An Incident In Grodno 

My roommate was standing at the bus stop with her friend. They were going somewhere, I don’t remember where, and the bus was taking a bit of time. Finally, the bus arrived . They move towards the back door and the “youngish” lady that had been waiting there earlier veers off quickly to the other. My roommate recalls that the bus had been crowded, but they still had a clear view of “youngish lady”, who took time to turn around and give the occasionally  finger to both of them. 

Unfortunately, for both parties really, they stopped at the same bus stop. My roommate and her friend had to endure the pedestrian pass, walking behind “youngish lady”. She was openly aggravated and disturbed by the turn of events, and turned intermittently to shout at them to ‘stop following me!’ , and the random flip off.

In an almost comical twist, their destinations were right next to each other. It’s funny now, but still, not at all.

My roommate brought this up when we were discussing differences in extent of racial bias between Poland and Belarus (she had just returned from the catholic World Youth Day and was pretty charmed by the former). I played devil’s advocate and attempted to poke a few holes into the enchanting picture she was painting of the place.

Her argument wasn’t without merit. The incident I described earlier happened in Grodno. It’s a city in Belarus, and unfortunately, it’s not a singular one. Not quite rampant, but happens often enough for one to remember it exists.

I moved from a country where  racial discrimination is nearly non-existent (we have a considerable number of resident foreigners); to one where people move their children away from m, where stares follow me (toddlers have this amazed face “mummy look! Look!”, where people ask to touch/pull at my hair because “is it real?”

Then they’re the people who smiled at me and started conversations, the teacher who asks me how i am doing and invites me out for adventures  (i love you, Miss Olga), the grocer that remembered me and chased me down when i forgot what i had bought at her stand (i do that sometimes), the cleaning lady (Elena)  that  stops  by when i make breakfast and tells me about her daughter and trying to learn  a new language.

I believe that ignorance is the root of racism. Open acceptance of the differences that make up the vibrant nature of cultures we exist in, is a good step; because we, and our kids really, ought to love in a world wherein one’s worth was not defined by the color of our skin or pre-existing stereotypes.

 

 

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