Going abroad and facing different race relations in other countries is hard. It is easy to want to react to racist moments we encounter, but is that appropriate? Here, I share some of my thoughts and experience on the matter of dealing with racism while abroad.
Now, when you read this title you may be thinking- how can racism be low-key? There is nothing low-key about being racist. I completely agree. However, I wanted to share some of the experiences and things that I witnessed that made me uncomfortable during my rural home stay in Montecristi.
It is also important to note that Montecristi is very close to the border of Haiti, especially the area where I was staying. Taking this into account, one can imagine the high number of Haitians that live and visit the area of Montecrisiti. Going to the markets, beaches, and clinics in town was very uncomfortable at times having to witness someone being discriminated against because they were Haitian.
One’s first thought might be, why not respond and resolve the discrimination or racism as soon as one notices it? What I noticed is that people do not respond well to being told where and how they are going wrong in their language and beliefs. To try to change someone’s long history and pattern of behavior is usually never taken lightly. Many of the advice that you hear in college of inviting people into meaningful dialogue, sharing a book for them to read to educate themselves, or inviting them to a program isn’t always an option when studying abroad.
So, what do you do?
Talk to program coordinators.
If you are staying with a family who is reinforcing and upholding racist beliefs, you may not be able to change their way of thinking. However, speaking with the study abroad coordinators or managers about the selection and training process for host families could provide a more structural and inviting opportunity for host families to learn and be challenged.
Break away from internalized oppression.
Don’t fall into the trap of believing that because you are surrounded by people who are uneducated or living in third world countries they are incapable of learning. Even if you are coming in with all this experience and knowledge of systems of oppression, critical race theory, intersectionality, etc. it is easy to assume that people will not understand the social justice lens by which you view the world. This is not only self-damaging, but is subconsciously reinforcing the idea of people in developing countries as subordinate, which is everything but true.
Even in the midst of all the negativity, I would ask that you take a moment to truly listen to what people are expressing. One of the host family I was with had a very traumatic experience with a person from Haiti and have struggled to heal from that moment. That doesn’t give them a right to dehumanize people, but their experience and how they feel is valid. Talk with people and force yourself to not react when someone says extremely problematic things, it is okay to take a moment to listen, digest, and then act.