The enrichment of living in a multicultural society

Is it an enrichment to live in a multicultural society? Or do we have to anxiously protect our culture from “foreign invasion”? In general people are creatures who love their little habits. They like to hang with people who speak the same language, look the same, believe the same and have the same cultural / financial background.

When you’re white, it’s appropriated you go out with white people. If you’re rich, you most likely have other rich friends. Whenever you’re Christian, Muslim or Jewish, the majority of your friends will share that religion. Nothing wrong with that, as long as this doesn’t make you exclude others. It’s very human that we want to belong to a certain group we can identify with. But never forget there’s an entire world out there to discover. And yes there are loads of people having bad intentions. However, I’m still convinced that this is a personality problem rather than it has something to do with the color of your skin.

I have many good friends with whom I don’t share hair and skin color, background or religion. The past years I was invited to Congolese dinners, Shabbat and I celebrated the end of Ramadan with my Turkish neighbors. Every single time I had fun even though, as a purebred Flemish country girl, I had to get used to customs I didn’t grow up with. Or listen to a language I totally didn’t understand. Did that make me nervous? Not at all… On the contrary, the more I get to know about the unknown, the more interesting it gets. I see it as a fortune to have such a various and interesting group of friends.

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Marie-France Vodikulwakidi Kiabelo, born in Congo, moved to Belgium with her parents as expats

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Ahad Eshaghzey, born in Kandahar (Afghanistan), fled Afghanistan with the entire family because of the growing extremism

However, that’s my side of the story. For a long time I thought there was no such thing as racism. Because I simply never got in touch with it. But then your best friend wants to buy an apartment. Apparently her Congolese name and cute French accent were one of the reasons getting an appointment was impossible. I had to call the real estate agent and join her during the first visit. It’s also well-known that it’s way more difficult to find a job when you don’t have a local sounding family name. Doesn’t matter whether you have a higher degree or you’re more suitable for the job.

This racism thing is becoming a vicious circle. When you’re not a native, you must work harder to get equal chances. Every time you have to go up against the same prejudices. Till a certain point it makes you sad, angry and discouraged. Many children of immigrants saw their parents suffering to be accepted. We welcomed everyone and as long they were satisfied with doing the dirty work, it was all ok. But doesn’t everyone wants to evolve? Doesn’t every parent wants to make a better life for his or her children?


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Nataija Antonic, born in Sarajevo - Bosnia Herzegovina, fled Bosnia Herzegovina with her parents because of the war

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Ilja Sura Changlor Smets, born in Thailand, was adopted as a child by a Belgian family

Of course there are many cases where things went totally wrong. But there are also many cases where things went very well. Instead of always pointing out the negative, why not focus on the positive? Or has this society officially gone sour? Sometimes I think we just enjoy nagging more than looking at the bright side.

We could all use a good dose of mutual respect. Yes, we’re all different but so what… just live and let live. Instead of only praying to our different gods we better learn a thing or two about empathy. And weren’t religious books initially meant to teach us about standards and values? If so we did quite a good job on misinterpreting the past centuries. It’s not necessarily bad to dream about heaven or reincarnation but we’re forgetting to make the best out of it while we’re here.

To end this article in style:

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Martin Luther King


Pictures by Ilja Sura Changlor Smets 

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Jonathan Zegbe, born and raised in Belgium by his Congolese family

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Karim Lachenani, 1/2 Tunisian and 1/2 Belgian, born and raised in Antwerp by his Belgian mom

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Harrison Stelman, born and raised in Belgium by his Jewish parents, has family in Israel and South Africa


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