Letters from Americans are kept on the American Perspectives page.
How many times have you walked down the street and noticed the color of someone’s shirt, the way they walk, how much weight they carry, or their gender? How many times have you judged what you saw? It’s universal that no matter where you go, we all see with our eyes. No one wants to be enlightened by the image, to hear the story behind it. People want to adhere to the assumption they’ve made of the image.
We’re taught all along not to judge a book by it’s cover, but in a world that judges everything else who are we to deny that we don’t make assumptions on first glance. If we are so adamant about accepting differences why are we even more adamant about changing our differences to be accepted? When do we know when we have fit in? We’re taught not to care what other people think or say. If you’re human you care. My theory has always been, if you affect my life then I care, but if you don’t then I’m not going to stress over it. Growing up I was never picked on for having green eyes, crooked teeth, hair that seemed to change base on mood, neither was I picked on for being white. Was I lucky or just part of the mold? I grew up surrounded by all sorts of friends who were all different sizes, colors, genders, religions, etc. I was never pinned as anything in particular. Neither were my peculiarities pinned as substandard.
I’m a typical white girl from suburbia that is intelligent enough to know physical differences don’t mean anything. However, I’m naïve enough not to know that, to someone who has no control of those differences, scrutiny can mean everything. I never grasped that until I came to a place where my differences would be picked apart and my image the determining factor of assumption. Where I am classified as an American mold and grouped with a country instead of that of a person.
I follow no religion so I’m going to hell. I’m going to hell because I’m white. I’m white so I must be French. I speak English so I’m American. I’m American so I’m rich. I’m rich so I can be taken advantage of. I’m female so I’m fair game to local men. I’m fair game so I’m harassed. I didn’t think someone could accumulate so many strikes against them, but there you go.
Is this all my assumption too? It may seem an unfair depiction, but I have dealt with all of it since moving to Mauritania. Of course not every part of Mauritania is the same. Views change just like the scenery here, gradually and sporadically, but you are aware of the difference. My experiences come mostly from the northern part of the country where I live amongst conservative Muslim White Moors. This is an area that is used to seeing a white face, considering the north is a great deal tourist orientated. You would think they would be more open to differences, but that isn’t necessarily true. In my experience here, they seem to enjoy scrutinizing them more.
I’m not Muslim so I must be Christian or Catholic. I’ll still burn in hell either way since I’m not Muslim. I’m white so I must be French. Mauritania had once been a French colony and now is filled with French tourists so sure, maybe. I speak English, however, so I’m American. I’m American so I must be a spy, come to get information. Information on what, who knows? I highly doubt much of America would be interested on how many goats I have to dodge just to walk across town, or how many days I can go without getting sick from something I ate. I’m fairly certain that Bush, my best friend and family relation according to Mauritanians, wouldn’t be especially interested. I must be rich, too, so they’d be happy to sell me something with a mark up price of triple the normal price. I’m a female so I must be looking for a husband. My pretend husband isn’t here so that means I’d love to sleep around with everyone.
It doesn’t matter that all of their assumptions are false. I follow no religion, but don’t ever tell them that or else they might burn you themselves. I’m not French. I’m not a spy here to get information; I’m a health educator trying to relay information. I’m not rich. I’m living off the same food, housing, transportation, and a smaller income that they are. I’m not here looking for a husband, I’m here to work. And it doesn’t matter how many stories you make up of pretend husbands or kids you might have. When you are female you seem to have a GPS tracker which reads, Female who would absolutely enjoy your advances! Since being here I have been told to dislike people based on their religion, their dress, their ethnic background, their color, their actions, their political views, and so on. All the while, though, I’ve been disliked for my supposed religion, my dress, my background, my whiteness, and my assumed political views.
I am constantly referred to as the white person. It’s true I am white, why should an apparent fact bother me? Because when that is all you are to someone you realize you aren’t being accepted as your whole self. I find myself thanking people for their clarity on my whiteness. Call it a sick humor. That seems to be my defense. If you don’t have humor then what is the point. My site mate and I joke about these things in order to get passed them. A psychologist would probably say we were repressing our frustration through bad humor. I’ll blame it on parasites, seems a lot easier and cheaper. Psychologically though, how would you respond? If you went on a massacre people would think you were psychotic. If you became a recluse holed up under a rock you’d be peculiar. Repression through bad humor makes you nutty too, but at least it keeps you laughing.
Is this true for everyone I live amongst, of course not. Is it the general vibe; yes. Scrutiny is attached to you at customs and follows you throughout your journey through this country, which makes it like any other place you enter, where you are the outsider coming in for a peek. The only difference being that most people only peruse for a few days or weeks, not years. You don’t see the real issues because the traveler is mainly focused on what makes up the surroundings not on what’s behind the surroundings. For those who live here for an extended period of time we are still considered outsiders no matter how much we integrate into the culture and community. The basic fact is that our lives aren’t here. We can live and work here, but have another life waiting for us back in the states.
Prejudices exist all over the states, but it is fairly accurate in saying that it is universal and comes in all types of shapes and forms. We are a very visual world and a world that will base its decisions solely on assumption instead of investigation. I’ve learned a lot so far about being an outsider living in a society where I am the target of assumption. There are people all over dealing with being ostracized for their differences. There is only one thing that separates all of us though and it isn’t our physical diversities, it is our minds. There is a quote I live by, Assumption is the mother of all f*ck-ups. It holds true for anything. When you assume you distort fact with fiction. What is so hard with making ourselves see past what our eyes see? American and the world should know that the outsider will only vanish once we start seeing with our minds instead of our eyes no matter who you are looking at or what spot you are in.
About the Author:
Occupation: Peace Corps Volunteer
Experience With US: Have lived in the United States