‘Different does not mean wrong’

By Shelley A Levin Source:Global Times Published: 2017/9/7 16:33:39

Illustrations: Xia Qing/GT

When he said it, it jarred me. Winston Sterzel, the "original China vlogger," is a white guy from South Africa who has lived in China for over a decade. When he went to the US for the first time last year, he encountered another first; he was no longer a minority.

For the first time in his 37 years on the planet, Sterzel, a white male, was part of the majority. As a white American woman, the very idea rang bizarre to me.

Yes, he was a foreigner and a tourist, but Americans are pretty kind to white guys with gentle accents. Also, while I take a little good-natured guff for how Americans have supposedly butchered the English language, I've been treated pretty well in Europe and Australia. A luxury I now realize I took for granted having lived my entire life in the US.

My brain seared by Sterzel's declaration, I embarked on an opposite adventure. I moved to China and became a part of the minority in a more tangible way for the first time in my life. I am Jewish, so I have been a part of a minority my whole life. But that is not something that one can perceive just be looking at someone. When I walk down a street in China or order my latte at Starbucks, all anyone sees is a white person.

Being stared at like an unpaid circus freak, taxis not stopping for me, landlords not renting out an apartment to me, a restaurant demanding that I pay my bill before I finished my meal, I guess, because I was sitting outside and could've run off without paying my bill, all of it is new to me.

Fellow Americans out there, does this sound like treatment anyone we know back home suffers through on a regular basis?

I'm not sure if these grievances are valid, just coincidence, or based on the sheer curiosity and ignorance of others. But I am certain that fear of the unknown is real and that different does not mean wrong.

Wherever I go in the world, including home to the US, I will carry this experience with me and do my best to view a person's appearance with respect, dignity, kindness and a smile.

Indeed, I'd be remiss not to mention that I've been on the receiving end of many smiles here in China, not to mention incredibly warm, helpful, and thoughtful coworkers and strangers alike who helped me get a taxi, a pizza, or a doctor when I needed one.

Beijing is also home to some hilarious taxi drivers who blurt out random English songs and words they know in an effort to engage me on the most basic level.

So, despite the challenges of this past year, I'm an optimist who believes we're all more the same than we are different.

This article was published on the Global Times Metropolitan section Two Cents page, a space for reader submissions, including opinion, humor and satire. The ideas expressed are those of the author alone, and do not represent the position of the Global Times.


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