We all have aspirations, hopes and dreams. Some more simple, accessible or bigger than others! No human being is more valuable. Unfortunately, many seem to have forgotten just that. The fact that we are not defined by the color of our skin nor religious beliefs but by what we do and communicate to others. We may not always be aware of it but our actions and words have value, yet some choose to waste that value for the purpose of hate and judgement.
Black and white
As a nine-year-old girl in the mid-90s – a new arrival in a foreign country, I suddenly became aware and conscious of my own skin color not because I was color blind or living in total oblivion but mainly because it was pointed out at the time as something to be aware about. My skin color became a constant reminder that I was different!
Growing up as a child in a small town in Norway and going to school in a classroom where I was the only black kid – I was use to standing out. Moreover, use to the finger pointing and stares that would happen from time to time (intensively in the beginning). I didn’t blame them (I was after all 1 out of 5 people with dark skin in town), nor did I consider them as being racist. I don’t even recall the word “racism” being in my vocabulary. However, it’s like what Maya Angelou says: “When you know better you do better”. In time, they knew better – I was no different, just darker.
Being a woman of color living in Norway (peaceful country), I must admit that I’m occasionally worried about some people’s attitude and opinion towards foreigners coming to this country. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure this is a common issue in other parts of the world.
Then there was the debate about the use of the N-word. I’ve lost count on how many times we’ve had this discussion on what to call dark skin, black, brown people. The debate has been up for discussion in the media several times, it has become a never-ending discussion. In addition, a heated debate as I’m sure it usually is in other part of the world. Personally, I think there is no use for the word mainly because the word has lost its meaning.
I’ve disconnected from that particular word. Why? Because for me it’s just word. I choose not to let a word define me. I have a name. And if you don’t know my name; well, you can refer me as “the African woman down the street”. OK, what if they are several African woman, and you want to tell them apart? How about “that African woman with short hair or the short one?”
For some, the N-word is a sensitive word. Some hate it and associate the word with racism, some use it in a more humorist way (mostly amongst black people) and some are neutral to the word. Like I’ve said, for me it’s just a word – unfortunately a word with a dark and tragic history and we’ve now come to a point where saying the N-word gets immediately connected to racism: black vs white.
Some argue that why not call black people for what they are: negros (in Norwegian ‘neger’), in the sense that the word originates from Latin meaning black. My question is why would one absolute need to use the N-word when there are several ways to describe a person who originate from Africa (?). The N-word has been abused on so many levels that it has lost its value (if it ever had one) and meaning. Now of these days it’s hard to tell the intentions behind the use of the word.
The N-word has too much bad and painful history to mess with. For me, it seems like almost impossible to reverse the abuse of the word, to make it into something else. Nevertheless, in the end, it’s not about being political correct but respectful. Respecting that some just don’t like to be referred to the word. Respecting that the N-word is a touchy word to avoid, especially if saying the word to someone you don’t know and just met. However, ask yourself why do you use the word or feel it’s unfair to not use the N-word?
The mentality of Us vs Them
Most Norwegian take pride of their country and culture, as they should. It’s a beautiful country with an unique culture. Nevertheless, many share the fear of losing their identity and heritage by the increasing number of foreigners/immigrants entering the nation. Some more stuck with the belief that if we help them – those people who are just after our money, it will all lead to destruction, unrest and more misery to the society we live in.
What’s also scary at times are the bias and racial opinions that seem to be circling around. Some going as far as to suggesting that Norway not take any more immigrants or the best one yet, categorize who gets to enter the country by religion. Allowing i.e. only Christian people in the country or the more extreme, only whites. To me, all of these opinions just seem to be absurd and extremely bias!
Let me point out that this is not a discussion or debate on whether Norway should take more or less immigrants, or other countries for that matter. That’s another and yet more political debate.
My concern is for the lack of understanding, respect and compassion some have and show towards other human beings regardless of ethnicity, religion and/or color.
In addition there are also those who deny my children their Norwegian heritage for the reason that their mother doesn’t have a skin color that resonates with being Norwegian (stereotype: blond, blue eye, pale skin). Accordingly, my children are not pure enough to be consider or called themselves Norwegians. In my mind, that’s the more extreme part of racism. Those people I would say are doomed to xenophobia, and I’m scared of the directions the human race is headed at times.
Reading and hearing other people’s opinion when it comes to them, I’m ashamed of those apparently stuck with their xenophobic thoughts and beliefs.
With everything that is happening in the world right now, I don’t blame the fear (even I get scared at times with all that’s happening around the globe) but in my opinion it’s still doesn’t excuse the hatred, judgement and bias behavior some people have in this country and pretty sure other parts of the world. One should judge a person by his own actions and words. Not by race, religion and/or culture. A person is not automatically bad or even evil just by being born into a certain country, culture or by having a certain skin color.
In the end, we’re all human beings with dreams and hope for a better life. And if or when given an opportunity to achieve just that, I’m sure a lot of us would take that opportunity – sometimes the risk outweighs current situations. We all like to judge and think that we know best based on our experiences and life. But at the end of the day we may not know for sure about what’s going on behind the curtains or on the other side of the world. Some assume as they sit in their comfortable, and probably safe surroundings but can’t comprehend how it really is to live in poverty, war, illness or even total destruction. I’m not saying I know for sure but at least I have the courtesy to treat other human being with dignity, empathy and compassion.
Empathy, Compassion and Respect
I believe that the reason behind most people’s hate, bias and discrimination is ignorance, fear and at times lack of – not sympathy but empathy. For me there is a huge difference. It’s easy to feel sorry for someone or show sympathy but to really put oneself in the other person’s “shoes” and try to imagine and understand what that other person is feeling or going through takes effort and compassion – that for me is empathy. Having the capacity to understand what the other person is experiencing.
What happened to understanding that we’re all different, in various type, shape and form.
We would come a long way with a bit more respect, understanding, compassion and not to mention empathy for one another. Fortunately, over the years I’ve witness, met and befriended (and even married) people who has chosen a different mind-set when it comes to the human race. Therefore, there is progress in humanity yet going at a slow but positive pace.
Race and color has been a part of my journey – for better and for worst, and unfortunately is something I’ve been forced to be aware of growing up. Occasionally I’m still reminded that there is still people amongst us who choose to waste their valuable words on hate and xenophobic mind-set.