Who’s the real explorer?
The white man abroad.
The colored man abroad.
I don’t like to categorize so extremely but please bear with me on this one. Each phrase carries a cargo hold of baggage. Let’s think of it less about the words and more about the larger cultural meaning.
My interest in culture and class, as most things in my life, started late. I’ve always had the innate curiosity but never the agency to act, until now.
Now, I love National Geographic. I was flipping through one recently and I was hit by an interesting observation. It was nearly completely white-man dominated. White men climb outrageous mountains, dive to great depths, and explore, explore, explore.
It’s a white man that finds himself studying other cultures. But what is it really? Explore the world and the white man will soon discover that he is the minority. It’s simple numbers. I can’t help but feel guilty for some reason because I am but another white man. What marks me as any different than the countless others before me? Should I be allowed to propagate this trend? To me, that is the biggest question.
One part of me knows that I had no control over my birth circumstances, and, somehow, I’ve been bitten by this bug to learn about the different, to experience the different, to write about and understand the different. Is that so different?
I am reminded of “The White Man’s Burden” written in 1899 by one of my favorite poets, Rudyard Kipling. Read it. The poem brings up the question of affluence. Should the affluent help the less fortunate? Why are white people generally more affluent than others? Is it even true?
I still don’t know what it is. Only time will tell. I’ve seen interest in the unfortunate trickle down even closer to home. As I joined the academic world I found that there are countless “studies” about the poor in America, television shows, books, articles, theses, dissertations. Each one trying to understand the group from the outside by placing itself inside artificially. It doesn’t work. Something is lost in translation.
I’ve seen some figures about the commonly agreed basic human necessities, food, shelter, water. If you have these things then you have more than 75% of what the world does, which automatically puts you in the top 25% most wealthy in the world. What does this mean? I have that, yet, I exist at the lower portion of that 25%. I understand that it is broken down to agreed upon essentials but it still feels like things. Owning. Purchasing power. Consumerism. Is it supposed to make me feel guilty to have been fairly fortunate? Is it supposed to spur me to action? Is it supposed to instill empathy for the 75%, the majority? Maybe the 25% are the ones that need help. I don’t know the answers. They are all important questions. At this point, it is just an abstract set of numbers to mull over.
I have to ask myself some difficult questions.
What is it that I want to do?
Why do I want to do it?
I think these are good questions that everybody needs to ask themselves. Don’t hold back. Blister your ego with brutal honesty. No sugar, just raw passion.
Beyond myself, though, lies all those others that have left their homeland to explore the different. It could be across the world or across the street.
What did they want to do?
Why did they do it?
The questions never stop. One part of me wants the focus to turn away from my ethnicity and background because a small part of me just wants it to not exist. No one should be judged by either of those values. My idealist mind wants that in the worst way. But, we do not live in a sterile vacuum. Every experience adds to what we are and I’ve learned that I cannot deny or ignore who or what I am. But neither does it define who I am.
I will explore culture because it is my passion.
What about you?