Saturday, March 17, 2012

Personal Growth

Before I start my post for the night I want to preface it with a few things:
1)     I’m Black (I grew up in the 70s.  African-American may be good for the majority… but I’m Black).
2)     As a result, there’s not much that I have felt up until this point that I could learn about prejudice.  With that, my thoughts on the topic have been about how people view me, less about how I view them… them being Anglo-Americans.
3)     I’m not typically one to talk about social politics with people outside of my race.
So what I’m about to blog about is really about the experience and resulting personal introspection that this trip has caused that has broadened how I think about prejudice and how even one such as I can exhibit this nasty trait… and need to grow.

Yesterday, March 14th, we visited the Habib Hospital in a predominantly Islamic neighborhood in Mumbia.   There I was, the lone black guy, with a group of 30 plus Anglo-Americans walking through a neighborhood of people that potentially hate us… or so the media tells us.  I can’t convey how uncomfortable and how unsafe I felt.  “What are they thinking? Why are they looking at us like that? Will they hurt us? Will they riot? Will someone see this as an opportunity to make a name for themselves by confronting or hurting one of us?”  These were all of the things that I felt.  I watched how they glared at us; how some whispered.  My feelings were very subtle, but nevertheless they were there.

I have to say that I’m ashamed of how I felt.  How could I project such negative and stereotypically thoughts on the local population?  Could it be that they were just curious about these people whom just stepped off of a gigantic bus (a vehicle, mind you, that they probably don’t see every day) and were wondering “who are they”?  Could it be that they were probably just curious about what people who obviously weren’t a part of the community were doing there?  Maybe they were just thinking “Who are they and why are they here”?  Maybe it was the fact that we were all decked out in suits and neckties in 80+-degree weather?  How could I, as one who has often walked through a “majority environment” as the sole person of color, feeling out of place and wondering about other’s potential prejudices and praying not to be mistreated, project such negative thinking on these people?

My understanding of the primary goal of the Capstone project and the trip to an international location is to help us understand that doing business globally does not equate to doing business in the U.S.  We’ve been brought here to gain the understanding that there are different mores, norms, policies, and laws that will affect how you do business in the global community.  But the learning I gained has been much greater and much more personal.  I too have prejudices that I need to examine.  Race and cultural differences are, for the most part, discussed in the U.S. from either the perspective of Black and White, Citizens versus Illegals, or more recently, Muslim versus non-Muslim.  I’ve felt as though I know enough about the first, and that issues of the latter really won’t affect me personally but present a greater threat to my country.  But being immersed in an environment that forced my personal, and until know, quietly held prejudices to the surface has caused me to re-examine my thoughts about the topic.  Until now, I subconsciously felt like the victim.  This has highlighted for me that I can also be the oppressor, that I have information and a set of beliefs that shape how I see others, that those sets of data need to be challenged, and that I need to more exposure to cultures other than Black-White-Latino-Asian America.

I don’t know that I would take you through the full extent of the soul searching that is forcing.  But I am happy that participation in a program like Boston University’s EMBA and its international component have exposed me to something that has led to more than the professional growth that I expected.  It has highlighted the need for me to expand my personal boundaries, experiences, and thinking to expose me to the world beyond the U.S.  I see that I need to gain a better understanding of people other than those I am familiar with, to understand their beliefs and how that affects their lives, how that makes us similar or not, and then synthesize all of this to grow, not only as a professional, but as a person.

1 comment:

AlanW said...

James, you provide a unique perspective and our class is much richer because of it. Thanks for being open and willing to share your insights with us.