Stir up that magic melting pot

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 24 March, 2006, 12:00am
 

Recent race riots in Sydney and Paris; cartoons of the Muslim Prophet Mohammed causing religious outrage; a man in Afghanistan facing the death penalty for renouncing his Muslim faith and becoming a Christian. What if, after 100,000 years of sharing this planet, we could all put aside race and religion and just live with one another in harmony?


Ah, a noble sentiment, but find me the person who has a solution and I will give you the keys to my Ferrari. That day will come only when language, customs, culture - and, dare I say, skin colour - are accepted by one and all.


I sense that another 100,000 years, and then some, will pass before that time arrives.


Hands up any foreigner living in a foreign land who feels 100 per cent part of the society he or she lives in. I guarantee there is no one in that category. Learn to speak and read the language, even to the point of street slang; change your religion to conform; marry a local - and still you will be treated by someone, at some time, as if you do not belong.


Perhaps over generations, with intermarriage, there will be acceptance. But that is a big 'if'. In Latin America, 500 years after Spain invaded and began a policy of domination through impregnation, those of Spanish and indigenous blood are still clearly defined socially and politically.


In the Philippines, where Spain got up to the same tricks, there is the complication of Chinese bloodlines. A joke doing the rounds in Manila says that to be rich, you have to have a single-syllable surname - a reference to the Chinese dominance of the financial sector.


Malaysia's first survey of race relations since independence in 1957, released this week, revealed the extent of the problem. Despite leaders frequently extolling the country's ethnic harmony, 20,000 respondents to the telephone poll let it be known that the truth was otherwise. Minority Chinese and Indians saw Malays - who comprise 51 per cent of the population - as lazy; Malays and Indians perceived Chinese as greedy; and Chinese and Malays believed Indians were untrustworthy. Bear in mind that these groups have had several hundred years to get to know one another.


For such reasons, the half-solution of the ghetto has evolved. This is a place where like-minded, like-cultured and like-skinned people live together, and from which they venture only when they have to. These can be found the world over: Chinatowns are the obvious example. There are many permeations, from New York's 'little' neighbourhoods - Italy, Havana and Puerto Rico, among others - to Hong Kong's Chungking Mansions, home of all things South Asian.


I have found one notable exception: the Kuna tribe in Panama, who revere albinos - those people who, through a quirk of genetics, have pigment deficiency and therefore light skin and hair. The prevalence of albinism among the usually dark-skinned Kuna is believed to be the highest in the world. Because the Kuna believe god's son was an albino, they afford god-like status to all such people.


But in some cultures, albinos are considered bad luck. There are poorly educated African groups in which parents hide their albino children ahead of elections and important sports competitions, fearing that they will be abducted and killed.


In the absence of a viable way to rid the world of discrimination, I must turn to my music collection and the 1969 song, Melting Pot, by the British group Blue Mink. It has the enlightening, albeit somewhat painful-sounding, chorus:


What we need is a great big melting pot,


Big enough to take the world and all it's got,


And keep it stirring for 100 years or more,


And turn out coffee-coloured people by the score.


Peter Kammerer is the Post's foreign editor


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