Topaz Avenue is one of my favourite places to walk, here in Victoria. It’s a fairly steep climb (excellent for burning calories) and at the top is Summit Park, a quiet patch of wilderness secluded from urban life, where I like to go and think.
Also on Topaz, about halfway up the hill, is a Gurdwara (Sikh Temple) that has, on many occasions, captured my eye. Weddings are my favourite: the temple comes alive with colour and sound – beautifully dressed and decorated women float around the grounds; men with turbans of all shapes and colours gather in groups of two or three, talking; and the singing gives me goosebumps.
I have stopped many times, to witness, just for a moment, weddings and religious ceremonies, but it is my first encounter with the steep walk up Topaz Avenue that remains at the forefront of my memory.
I had just moved to Victoria, didn’t have a job yet, and so my days were devoted to exploring my new city. It was a weekday and I was out for exercise, keeping my eyes peeled for any street with a challenging incline. I took one look at Topaz, and up I went.
As I approached the Gurdwara I noticed a white sign hanging from the fence that read, “Recognize the entire human race as one,” and, as a student of anthropology, I felt comforted by the words. To me, that’s how the world should operate, how humans should treat other humans. Just past the temple, a man was walking down the hill on the opposite side of the street from me. He wore traditional Sikh attire, complete with a turban and a long, grey and white beard. His hands were behind his back and he walked in polite, gentle strides.
It was a beautiful day in May and we were the only two people on the entire street. As we were about to pass, I said hello, just loud enough for it to carry across the street. He stopped for a brief moment, as if surprised, then continued walking. “Thank you,” he said. “Beautiful day.” I agreed, told him to enjoy his walk, and made my way to the top of the hill. Then it occurred to me, what had just happened.
A few months ago, a co-worker of mine, in a conversation about the struggles of marriage, said that interracial marriage was a good thing. Sounds like an innocent comment? Not when it’s followed up by the suggestion that interracial marriage would eventually erase genetic and cultural diversity. And that that would be just fine with her. Her wording, you see, was not that benign; rather it was overtly racist and left me speechless and dumbfounded. I tried to appeal to her, that interracial marriage (and childbearing) was not going to lead to “one race,” and that humans are already one race. She didn’t agree. Clearly, she said, we are not all one race — if we were, we would all be the same.
A man thanked me for saying hello to him. For acknowledging his existence. What a shame. It offends me to live in a world where he would be so taken aback by my simple greeting that he would thank me, where we think washing away cultural and genetic diversity to be desirable. We want vivid reds and golds from Autumn and demand lush greens and blues on our 60-inch, high definition plasma screen TVs, but we don’t appreciate the vast variety of colours and shades that exist in the cultures and people around us. You want to see real colour? Open your eyes, look around, and open your mind.