By Raymond Baxter
Isn’t it funny that most people remember their childhood days with rose tinted glasses? Those who haven’t had a terrible one, that is.
I often remember 1980’s Scotland as a bustling metropolis of harmonious multiculturism and friendship. Where people would go out of their way to help their fellow neighbours, and it wouldn’t matter if they were yellow, black, brown or white. That was my own bubble though, and we lived in a fairly nice area where judgments were low and my Gran was always telling Granddad off for being racist. I remember my Granddad would shout obscenities at the TV whenever anything about Africa was on and Gran would shout back at him,
“Geordie! Stop being a bloody racist!”
I look back at those days with fond memories. Most of our area had been taken over by hard working immigrants from Jamaica; Granddad liked them and occasionally jumped his garden fence to socialise. It was funny when he talked about them in private, though; to him, those were the ‘good ones’. He couldn’t really take into account that if he always viewed people individually instead of as a group, it would have changed his narrow-minded perception.
The women in my immediate family really embraced multiculturism from the start. I was always encouraged to play and make friends with a diverse range of people. I remember having an African friend in Primary School and going over to spend the night. His Mum and Dad had a BIG leopard skin covers over their sofa and a jungle-themed rug in the middle of their lounge. As a young kid, I’ll admit I thought that if anyone reinforced a stereotype, it was Glen’s Mum and Dad. Now I realize they were just celebrating their heritage, as so many of us do.
When I went to High School we were entering a time where people from different backgrounds and countries were joining us to learn left, right and centre. My first High School crush was a beautiful girl from Spain, Lisa De-Gol her name was. I remember being absolutely transfixed by her far and away accent and her long legs and (to my mind) typical Spanish look; of course, I had never been to her country before and had only seen Spaniards on TV. In retrospect my attraction was at least in part because she was a novelty in my world, someone “exotic”. I was less shy around her brother Andy. I can remember asking him a million questions; they were different and I’ve always been interested by people whose life experience is so unlike my own.
Then there was one of my first jobs, where I worked in a hotel waitering for a fairly eccentric clientele. The hotel was an older peoples’ favourite-by-the-sea and most of them had money. People that had worked there for many years could recount times where someone famous had stayed overnight. This was where I met my first French-Canadian, and wow, what a nice chap he was. I remember occasionally we’d joke about our different cultures. We’d laugh about me being ‘Jock, the Sweaty Sock’ and him being a ‘violent lumberjack’. As young men it was a good lesson because both of us bucked our negative cultural stereotypes completely.
There were also quite a few Polish girls that we worked with; I learned to say, ‘Good Morning’ in Polish to them. I figured, hey had taken the time and made the effort to speak my language fluently, I should at least give theirs a shot, right?
That’s where I met my first Indian, too. Anand his name was. He used to enjoy badgering me to work extra hours in separate parts of the hotel because he knew I had experience elsewhere. I’ll admit I thought of him as a pest. But he also had fun with us; coming in and joking around when we were eating our on-the-job lunch, ribbing the wait staff. Yeah, we enjoyed working with him.
All through my life I’ve been lucky to have mixed with different people from different countries and it’s been thoroughly enjoyable and educational. Even when the Romanians in the flat above me started to play loud music at 3am–that was no different from the young British woman that had the flat beforehand. I always viewed it as broadening my horizons and opening my eyes to new experiences.
Yet it seems that mentality has all gone now. On the one hand, the world is giving rise to New Wave Populism where immigration is seen as a bad thing rather than something that enriches our culture. On the other hand, the innocence of fascination with people from other cultures and races has become suspect in our PC world. Some want us to vilify an entire race or religion without compunction; others wants us to pretend we are “color-blind” and don’t notice our diversity.
There is now a “right” way to be tolerant and a “wrong” way as well; the world I grew up in, where it was not only okay but encouraged that we talk to each other about our various cultural differences is gone. Now it is considered “entitled” behaviour; asking for a performance, as it were.
I believe the internet, which allows us to connect with people from around the globe, is actually isolating us further. What was once a bustling community of children playing together on the streets is now a barren wasteland of metaphorical dust and tumbleweed as we hear the wind whistle by. Then whilst we’re in the privy of our own homes we create large echo chambers to sound our own thoughts back to ourselves.
We are slowly forgetting that diversity is the spice of life; the belief I’ve always embraced!
That won’t stop me though. I’ve always lived in a world of multiculturalism and equality and have such a large and varied bunch of people that I’m really proud to call friends. Friendships that I have cultivated since I was barely seven, and won’t see the end of any time soon.
Raymond Baxter is a regular contributor at OTV