I’m an Indonesian. I was born in Indonesia. Both of my parents are Indonesian. They were also born in Indonesia.
Before Indonesia declared its independence, we were colonialized by the Dutch for over 300 years, and apparently, it has left us a complex called “cultural inferiority complex”, according to this observation by Breanna Bradley from Berkley Center.
“In my experience, colonialism and the inferiority complex have created a dynamic in which bule (read: white foreigners) are treated like celebrities who automatically hold a higher social status than Indonesians, regardless of who they are.”
“Complete strangers come up and ask to take photos with me—I’ve actually had lines form like I was a princess at Disneyland. I am constantly told how “beautiful” I am by strangers as well. Although this might seem like a compliment, the reasons why I am considered beautiful play right into the colonial mindset and the historical Western standards of beauty: my white skin, pointed or “stand up” nose, and blonde (I’m actually a brunette) hair are what makes me “beautiful” in Indonesia.”
Breanna wasn’t comfortable treated like a celebrity. It happened just because she stood out, and was perceived as ‘perfect’. She wasn’t treated like this back home, because everybody looks like her.
As an Indonesian, I’m aware that I also have the inferiority complex.
The fact that I’m working with foreigners every day made me question this complex more.
Can I escape it and see myself as equal with my coworkers?
Sometimes I still have that feeling of inferiority, but I’ve been trying to be more mindful and grateful for what I have.
In this article, I want to share how I’m constantly trying to counter this inferiority.
How do you see yourself as a(n) [insert your nationality here]?
How do you see yourself as [your nationality]? How do you perceive people from other countries?
In Indonesia, we’re taught from an early age (at least when I was in school) that too much of globalization is bad, as it would slowly erase our identity and our culture as an Indonesian. I think that has subconsciously limited our relationship with people from other cultures and countries.
I can’t say this for all of my fellow Indonesians, because our society is (way too) compartmentalized. I come from a middle-class Chinese-Indonesian family, so this might not represent your case in any way.
But if I could simplify it, what I’ve seen before are two completely opposite mindsets and approaches when it comes to comparing ourselves to people in more developed countries. The first one is over glorifying the developed countries and underestimating our country’s capabilities and potentials. The second one is being anti-Western and anti-everything-that’s-not-Indonesian.
The first type is actually a pessimist. They stand in awe when someone they know is working or studying abroad. Instead of learning how he/she does it, they distance themselves. They make excuses like “Oh, we’re not that smart”, or “We’ll never be able to work with foreigners”. Note: I don’t mean to offend anyone here. This is only for people who are fortunate enough (have the resources) to learn but not doing it.
The second type is being too proud of the local culture and being anti of everything not local. This happens mainly because they think by keeping up with what is happening outside, they’re stopping the development of the local culture. When actually, there are so many missed opportunities here. Learning from another country or culture can never dissolve your own culture, as long as you’re still embracing it.
I believe there’s another way of thinking here.
You’re not only a(n) [insert your nationality here]
This interesting study by Pew showed that younger generations didn’t think birthplace isn’t that important to national identity. This means that these younger generations are more open to different cultures and backgrounds.
So there is (new) hope!
But it requires us to detach our identity as an Indonesian/whatever your nationality is (for a moment) and see ourselves as a global citizen. We’re a member of the world! We all have more in common than we realize.
We all have something to contribute to the greater good.
1. Embrace your nationality, culture, and race
When I’m working, I don’t leave my identity as an Indonesian. I didn’t pretend to be American.
Your nationality, culture, and race are parts of your identity. They’re what makes you, you. If you’re not proud of what you have or what you are, what are you going to share with the rest of the world?
We all have stories. Stories of our lives. Stories of our culture. They make us interesting.
2. Travel with an open mind (or read, or watch)
Travel allows you to see the human diversity. People who look differently, people who eat differently, people who walk differently. Things that you think are weird, are not weird in another part of the world.
Try to respect those differences.
If traveling is not available for you, read a book or watch a YouTube video. See what’s happening on the other side of the world. See what life is like in another continent. Hopefully, you’ll get the same understanding.
3. Realize that we’re all humans
After meeting some people that are not like you and (if you’re lucky enough) exchanged some words with them, you’ll start to see that they’re not aliens. They’re like you, too. They have worries, feelings, and thoughts.
4. Start to see yourself as equal
While if you want to actually work with them (or learn from them), you have to see yourself as equal to them. They’re not better or worse than you. They might not have the same views as you do, but theirs are valid too.
Put that growth mindset to work, and see those so-called foreigners as humans, with the same strengths and flaws as your friends might have.
Just be kind. To everyone.
Be friends with everyone. Who knows what you can learn from them. As a bonus, here’s a video of a Korean kid meets American kid for the first time.