Culture Clash

It is easy to forget sometimes— how cultures can clash. We have our routines and get by just fine for the most part without thinking that the way we live is the result of us being shaped by a particular set of rules in a particular place. Until we encounter another perspective.
When I talk with white people in Australia who have recently visited Aboriginal communities, one of their first observations is usually about how much rubbish is scattered about. It’s usually with some degree of shock. Rarely do they consider their observation to be the result of culture clash. I hadn’t been able to name it as such until I watched the documentary Another Country about the small community called Raminining, in the Northern Territory. The narrator, David Gulpilil, describes it this way:
“Our two cultures clash with rubbish. We don’t see rubbish. We don’t understand it. Rubbish comes from your culture. We never had rubbish. Everything comes from the bush. Everything goes back to the bush. Out there in the bush, you finish something, you just give it back. It is part of the land again. If something breaks, like a spear or basket, you make new one. In the white world, that doesn’t work. The new one costs money, the old one is rubbish. Now that we live in the town and not in the bush, we are choking on rubbish. That means, we are choking on your culture.” 
I can be aware of what I consider rubbish and how I handle rubbish and imagine the environmental impact of rubbish. It’s quite another thing to realize that I have learned rubbish in a way that is different from how other people may have learned rubbish; as one learns sense of humor, or fashion preferences. And remembering this might make a significant difference when we’re trying to make sense of practices that seem foreign. What cultures do with rubbish doesn’t usually come up in conversation about the effects of colonization. It’s usually too easy to blame Aboriginal communities for not cleaning up.  

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s