Life as a Minority

By Stacey

Some days I wish I could change my skin color.

To those on the streets of Cameroon I am referred to as “la blanche” or “white person.” Sometimes little children excitedly point and run to tell their friends when I approach as if I was some sort of exotic animal. I know they do not mean anything by it, and yet I feel like I am like the village attraction (actually, I think I amthe village attraction). Adults in the market try to get my attention essentially by calling out “hey white person, we have great white people stuff here, come buy from me!” Can you imagine if in the States cell phone vendors called out to the people passing by, “Hey, you black person, I’ve got the perfect phone for you”? Or “Hey yellow man, come in here the products are made in Asia”? There would be law suits and maybe riots!

Since arriving in country, I have actually been told by a Cameroonian brother that it would more-or-less be better for me to not participate in a certain kind of ministry here because I am white. Now, I am not saying that there is not wisdom in what he is saying, but, from my American perspective, I cannot help but to think that this is simple discrimination. I should not do something not because of lack of qualifications or character flaws but because of…my skin color? The American side of me cannot help but to hate this.

I feel like when people see me, they do not see me, but instead only see my skin color and/or country of origin. I feel like they judge me based on the other handful of Americans they have known, or on what they have seen in the movies. A perfect example of this was when I was in France and guy heard me talking to Dave in English and approached us quoting a vulgar English rap song. He assumed that since we are from the same country as this particular rap artist, we must have the same moral code. Why would he assume this? Was it because I somehow communicated that I accept immorality…or was instead because he labeled me before he even spoke to me? It seems to me that, right or wrong, it is within human nature, no matter the culture, to judge based on appearance. And to the person being judged, it just stinks.

I have never been the minority before. All throughout my life people have generally treated me with respect, as if I was “one of them,” and even would hear me out if I wanted to share my convictions. Now, on the other hand, I feel as if my convictions and individuality seems to be lost behind this white skin. I know that I have to get used to this and honestly I do not fault Cameroonians at all for simply commenting on the obvious (whereas in America we notice the obvious but just do not comment on it), and yet being labeled is not something easy to accept.
To top this off, it seems like being white is often a positive thing in Cameroon. I cannot imagine going to a country where people assumed negative things as soon as they saw me.
I write this blog post because I think a lot of us simply do not know what it feels like to be the outsider unless we leave our country of origin and I want to call us to be more compassionate to those who are different then us. Specifically:

Try to Feel What They Feel
To those of you who have lived overseas, you know that there is a lot of stress involved. You have to learn new rules of the road which sometimes feel like no rules at all. You consider it a victory to go to the store/market and leave with food to feed your family for the evening. You are often wondering if people will accept you and if you will ever have a true friend.

When we in the States see refugees walking down the streets, have we for a second thought about the amount of stress and difficulty in their lives in coming to America? Have we considered that they may not think that the US is the best nation in the world and that they might actually prefer the way things are done in their own countries? I put forth the challenge to consider that every aspect of their lives is new for them and they are simply very overwhelmed. I imagine that if they are like me, they would be delighted to receive a warm smile or a helping hand.

See People as Image Bearers of God FIRST
I am not saying to deny the obvious. It does not offend us when people notice that we are white nor if they presume that our children are adopted. However, when you look at someone who is of a different race then you, do not mentally label them as “that Arab” or “that black-guy” but instead think of them as “that image-bearer of God who has his own convictions, preferences, personality quirks, struggles, joys, and who also (perhaps) happens to originate from a different country.” I am in no way supporting the American ideal of not acknowledging racial or gender differences, but I am instead asking that we hear people out and treat them as individuals before we slap labels on them.

Be Patient with Those Who Do Not Speak Your Language
Dave saw a bumper sticker that read, “Welcome to America. Now learn English.” I do agree that when we enter as a guest into a country, we absolutely should adopt that culture’s language and customs, and yet I wonder if the maker of this bumper sticker has ever tried to learn another language. Let me just tell you, it is H.A.R.D. What’s more, Dave and I do not have to find a separate job in Cameroon to pay for our monthly expenses, but can instead study French/Bakoum full time. I cannot imagine entering into a new country, having to support my family while also having to learn a new language. I almost think it is impossible. So, when you hear people speaking other languages in the mall, give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that they are doing the best they can with what they have got. 
To conclude, I must say that I am glad to now be a minority. I am happy to have my eyes opened to how minorities in my home country may feel and to maybe one day be able to relate to my children if/when they experience forms of discrimination. And I pray that my experiences may serve to help you too extend the warmth of Christ to those who are different then you.

“Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”  Romans 15:7

Author: Stacey Hare

Stacey is a servant of Jesus Christ as well as a wife, mom, linguist, and Bible translator among the Kwakum people of Cameroon.