"Why Are You White?"
Today let's talk about race and by 'race' I mean a group of people related by common descent or heredity or ethnic group. For example Asian or Hispanic/ Latino. God made so many different people; so many different looking people; so many different beautiful people. He made people with white, brown and black skin; with brown, black, blond and grey hair. He made people with long pointy noses or wide round noses. He created curly, wavy and straight hair. There are people with brown, green, grey, blue or black eyes. There are long eyes lashes or short eye lashes; tall or short people and so may different body types. It really is amazing the diversity in our appearances.
|My family, some kids from a feeding centre and I.|
Ever since I was little race or ethnicity didn't make much of a difference to me. It didn't make me change the way I thought of somebody or the way I treated people. I had and still have friends in every ethnic group. It makes no difference to me. And I had never really met serious racism. I had heard of things happening but I had never really witnessed it for myself. I had never felt out of place or singled out because of my skin colour. It was never an issue for me. Then I came to Cambodia.
|Poung (A street girl) and I.|
Here in Cambodia your skin colour plays a big role in your status and for many people it's a very important and active part of their lives. Young girls and mothers alike try to whiten their skin. Pastes to whiten, creams to bleach, powders to lighten, long sleeves in the heat of the day to fade the brown and wearing jackets backwards while driving to protect their skin from the offending sun. Day and night they try to decolorize what I would consider beautiful bronze. Why? Because white skin represents wealth and status. If you're fair it means you don't have to work in the hot sun. It means you have enough money not to work and stay inside. That is why they love my skin. I am one of the most pale people I have ever seen. So....what benefits does this all bring?
Well, other than status, not much. You're guests of Honor at weddings. People love taking photos of you. You're held at a higher position than others. When my family took a trip to Angkor Wat people stopped to take photos with my fair skinned little brother! People are also more likely to listen to you and respect you because you have a higher status. However being white here also has its negatives. Firstly, people assume you have lots of money. They expect you can give them things and that is not why we're here. We aren't here to just give people money. For the same reason people in the markets are more likely to charge you a higher price because they assume you're wealthy. We call this the 'barang price' meaning foreigner price. Also, because of this sometimes people will go along with what ever you're saying if they think they can get something out of you. Now, I'm NOT saying all Cambodians are like this! There are many people we have met that are genuine, kind people. Most Cambodians also assume that if you're white you're a Christian which is definitely not the case. It means that when they see a scantily clad woman walking down the street they'll put her in the same box as our Mennonite missionary friends. For me this is a big problem because they have a crooked view of us.
|My Dad, sister, Royce and some members of his family (Mennonites).|
Last weekend I took a trip up to Siem Reap for a few days to visit some friends. On Sunday we went to a village they hadn't been to before. We all gathered around a large wooden table with Royce and Tamara at the front sitting while the rest of us stood and stretched our necks to see. Before starting the lesson Royce started by introducing us and answering questions. One man at the very back of the crowd stuck up his hand and asked us a question through the translator. His questions was simple yet is shocked me.
"Why are you white?"
I stood there silent, wondering how Royce would answer a question that to me seemed simple yet impossible. He calmly answered by saying that he would answer this question later in his message. I don't knw if this was to give himself more time to think of how best to answer of if he had actually planned this message in advance. When the rest of the questions were asked and answered; after the children sang a song or two and played some games Royce stood to give his message.
His message to these people was simple and perfect. He looked at each of the children and each of the adults gathered and told them that God created them; each and every one of them. He told them that God had created them purposefully and that he had a plan for each of them. Royce explained to them that because God had created them for a reason he also made them brown for a reason. That was his will for them. Royce did not concentrate on why we are white but why God created them brown. He also admitted that in a way he doesn't know why God created them brown but that he does know that it is Gods plan.
|My brother and sister with a couple of our friends at a sunflower patch.|
Royce answered a question that I had thought was simple yet impossible to answer. I do not know how I would have answered if the question had been asked directly to me. I think that Royce answered it simply yet truthfully. He pulled the focus off us and put it on God and his will for these people. He made sure these people knew that God loved them and has a plan for each of them.
He also reminded me of something I constanty need to be reminded of. Sometimes in life we ask the question Why? Naturally as humans we want to know why something happened especially something negative. However, sometimes God doesn't tell us why. Instead, He simply says because that it my will. And for me that should be enough.