Hello, my fellow gypsies! Allow me to introduce myself. I am Pike, the dull “rooted” one of this whole Rooted Gypsy partnership. As you may know, Jessie recently posted a request for guest writers to contribute here at the Rooted Gypsy blog. The responses continue to come in, and we are very excited to meet these aspiring writers in upcoming posts!
Since that post, I began contemplating sharing my many ideas and thoughts by putting pen to paper (Wait! Fingertips to keys…well, you know what I mean!). I struggled with the decision on how best to share my travel insights with you when, by chance, I came across a particular word recently while reading Pope Francis’ message for the World Day of Peace. The word? XENOPHOBIA.
While no Einstein, I like to think of myself as a relatively bright person. However, I had absolutely no idea what this word meant. So, ever curious, I researched xenophobia. Merriam-Webster defines xenophobia as “the fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign.” Oxford dictionary proclaims it as “the dislike of or prejudice against people from other countries”. Lastly, Cambridge dictionaries describe it as “extreme dislike or fear of foreigners, their customs, and their religions.”
“This is it!”, I thought. What better way to honor Black History Month and encourage the eradication of xenophobia than by expounding on the positive and profound impact I’ve experienced since traveling?!? But, before we go into that, a quick moment to better express my thought process while approaching this potentially delicate subject and the ultimate message I wish for you to take away. Stay with me here!
3 Concerns I Pondered Before Writing This
1.) Of the three most likely reactions provoked by my first ever blog post, I mostly fear my wife’s. Yes. I said it. I fear her. My petite, beautiful, moderately-minded best friend. She has worked so hard on The Rooted Gypsy these last 3 years. She coordinates the trips, activities, and all her own photography. She spends hours and sometimes days meticulously writing and crafting her blog posts for her readers (that’s you) in order to ensure a quality product that invokes curiosity, learning, and sometimes just downright awe.
I feared Jessie’s reaction because she clearly stated what she expected from her guest writers (this includes me) in her Writer’s Guidelines. One such guideline stresses no polarizing topics such as politics or religion. I agree with this guideline. Mostly. However, Dr. Stephen Covey tells us in his famous book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, that “nothing important ever happened in history without something called a paradigm shift.” (Homework lesson for you, look up paradigm shift). Many times, for this shift to take place, feathers get ruffled. With that said, my intent is not to ruffle your feathers, piss you off, or even change your beliefs. My purpose is mainly this; to get you to QUESTION!
Question everything. Question the way you were raised. Question your education. Question what you read in the paper and see on the news. Hell, question why you even read the paper and watch the news. Ask yourself would your mental health and quality of life be better if you simply turned it off altogether? The whole point of all this is to get you to think for yourself. Does your upbringing, education and the way you view and treat others bring value to those around you? Is the current way in which you live your life in line with your moral beliefs and true character? Or are you just following the crowd, mimicking what the media, celebrities, politicians, relatives, and friends say you should be doing and believing?
2.) Secondly, I worry that some, my more “liberal” friends (whatever that means; liberal is practically a curse word today), may think, “What could Pike, a straight, white, conservative, educated man, possibly know about xenophobia? What does he know about the topic of social injustice or inequality?” My argument, dear friends, is that these are the exact reasons for which I should speak on such a topic. In Ethan Hawke’s book, Rules for a Knight, in Chapter 18 titled Equality, it states,
“Every knight holds human equality as an unwavering truth. A knight is never present when men or women are being degraded or compromised in any way because if a knight were present, those committing the hurtful acts or words would be made to stop.”– Sir Thomas Lemuel Hawke, Rules for a Knight
Now, I am in no way implying that I am any sort of knight. I have certainly negotiated my way out of more fights than I have participated. My whole point is that we must stand up for and protect one another, as brothers and sisters of Earth. Especially the down-trodden, political/war refugees, and immigrants fleeing poverty and corruption who possess little to no voice. Therefore, I believe it is up to people like you and me to bring more attention to issues such as xenophobia, as well as other important social matters (keep an eye out for future posts).
3.) Lastly, the more “conservative” readers, I fear may be thinking “Here we go again. Another tree-hugging progressive that wants to tell me that we just need to let all international refugees come in and take over our country and afford them all of our social benefits while we foot the bill.” My response? I am not saying “don’t build a wall,” or “build a wall.” Quite frankly, I don’t know exactly how I feel about a wall yet and am still educating myself on the matter through research and data analysis.
I do know this, however. I engage with people from other countries every day. Whether it is patients from Guatemala, doctors from India, or concrete laborers and sheetrockers from Mexico I encounter people from other parts of the world with upbringings and cultural beliefs utterly different than mine. Out of all these encounters, I have never been threatened or had drugs shoved down my throat or into my lungs by these people. Quite the contrary, my experience has been that these people are hard working, passionate, and usually have a smile on their face.
I also know this. Federal government spending is totally out of control. This rabid spending began in the early 1950s and has exponentially increased with every administration since (Visit whitehouse.gov and view document 14.2 to see for yourself). According to usaspending.gov, of the $6.6 trillion allocated to support all government funded departments and programs in the 2018 fiscal year, 22.1% of this money is considered “unreported data.” That’s almost one-fourth of $6.6 trillion dollars (let that number sink in a minute) that the federal government either doesn’t know how was spent or doesn’t want us to know how they spent it. My point? No matter who has occupied the White House, the historical trend remains to carelessly overspend, and if they proceed with a wall, I fear it will likely cost far more than estimated. Anyways…..
Back to The Topic At Hand
Now that you know my true intent, and that I am completely ok with us meeting in the middle, let me give you one of many examples of xenophobia and how you don’t have to go far to find it. Recently while visiting Washington D.C., Jess and I took a number of Ubers as we explored the city. One particular driver, a jovial man from a country in Africa I can’t precisely recall, picked us up and we struck up a great conversation immediately. With pride, he explained that his daughter was in the D.C. area studying medicine and he moved there to be closer to her. He worked several jobs, including being an Uber driver, to help pay for her education to become a medical doctor. After a solid ten minutes of back and forth conversation, he asked where we lived. When we told him Louisiana. The man’s demeanor immediately changed. He suddenly became noticeably uncomfortable and even appeared a bit fearful. I asked him why. He said he had heard on the news that “People like you, don’t like people like me”, meaning a Southern white couple not liking an African immigrant. I didn’t know if I wanted to cry, scream, or vomit.
We were so caught off guard by this. He then proceeded to tell us that after two years of driving for Uber in D.C., he never knowingly met anyone from the South and his only knowledge of Southern white people was what he gathered from the news. Suppressing our emotions, we proceeded to explain to him how inspired we were by his story and how much we respected him for his devotion to his daughter. We also took the opportunity to become ambassadors for our home. We assured him that we most certainly did not harbor any ill feelings. We wanted him to understand that we did not hate or fear him but wished him and his family peace and prosperity.
We shared stories with him of my two close African-American friends that were groomsmen in my wedding and remain cherished friends to this day. We recounted to him how we flew 22 hours one-way to Bangladesh to attend my Islamic college roommate’s wedding. How our godchild was African-American, of Jessie’s Hispanic uncle and cousins whom we love dearly, and so on.
We admitted to him that yes, there was and still is racism and hate that exists in the South (as well as worldwide), but that not everyone from the South feels this way. Meaningful travel isn’t a one-way street. It’s beneficial for the traveler as well as the local. But with an open mind and open heart, both can be touched by the encounter.
Just another example of why we should question. Always question. Question what you hear and what you read. Deliberately think about what’s told to you and why. Always consider motives and manipulation. Try, if at all possible, to base your thoughts and opinions on objectivity, facts, data, and personal experiences. Do not simply jump to conclusions based on rumors, emotions, or what the news tells you. Think for YOURSELF!
And I did question. After parting ways with our driver, I thought more deeply about the message and this admirable man’s perception of us in regards to xenophobia. I thought and I read. The Civil War ended in 1865. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed over 100 years later in 1968. This Uber ride conversation took place in late 2017. Is our Southern identity still one of racism and ignorance after all this time? I don’t know exactly how to answer this, but I do know that to this mild-mannered African Uber driver, it was. At least until he met Jess and I that day.
I can also tell you this. We will continue to travel. To the ends of the Earth, we will travel. Third world countries, Muslim countries, Socialist countries it doesn’t matter; we will go. We will continue to learn about new cultures, religions, and customs. It doesn’t mean that we have to conform to any of these beliefs nor anyone to ours. We just believe that it brings us better understanding of our fellow brothers and sisters of this beautiful, diverse Earth.
We also recognize that no matter where we’ve traveled, we have always been able to find common ground with people. We are all human. And all humans, no matter their race or religion, share basic needs and wants. Everyone wants to be loved. Everybody wants to feel safe. Everyone needs a certain amount of food and clean water to be comfortable and survive. People generally want what is best for their children and family. No matter if a person is from Mexico, Iraq, or Louisiana, he or she desires these things.
If there is a second objective of this post, it would be this; PEACE. Please, just a little peace. This world overflows with hate. Violence, corruption, deception, and greed abound and the news loves to tell us about it. I am so very tired of this. With that in mind, if this text can influence just one person to self reflect, be more self-aware, and make a conscious effort to bring about more love and peace to their workplace or community then these words have been successful.
In conclusion, my purpose was not to be polarizing or bash anyone. My intent was not to change your beliefs. Once again, the whole point of this is to get you to be more self-aware. Be deliberate in your living and thinking. Question everything. Why do you act the way you do? Why do you think the way you think? Do your actions and thoughts improve your environment and relationships? If not, how can you better the situation? I believe in doing this, the end result will be peace. Remember, all of us as humans desire peace and safety, no matter our home, religion, or cultural customs. So smile at someone. Hug somebody. Engage in conversation with someone from somewhere completely different than you. I guarantee you will find way more in common than you ever imagined.
Happy Black History Month!
“When the bells of peace ring, there will be no hands to beat the drums of war”– President Anwar el-Sadat of Egypt addressing the Israeli Parliament in 1977. Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to bring about peace between Egypt and Isreal, President Sadat was later assassinated for his efforts.