Published on September 13th, 20156
“Are They Clean People in [fill in the blank]?”
A Facebook chum (likewise from my native land but now living in Ecuador for the past several years) recently posted an experience she had whilst visiting family in the U.S. Apparently, while out and about there, “…an educated, affluent, nice lady…” asked her if Ecuadorians “…are clean people?” Needless to say, she was more than a little taken aback by this naive outburst, and lamented that she was too stunned to offer a pithy comeback.
As an expat and traveler in many “developing” countries” myself, I can well relate that folks from more fully developed lands (like Australia, the U.S. the U.K. etc.) that travel little outside their comfy domestic borders (or visit lands like Haiti, etc. via brief cruise ship shore excursions), often hold some very naive and stereotyped notions of what people are like in less developed countries. Indeed, I too have had many such “Do they have paved roads?”, and even “Do they wear clothes?” questions, and am ever amazed and stunned when I’m suddenly confronted with such ignorance and bigotry.
My response to my Facebook pal’s query as to just how best to reply to such naive (at best) comments was thus:
|My own immediate reaction would have been dumbfounded silence. And actually I think a nice long silent pause can be very effective in passively discouraging the nonsense that spills out of some folks’ mouths.
But ideally, it would be best to use that moment (following the pause) to educate rather than alienate with a snarky remark. Often it’s enough to simply respond with a simple question to prompt the speaker to think a bit harder about what they so thoughtlessly said. Perhaps something like… “……[extended pause]… Why do you ask that?”.
Such might then open a dialog whereby you could gently explain that while millions of folks ’round the world may not enjoy the convenience/luxury of the lass’ spiffy private shower, nonetheless, even the most rural folks in Ecuador (et al) manage to keep themselves clean and fragrant daily – if only by a simple splash in the nearby river. So yes, my dear, they are “clean people”.
And then – it got me to thinking… Just what IS the best way to deal with such ignorance? So I did a little Googling, and found this most interesting survey on the (insidiously subtle and prevalent) subject:
In short, I was amazed at the many, many ways that tiny bits of bigotry pervade our lives daily. And though I find haughty judging of my fellow man exceedingly arrogant and annoying (be it as the grammar police, a religious/political evangelist, or simply derisively judging variant ways to live one’s life), I must say, maybe we DO need to confront such ignorance when we have the chance. I mean, how else can we ever hope to raise awareness and uproot such (often innocently ignorant) bigotry from the Planet?
What do you think? How would YOU have responded to the lass’ question of “Are they clean in…?