On Multiculturalism - A Confession and Ode

I have to be honest. I have not always been so open minded. When I was a child, my family visited the fiji islands several times. My Parents and friends had prepared me to understand and love the fijian culture- the food, the music, the style, and the people. I was smitten before i even arrived. Upon arrival however, I discovered that life in Fiji was not so simple. At that time about 1/3 of the population were of Indian decent (brought by the English to work the sugar plantations). I have to admit that, while I loved the Fijian culture, I had a very difficult time with the Indian. Everything about it was unfamiliar- the smells, the tastes, the sounds, and the aesthetic of the temples (though colorful) completely freaked me out. My parents were more than a little confused and frustrated by this. My brother and I rejected the Indian culture that was set so sumptuously before us. We honestly had no context for it. 

Fast forward to today. I adore everything Indian. Music, food, culture, languages, style, clothing, film, all of it. Why the change? Since my childhood, I have had a number of friends (and even my parents) come along side me and gently introduce me to the culture. "You should try this amazing curry." Indian food becomes less foreign. "You should listen to this great song" - Indian music becomes less foreign … etc. etc. I say this only to point out that in my own life, it is the borrowing from other cultures that has made the people behind those cultures more approachable to me. I love and understand the people of India more today because i have gradually been exposed to things that would otherwise make them different than me. 

If you can learn to appreciate the aesthetics of a people group, genuine love for that people group is not far behind. This is not always the logical correlation, but in my experience it tends to follow. 

I often get asked why I borrow so heavily from other cultures, so I wanted to really map it out for you all. (in addition to the reasons above) We live in an era of endless possibilities. I say it all the time, that we can now pull inspiration from every culture and period of history in the world. There is no need to settle for a simple hoodie. When we borrow from other cultures we are not just promoting understanding, but also enriching our own life, and the lives and aesthetics of those around us. As a child, wearing turbans was simply fun. It was a chance to  play and pretend in the context of other cultures. Today turbans help me communicate the diversity of available options, and help me expose the stale routines we often select for ourselves. By wearing a turban I am simultaneously promoting empathy for the lives and faiths of my friends around the world. 

I think that aesthetics are a key to understanding. When you borrow the music / clothing / style of another culture, that culture becomes less "other" and becomes more familiar. Once something is no longer scary it is easier to understand and process. I know that life is way more complicated than this, but I have seen it in my own life. 

Caveats:

- Seek genuine understanding. If you think style is just a plaything, think again. Behind every garment there is a serious message. Clothing is often the tangible representation of oppression and belief. Know what you are wearing and why you are wearing it. This goes for any garment. 

- Seek to understand your own culture / aesthetic. Know thyself. If you wear something / watch something / eat something / say something… that thing is describing your beliefs and aesthetics to others. Don't be communicating unconsciously. Know what you are communicating. Learn the history and context of the world around you. 

For further reading, check out this article sent me by Jacki Warren

(These pictures were taken by the lovely Jenn Elliott Blake. Her Instagram is a wonder. You should check it out. )

Jonathan Randall Grant  //  Culture Keeper

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