Since starting this blog I attempted two articles on the issue of race. In the first one, I went off the rails with my ramblings and figured that no one was going to understand what I was on about and in my attempt to keep it ‘light’ in the second one, it got way too light that I felt didn’t do the topic justice. This is not my third attempt. This entry is not about race. But between those two attempts and everything else I have experienced, observed and pondered on, I have come to realize that there is another element to human relationships that sometimes gets meddled in the racism mix, but in effect, it is an entirely other ‘issue’ on its own and it’s ‘know your place’.
We begin forming relationships from the moment we are born. Textbook scenarios will dictate that there is a person whose breasts provide us with food and who spends the whole day with us (initially) and there is another person, usually with less hair, who is not always around, but who attempts to play games with us that are usually totally inappropriate for our age and ability and who does an awful job at changing our diapers. As early as then, a baby starts to assign roles which leads to expectations from the people in its environment. I am not in any way implying that there is anything wrong with this, I am merely pointing out that this is where it starts. Of course at this stage, there is no prejudices from these expectations. Our mother’s breasts sustain us, our father’s hugs make us feel loved, and our grandparent’s treats make us happy. You get the drift.
But then, things start to get complicated. There are men our parents address as ‘Mr’ and there are other people who address our father as ‘Mr’. There are people who come home unannounced and mother happily makes a cup of tea in a sarong while others get invited and mother gets her hair done. We start overhearing conversations where our parents describe some people as good and others, not-so-good. Yes, we start forming opinions about other people based on the opinions our immediate surroundings have of them and the gear in the cycle shifts to another level.
By the time we are young adults, whether it’s intentional or not, we have already placed people in their respective places. Race rarely/sometimes/often, depending where in the world you are from, comes into play here, along with wealth, family names, family prospects, religion, political allegiances, age, academic capabilities, etc. Once we start forming our own independent lives and identify our needs we are somehow ‘automatically’ led to people who will satisfy these needs. Initially things are always great – look at the start of new relationships, new friendships, new jobs, new homes, you name it. But the problems start once someone dares step out of the place you expect them or need them to be. It is those times, in my opinion that our true sentiments on issues come to light.
I’ll start to make the point with wealth, which at times I wonder whether is not on par with race as far as ‘dangerous’ issues go. Here in Seychelles, people’s lives come together irrespective of wealth partly because we are so small and at some point or another we bump into every single other person on the island. In a group of friends you can sometimes easily identify who’s rich, who’s poor and who’s whatever else. These friends will tell you they love each other regardless of social statuses which may differ and that material things do not factor in the picture. Believe me, more often than not, they mean it. But there is a power play there that goes beyond Louis Vitton v/s the ASOS brand and it can be very dangerous. I know this from personal experience. I have been the kid with a lighter wallet in several friendships and I have seen it go belly up quite dramatically. There are certain expectations that exist in relationships where there is a huge discrepancy in wealth. The rich one may dictate what they do and where they go simply because it’s his car that gets them there and his money that settles the bills. The poor one may follow, and let me stress, happily so, just because he loves where they go and loves his friend. But sometimes, there may be a moment when something changes and it shifts the entire dynamics of a relationship. Like when the poorer kid gets a better looking partner, better grades (and better prospects that come with it), a higher paid job or whatever else that no one saw coming. It’s not that anyone gets jealous (though that does happen), but it’s just something has now happened that does not keep them in the place you had put them – just a little bit below you. We all talk about how people change and how along the way people grow apart. Yes, there are many situations where the differences in the paths two individuals are taking leaves no room for them to take their relationship any further. But, in many situations, people grow apart because one or both sides do not know how to handle shifts which move someone out of the box you’ve put them in.
My second example and everyone’s favourite; politics. In Seychelles, there has been a winning side and a losing side for decades. Those on either side (at election time) have learned subconsciously perhaps how to behave during campaign periods, on Election Day and of course the days after the results are announced. If you are a Seychellois and you are reading this, you know exactly what I mean. If you are a Lepep supporter, there are friends you won’t call for a day or two until you know they must be over it and everything goes back to normal. If you are an opposition supporter, likewise, there are friends you’ll stay away from for a little while until the disappointment fades. This country has done this time and time again – until the 2015 elections. Purely from an analytical point of view it was interesting to see the reactions of many people following the shocking results of the elections. It was the first time a losing side won and many had no idea what was the proper celebration code. Many on the winning side also had no idea what a proper ‘mourning’ code was. And by code I don’t mean not know how to be happy or sad, but rather how to interact with other people. I personally have a friend who opened her heart to me and told me she was so hurt I never called her to see if she was OK after Lepep lost the majority in the assembly. I recall feeling terribly sad about it until I realized that not once in all the previous elections had she ever called me to see if I was ok. It was actually then that this idea of my place/ her place dawned on me. I know that the reason she never called me is not because she didn’t care how I felt but rather it was the way it was. She had placed me (politically only of course!) in that losing corner and her not calling me had never been an issue in our friendship and it had become the norm. But the 2015 elections changed this. She had no idea what that corner felt like and everything was new, unexpected and yes, a little scary. I definitely should have been a better friend and should have called but I too was adjusting to my ‘shift’. A lot of personal relationships have been affected by politics in Seychelles because ‘your place’ changed and many had no clue how to adjust.
We form relationships because they meet our needs and yes, to be happy and to be loved are also needs. The way we are raised, the values we are taught and learn and adopt along the way help us define the roles people play in our lives. Most of us do not put people in ‘places’ because we think we are better than them but because this place serves the need we have better; think of the married mother of 3 who has the single friend who’s dating someone new every few weeks and whose sex life could possibly make Madonna blush. The mother-of-3 needs this friend to once in a while escape her mad world full of diapers, baby vomit and chaos. Once this friend meets Mr Perfect and settles down and starts having babies and then wants to talk about diaper brands, she no longer fulfills the need the mother-of-3 has. Of course, this is the opportunity for them to take their friendship to another special level but sometimes individually they may not have what it takes. Things have now changed.
Think about it, how many people do you think are less good looking than you, less intelligent, have jobs that you don’t think are as great as yours? We are all guilty of placing people in places in our minds. I don’t think we can really help it but perhaps when changes happen we can stop for a second and just think that if the real shock factor is the event itself or because it doesn’t align with the boundaries you had placed them in your mind.