There is no default kind of human being! There is so much freedom in not seeing yourself or people like you as the standard norm for society. This “one of the bunch” mentality unlocks something more refreshing and rewarding even than superiority. You are not interesting or worthy because you’re the right kind of person, or the best kind of person; you’re interesting and worthy precisely because you are A person.
I’m currently staying for a while in London, an ancient, bustling, cosmopolitan city that is incredibly diverse. People from all imaginable ethnic, national, and religious backgrounds walk past each other on the streets and wear masks next to each other on the underground. It’s normal. It’s fine. It’s fun. It works.
The above picture is of a fountain in Hyde Park, London. It’s a tantalizing departure from a city full of standing statues, mostly British men of the past. These figures, in contrast, are very much alive. They’re nameless, vibrant, anonymous, non-European, swimming, ambiguous, dancing, enjoying themselves. They are humanity, and it’s bursting into life.
Regarding racism and anti-immigrant sentiment – Who are you to think that society is “yours” to grant or disallow to newcomers in “your” city? You don’t own it any more than anyone else does. You did not erect its buildings, pave its streets, sit on its zoning committee when your neighborhood was built. Mother****er, it’s not your sidewalk! You just can’t call dibs on the world. You were merely born into it, just as “they” were- whoever it is that you choose to think of as “they” instead of “we”. Everyone currently living inherited this world from the past. None of us currently living built the society in which we now live, so it takes hubris to try to keep anyone out of our little slice of it.
Society is just another word for people and the world and systems they’ve made. It’s made up of everyone, full stop. Lack of inclusiveness toward anyone – woman, disabled, foreign language speaking, etc – is an oversight to be remedied as as soon as possible, not debated as if it were a legitimate defensible “position” in the name of conservatism or devil’s advocate or anything else. No one has the right to stand in anyone’s way while debating whether or not that person deserves access to the same opportunities or representation that they themselves enjoy. It’s the kind of privilege of a child who has snagged more than her fair share of the communal playground toys and won’t let anyone else play with them because they’re “hers.”
Any artificial system of supposed superiority resulting in oppression is incredibly unnatural. The reality of our intrinsic equality has also been present since birth. Egalitarianism is the truest, final reality of humanity no matter how many times it is trampled on.
Of course it’s a very natural impulse to see people different from you and think that you’re the normal one and they’re the weird one, but we’ve got to mentally struggle our way uphill towards maturity on this issue by decentering ourselves. The whole “Different is icky and I don’t like it Mommy” initial reaction to new things is born of basic survival impulses that don’t know when to quit. Your subconscious brain looks at something it’s never seen before and can’t tell what’s a threat and what’s not. Fortunately we are adults now and can observe and figure out what merits our fear and what merits curiosity.
The fear of difference also applies to other religions, expressions of gender and sexual orientation, etc. Focusing on people’s differences in order to distance ourselves from them makes us see them as primarily a problem instead of a person. Enter fear and callousness. Once you’ve deliberately shut off empathy for any group, you’ve opened the door for certain lives – notice especially statistics for those who are imprisoned, undocumented, low-income, LGBTQ, or elderly – become more dispensable than others. “Othering” people who don’t happen to move in your own social circle results in political and social policies with deadly consequences. We cannot afford to do it, ever.
Let’s flip the script, remember how this thing called life really works, and band together against common obstacles and in favor of common interests with everything we’ve got. Rights are not privileges. Everyone gets rights, and we’ve got to fight for that tooth and nail. But that’s just the basics. Nothing stops us from going higher, so much higher, as high as we want to when it comes to creating deep connection and belonging among and across all the wonderful disparate groups that together make up society. We don’t have to be afraid of each other or avoid each other; we can be in each other’s homes and grocery stores and neighborhoods and schools and places of worship and pubs.
Moving as far as one can get from my homeland of the USA opened my eyes to the fact that the way I was raised, and the culture I came from, were not standard but unique and surprising in many respects. It was such a glorious, exciting, giddy feeling, like a sheltered only child dropped off at rough-and-tumble camp for the summer, to find out that I was just one of the crowd. People didn’t have a good frame of reference to use as a shortcut to understanding my life story – I was going to have to explain things. Sink or swim – you’re not a little kid anymore! This is the delightful side of being an emigrant – you gain a much deeper sense of your own national and cultural identity when it’s held up in contrast with others’ backgrounds and customs for the first time. (Apparently it’s weird to sell pancake mix when that’s basically just flour?? Apparently not everyone else was brought up in a conservative religious environment like in the “Bible Belt” region??” Apparently some people cook spicy food??)
Everyone is different in some way, and so are you. Once you and your group (s) stop holding yourself up as the ideal universal bar (static, lifeless, feels like not having an identity at all because you’re just “normal”), you get to actually be special for the first time. Life is like a party: No one walks in and says, “How will you all prove that you’re equal to me?” or, “I don’t have a problem with you being here but I don’t like to hear you talking near me”. The buffet has tons of different dishes, everyone brings what they like best and explains it to everyone else, your contribution will stand or fall on its own merits (sorry about that), and you earn respect the old fashioned way – telling stories, or out on the dance floor.
What can you offer, what do you bring to the table, what is your party trick or cool story, that you bring to a multicultural society where no one group holds the reins and there is no standard? Jump in and join the fun. The water’s fine. Let’s bump shoulders, learn a few things, and make some new friends.