that it is really quite simple – a reliable friend is a reliable friend, a criminal is a criminal and a good man is a good man. And you’re a silly person to think that these are all subject to skin colour or how they like their rice.
Many years ago I was on a college field work for two weeks, somewhere off the grid in the harsh outback of Australia. We were assigned to a partner for the whole two weeks, and mine was a tall gorgeous Australian girl, with lovely freckles and brown hair. I dreaded this at first because we rarely talked in class and it was impossible to imagine spending all that time with just this girl in the middle of nowhere, with just a map, packed sandwiches and rock samples. I’m sure she felt the same way too. There I was, an Asian girl with a hijab, a frame small enough that I could possibly be eaten by a kangaroo, and she probably saw some suicide bomber on CNN that looked like me. I mean, what can we possibly relate on?
You could probably guess how this story ends. I eventually learned, after days and miles trekking together, naps by the railway tracks, lunches under the trees, freezing wet and caught in a storm by the roadside and getting sunburned beyond repair, the simple fact of it all; we are not really that different. We tell each other stories about our lives, and amidst the cultural and religious differences, here is what I understood. We love our family the same, we both get broken hearted the same, we both share humour over the craziness that is life, we both had hopeful plans for the future, and most of all, we both just want a joyful, content life. I was just there for my degree credits but as usual, life sneakily decided to teach me other things as well.
Over the years I would meet people and experience the unfortunate discomfort of being racially profiled, because of the way I look or the way I dress. Such is the reality of the current world we live in. We often fear or hate things we don’t understand. On rare occasions I even find myself slanting towards this attitude, and immediately tell myself off. Such is the reality of a flawed human being sometimes.
But then, occasionally you come across wonderful revolutionary people who understands the emphasis of character beyond what is physical. These people become friends, loved partners, trusted colleagues, even family. They would remind you that by the end of the day it is the connection, the meaningful relationships, the shared life aspirations and the happiness we bring to each other’s lives that would actually count. Those are the things we’ll reminisce when we’re eighty and watching the sunset from the balcony of our beach house (oh God I want a beach house).
Happy Ramadhan to those celebrating.