I recently read an article about the charming face of racism in Sweden. It was more an interview with one of the best comedians in Sweden, Marika Carlsson, who is adopted from Ethiopia. Marika’s ongoing stand up A nigger’s upbringing (En negers uppväxt) is both funny and inspiring.
I have heard many discussions about racism. In my experience, many people ask me “what is racism” in an attempt to find out what they can say about black people around me without offending me.
I am not easily offended and I have no antennas up for racism, so I could miss racism if it is not straight up to my face and personal.
Just so you know!
Then again, it could be because I think racism and discrimination are problems everywhere in the world. I try to pretend they don’t share space with intelligent, open-minded people. And I try to avoid the ignoramuses who don’t see the me/you behind the skin.
Still, for an African woman living in Europe, the racism discussion is unavoidable.
Apparently, racism in Sweden is no longer the out right name calling or the blatant denial of service that everyone else is getting. It is subtle, silent, with a smile on the lips.
No shit monsieur Poirot!
The first story I heard of racism in Sweden happened almost five years ago and had to do with clubbing. It was a Ghanian friend who was working extra as a guard at a Stockholm night club to support his studies. He said:
“come early, around 21:00-22:00. It’s better to be one of the first in the club if you want to ever get admitted” Apparently, by orders from management, he could only admit 10% colored people to the club.
So if I wanted to get into the mentioned club, where I was expected to pay an entrance fee of around 100 Swedish crowns. I had to come early to be one of the first colored in the club.
My friend moved from Sweden soon after his studies claiming to find greener pastures.
No, miss Jane Marple, I will not name the club or the friend. I have no evidence, no witnesses and we would not be reliable witnesses in court!
Get over it.
A Caucasian child once sat on my lap, patted me softly, touched my wild afro of the time and went:
“why are you so “brown”? have you been to Thailand? Have you been in the sun too long?”
Note: Thailand is the destination of choice for Swedes after the sun. So most children recognize Thailand as where “we get brown.”
I answered the child that I was from Africa and there were many of my type where I came from. He smiled up to me
“I think I would be scared there, in Africa. But I am not scared of you! he declared triumphantly and hugged me.”
the child and I spoke about the movie The lion king. the Lion, the Elephant & the Giraffe. That I come from the same neighborhood with these giants that he knows so well.
A few days later I spoke to an African friend about my conversation with the child. And my friend laughed, mockingly:
“even the children treat us like that” he said.
“what?” I didn’t get it. No antennas up can do that to an African woman.
For my friend, this was as good as being discriminated.
“they must have seen us when they saw the Giraffes on TV. they know the giraffe and love it. Draw pictures of it. Why not of the people?”
Another face of racism? really?
A Caucasian friend came to Kenya with me. My sister had a neighbor who had a little girl, 2-3 years old. She spent many hours every day with my sister’s children.
It was a nightmare for the little girl the couple of days we spent at my sisters. She had to avoid my Caucasian friend like she avoids the stray dogs of the neighborhood.
she went round the sofa on the opposite side of him. she checked if he was in the kitchen before she came in. To strategize which side she would sit at and measure the distance from him and to the door. in case she needed a quick escape.
She did not say hello to him on the first day. she did not look at him. She warned my sister’s son, her best friend that she would not play with him if he was speaking with the stranger.
On the second day she went behind him and touched his hair. It fascinated her. He was not supposed to feel the touch, she was just checking how the hair felt.
On the third day she looked at him, shyly. He never got to touch her. And when they spoke, there was a translator/mediator/middle man between them. She had some questions. he answered them.
They sounded like the child who had questions for me just a couple of years earlier.
Is it racism when a child is afraid? When a child questions? is curios?
There is the condescending conversations:
“oh, do you really want this job? Are sure you can do it without help?”
after 5 years university education, haven’t I proven I can accomplish something? I still have to prove I am worth a try?
but, if the waste of resources does not bother the decision maker, why should I care?
On to other news:
In Kenya, a Caucasian almost always pays double the price a Kenyan pays for the same article. In the non regulated markets of course, not at the regular supermarket.
A Caucasian is considered to have more money, regardless of his origin. And he/she is expected to be willing to pay more without haggling. Otherwise he/she is a miser.
Is that racism?
or when I am invited to a party and everyone moves their bag so mine is the only one standing in that corner where all bags were when we first arrived.
when an African woman’s children are taken from her by the child welfare service. they suspect the children are being abused. There is no evidence of abuse.
A neighbor has called in because someone shouted inside the African’s house. “Those people abuse their children, it must be happening now.”
the word of a neighbor has more weight. But she has called the social services and the police several times, complaining about most of the neighbors.
a family is harassed for more than two years.
It’s nothing to do with this being an afro-swedish family, the process that leads to a decision takes time in Sweden.
In my experience. Everyone involved has to agree, even when everyone does not have the same data to analyze.
The afro-swedish family wins the case, eventually. If it can be called a win. They get to keep their children. They change country.
And a last example: a Swedish man I know lived in Nairobi for three years. He tried to find work, he had no formal education after high school. But he had some experience in some field.
He never got a job in Nairobi. For a Caucasian to be employed in Nairobi, he was told, he had to be equal or better than a Kenyan.
Preferably, better. Otherwise, the same job could go to a Kenyan with the same formal qualifications. He moved back to Europe & found a job within three months.
He loving Nairobi as he does, he moved back some years later. This time better prepared for success!
My questions are:
- when is it racism?
- how do we tell when it is ignorance misinformation, fair play, culture or history revealing itself?
when “that could happen to anyone else” just wrong place wrong time
- how can we deal with other’s curiosity if we constantly are looking for racism?
how to react?
- evolve? develop defense mechanisms such as antennas that identify words, looks and mannerisms that can imply racism?
- shout racist? change country?
- or take the Hushpuppy in the Beast of the southern wild solution:
“this is my home[...] I am not going anywhere[...] the brave stay, fight for what is theirs [...]they don’t run away”