Celebrating Diversity

Last night, I persuaded my husband and boys to watch “Crash” with me. The boys overcame their suspicion of any film that I recommend. (I have tested friendships many a time by coming out of a film raving about it while my companion has absolutely hated it….‘The Beach’ ….. ‘War of the Worlds’ ….. ‘Notes on a Scandal’…) Mind you, I would never watch a film my sister has enjoyed so who am I to talk!?!

I had seen the film before, although that doesn’t count for much, as I have an incredible ability to forget vital details of the plot. (I rewatched ‘Gladiator’ for the third time last week and was surprised and traumatised anew that Maximus dies at the end.) So last night, instead of the annoying “Oh, there’s a good bit coming up” and “He’s about to do something stupid”, it was “I thought she died when I watched it last time” and “I can’t believe that’s just happened”!

Anyway, what a great film it is. Despite spreading the irony on with a trowel (my husband’s view) and too many coincidences to be believable (my cynical son’s view), the racial tensions were frighteningly real. Throw a few white Americans, Hispanics, black Americans, Chinese and Afghans in a bag and shake it up….the abuse and hatred and violence and prejudice soon start to surface.

But then just as those who have done wrong find redemption, so those who have stood for good fall into compromise and prejudice. Racism (founded in a fear of the unknown?) is an integral part of human nature, it seems, and it is up to each one of us to be aware of it and educate ourselves for the good of ourselves and those around us.

That’s what I was doing yesterday, I guess, when I agreed to go and help out in my daughter’s class. A visitor had come to school to talk about India. The children tried on Indian clothes and I was dressed up in a sari. They loved the textures, colours, intricate beadwork and gold stitching. They tried Indian sweets, which of course, some enjoyed far more than others! Then the lady spent the rest of the school day doing a Mehndi pattern on every child’s hand - about 60 in total - she could hardly see straight at the end of the day! My job was to repair the smudged patterns with a cotton bud (for those who could not keep their hand still for half and hour) and convince the distraught culprits that it would not look that bad in the end! We learnt about Mehndi patterns and the children designed their own. I now have a beautiful pattern on my hand too as a reward for going in. Actually, the reward was learning first hand about a different culture and seeing the kids making new and exciting discoveries.

The teacher was absolutely fantastic and what impressed me most was that she was not actually from India at all. She was actually a Muslim from Middlesbrough, whose family originated from Bangladesh. But she was prepared to lay the differences to one side and come in to share the similarities between her own background and Indian culture. She felt passionately about giving the children a different cultural experience and saw it as a vital part of their education.

I can’t help agreeing with her. I would like my kids not to see different as better or worse, but as an adventure. That goes for me too.

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