Last weekend, the boyfriend and I went out and had the nicest date. There was live jazz music, there was wine, there was in-depth discussion of the international politics of World War II. (I know, we’re romantics.)
The bf’s a history buff, and he talked about how England’s version of events, the version that most of world talks about, plays down the French role in fighting Germany. Most notably, he described the Siege of Lille, where French soldiers held the German army off for five days to buy their English allies time to escape at Dunkirk. These are the same French we deride for always surrendering in the face of a fight.
I told him about my time in France in high school, and how my class had studied World War I and II. I told him about the monuments in every tiny village, about how an entire generation had been killed in World War I, and about how, naturally, the French developed a very strong pacifist movement, which contributed in part to Hitler’s rise, but doesn’t make them weak or cowardly as a people.
“Okay, cool history,” you might be saying, Dad, “but what does this have to do with feminism?”
Well, I’ve been noticing a strong anti-non-American current on Facebook lately, Dad. I saw one friend I admired go on a tear about “illegals” while another friend derided a writer’s validity because they weren’t an American citizen. There seems to be a tendency to disrespect or distrust people who aren’t American, and in some cases, to even go so far as denying them basic human rights in this country. (Think of the way we’ve been treating all the child refugees from Central America. We’re in a humanitarian crisis and we just want to ship them back? Because it’s inconvenient for us to be compassionate?)
My belief is that feminism is not just about equality of sexes. Certainly, as a woman, that piqued my interest in feminism. But feminism, good feminism, is about fighting for all people, making sure that every human being has a shake at life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, safety, a voice. As someone who has faced oppression because of my gender, I hate to see anyone be derided or discriminated against.
And after all, I’ve been an immigrant. I was a stranger in a strange land where I had to learn the language and the customs. I was an exchange student, so I was welcomed with open arms, but not all people receive that treatment. In France, for instance, where people delighted in my desire to learn the language, black people are called names and routinely stopped and searched by police. One of my host mothers even believed that all black people are polygamists.
My time in France, though, didn’t teach me to discriminate against foreigners. Instead, it showed me the humanity in all people, that different races, cultures, languages and histories all have something wonderful to offer. I learned that human history is not always as simple or straightforward as what I learned in an American classroom. I discovered that stories have many sides, just as our history of World War II differs from that of the French.
I made friendships with people from every corner of the world, learned a little bit about their cultures and their languages, and learned that differences aren’t insurmountable barriers.
If I could, I’d make every American do a year of exchange the way I did, to get to know another country and culture intimately, and to realize that there are many sides to a story.
When we all start to tell our stories, and when we begin to listen and cooperate together, beautiful things happen. Misunderstanding, suspicion and intolerance are destroyed,and we can start working together to create solutions to the real problems that our prejudice distracts us from, such as poverty, sexual violence and war.
We create better communities, and we lift everyone a little bit higher.