A friend recently posted a question on social media asking if others thought discrimination against foreigners or Palagi was a problem in Samoa. I have thought about that a lot since.
I thought of how being a Palagi in Samoa can be hard. But I think it is more a matter of being a minority that is hard.
I thought about the history of the world and how so many minorities were and still are oppressed, discriminated against, and worse. I thought of how so many indigenous peoples have suffered, having their lands and cultures ripped away from them; having to constantly fight to preserve their way of life.
I reflected particularly on one of the comments to the social media post that said something along the lines of, “Who cares how the whites are treated look what they did to us in the past. They deserve it.”
It led me to consider how much white privilege do I really enjoy? How much am I responsible for those of my race who have gone before me and have done terrible things to indigenous races?
I thought of some of the negative experiences I have had in Samoa. Being the butt of someone’s joke, being ignored, treated unfairly, singled out, overcharged for purchases, ugly things said behind my back because someone thought I didn’t understand Samoan, being the target of sexual harassment and unwanted attentions. Do these things justify me treating all Samoans as badly as I want because some Samoans subjected me to injustices and ill treatment? No
I am not responsible for the injustices that other Palagis have inflicted on Samoans any more than all Samoans are to blame for my bad experiences in Samoa. I believe there is serious danger in generalizations.
I then thought of some comments I have heard individuals from overseas make. They have referred to local Samoans in very degrading ways with large amounts of fear, dislike, distrust and even disgust. Some of these individuals were not even Palagi. I have come to realize that often we let negative experiences or emotions determine our outlook and actions. I have also come to realize that when we listen to our fears and bad experiences from the past, when making decisions that affect the present, it is often like taking bad advice.
I also have pondered on all the beautiful experiences I have had in Samoa.
I have felt more loved and accepted in Samoa than anywhere else in my life. I have seen more generosity and loving kindness than anywhere else I have ever been. So if we truly are, as author B J Neblett says, “The sum total of our experiences; those experiences – be they positive or negative – make us the person we are, at any given point in our lives.”
Then I choose to accentuate the positive. To live in the present and not dredge up past hurts.
Marianne Williamson, a New York Time best-selling author said, “We do not heal the past by dwelling there; we heal the past by living fully in the present.”
So when someone says it’s okay to treat Palagi and other foreigners badly because of what was done in the past, it is simply prolonging healing and returning to past hurts to justify prejudices and hate. When Palagis treat Samoans badly simply because they have had bad experiences with Samoans in the past it is the same.
We can be better than that. We need to be better than that. None of us choose the race or country we are born into.
We can only do our best to be decent human beings regardless of the color of our skin, our origins, and the events of the past.
The rest of B J Neblett’s quote says, “And, like a flowing river, those same experiences, and those yet to come, continue to influence and reshape the person we are, and the person we become.
None of us are the same as we were yesterday, nor will be tomorrow.” So if we aren’t the same people that we were yesterday, then holding on to the hurts of the past makes even less sense.
Of even more importance is the fact that we can choose how to react to the experiences we have. We are not victims or our circumstances; we can decide how our experiences shape our future. We don’t have to be prisoners of past hurts. We can treat others with sensitivity, respect, kindness and human decency regardless of who they are or who their ancestors were.
*Rebecca has lived in Samoa for 19 years. She is a mother of five boys, jack of all trades and loves a good story.