If you saw a black man with white paint on his face, with no clothes on, holding a spear and a shield, I bet your automatic reaction would be to think something along the lines of “oooo look, a primitive African savage!” I can say this because that’s my first reaction, too.
I also bet you wouldnt expect this guy to be a teenager in a normal public high school in a civilized country, with white and black friends, who usully wears jeans and Billabong shirts. He might even be your future doctor.
The thing is, we judge other cultures by our own, and that just doesn’t work. It’s not valid to say “In England we wear clothes all the time – well, most of us – and live in houses with walls, floors, and ceilings, so you should, too. And if you don’t you’re uncivilized.”
Maybe I’m being a total idiot here, but I have a serious problem with how textbooks define civilization. In AP World History, and other history classes, one of the major themes from the start is: What defines a civilization? And then the textbook goes on to explain, in a very stiff, look-at-me-I’m-an-arrogant-genius way exactly what civilization entails. According to them, African societies were just that – “societies.” Not civilizations. But, and please correct me if I’m wrong here, they are largely basing their definition of a civilization on Western ideas, wealth, and influence.
A group of ten Bushmen who live in the wilderness and wear loincloths are just as much a valid “civilization” as the United States of America. And, if I can go even farther, what is so fantastic about civilization, anyway? “Civilized” societies have higher crime rates, less respect for fellow human beings, more isolation, more suicides, more pollution, and more general unhappiness than “uncivilized” groups. In an ‘uncivilized” society, there is a basic equality and an eye-for-an-eye mentality. People respect each other, respect their heritage, and have a better life quality. They are healthier, happier, and die healthy at an older age. No, they don’t have computes or electricity or blogs, but they live.
I know we can’t change how our “civilizations” work, and that wasn’t the point of this post (in fact that whole thing was somewhat of a tangent) but I am saying we need to respect other cultures and societies. We may not understand them, we may think we have better ways of doing things, but we have to respect that for them, their way of doing things is the best way of all. Isn’t that what we all think after all? And in my opinion, people from other, more “primitive” cultures generally have a better argument.
Thoughts? Ever seen an extreme culture snob?