9.2.11

Or not to be racist?

The subject of race is a recurrent theme this week. In the context of the Development Discussion Group’s (DDG) oncoming debate on “Race in Zambia,” I decided to analyse two seemingly insignificant occurrences that took place last week. 

First I say “seemingly insignificant” because I am accustomed to racism. Though I detest the phenomenon, as a natural cynic I doubt that many people understand how intrinsic racism is or has become to any multiracial or multi-cultural society. 

The first event was as I was leaving a department store in Helsinki. A woman was standing in the corridor behind the cashiers and she appeared to be conducting a survey. This involved stopping people, asking questions and filling out a form. I passed this woman several times as I had several tasks to fulfil. However, she still did not approach me for an interview even though for at least a few seconds I was right beside her. However, when my partner – who is white – joined me, she came up to us. 

The second brief incident happened as I was entering a cafe. A black man leaving the same cafe stopped me and handed me a flyer for an African music night to be held somewhere in Helsinki. 

I did say they were insignificant. 

However, I can quite happily say that my reaction to both of them is exactly same. I was offended at their racial profiling of me. 

Many people would have had a stronger reaction to the white interviewer. However, few people will recognise the same behaviour in a black person. Take for instance an article "Fine if you're Finnish?" that appeared in the Helsinki Times written by a certain “Guys Chillax.” He says 


"I strongly suspect that a large part of the Finns’ apparent distrust towards many foreigners and minorities is down to the fact that the Finns themselves are, globally speaking, insignificant and, yes, a minority. Live in a country of a few million with a language spoken by no-one else and it’s no surprise you get insular” 


Need I say more? 

As I said I am a cynic and I make a distinction between opportunistic racism and real racism. Take, for instance, a contribution emailed by one of our DDG members regarding race relations in Zambia. 

“...something that I have seen and experienced. My belief is that it stems from a [feeling of] inferiority in our black selves, thinking that white people... are superior to us. They get better service in restaurants, they’re treated more courteously in stores etc, their word is treated with much more gravity and their facts (whether true or not) are considered to be true. A white person is automatically viewed as one with money and ‘status’ when compared to a black person in the same circumstances”

I know too many black Zambian people who actually believe that whites are superior to other races and especially blacks. They will furnish a list of fallacies to support their claim. I felt quite ill when a Zambian woman said to me “I want to marry a white man because they do not beat their wives.” 

I call this opportunistic racism because it based on inadequate information. The few Zambians who interact with people of European decent do so with a group that is not representative of the diversity of the white race. For example one will almost never find a white person on a bus, in the markets, or in government schools. Most white faces in these places will be tourists, volunteers or expatriates, most of whom are of relative affluence not just to Zambians but also in their own countries. 

However this opportunistic racism works the same in reverse. Finland has a relatively small number of non-whites compared to Great Britain or France, hence the woman in the mall who didn't consider that I might be a potential customer, or the music promoter who assumed I must be interested in an African music night, well because, I must be African. 

3 comments:

Mali said...

We can call it opportunistic racism or just plain racism but it's something that's holding Zambians back. I've also heard a similar comment from a 30-year-old Zambian lady wanting only to date white men because 'they know how to have fun and don't give the same s*** as black men.' She has a black father, black brothers and black cousins. I shook my head in shame.

I had a long discussion with a domestic helper explaining why he preferred working for white people to working for his fellow Zambians; in the end he just didn't like the idea that an ordinary Zambian could find him/herself in circumstances to give him orders. But for a white person, it's perfectly natural for them to be in that position.

I've grown up with and lived with white people all my life. They aren't a mystery or enigma to me. But the hold they have over black people fascinates me and makes me mad. I can't understand it. But what I understand less is the black Zambian's acceptance that theirs is a higher role in this society.
These are just some thoughts, more to come at the DDG discussion meeting.

Mwila Agatha Zaza said...

Thanks Mali. I'd have to liked to be there for the discussion.It is such a contentious issue and everyone has their own perception of what counts as racism. I

Anonymous said...

First time i have come across the term oppotunistic racism and intersting issues you raise.
In my experience its all about education and how one uses their environment to understand and interact with those around them (relationships). The examples you use Mwila are an issue of economics and marketing. i sell teenage stuff my market is teenagers, if i have a product like african music the audience/market is most likely to be african (BLACK RAP MUSIC CAN BE EQUALS WHITE TEENAGE TOO. IT can be an issue of trends too!) if i want to sell a product that is targetted to the wider society then i would specifically target that population. Business is business.
The issues of domestic helpers.....
The domestic helper only wanting to work for White people in my opinion can be looked at in two ways.one of the issues is about being treated with some dignity and that the job is just that, a job. there is a professional respect shown by expertraites and those who have moved around the world, show to people working for them as a domestic helper. ITs not unique to race it can be other foriegners. Avantages is that
they have less baggage compared to local employers and to be honest the money they have or bring with them is not affected by employing house help. The domestic worker terefore becomes reassured with less anxienties. This creates a situation where both parties are trusting in the interaction. By this i mean i work you pay me on the last day of the month and we are happy.
But all this could go wrong when the interaction of two races becomes and issue of superiority with a POWER becoming the common denominater. Whoever chooses power to oppress the other but the again thats when trouble starts and that's another story altogether...
My brother complaning about black sisters who have been hurt by black brothers and dont want to date them or indeed marry them, is a matter of knowing who one is. IF A LADY HAS ISSUES SHE IS RUNNING AWAY FROM, AND THEY ARE NOT DEALT WITH INWARDLY THE PROBLEM FOR THAT SISTER COULD BE STARING BACK AT HER IN THE MIRROR.HOPEFULLY THE SISTER'S SELF WORTH WILL BE FOUND WITHIN AND IN HER PURPOSE IN LIFE. WHO WE LOVE AND CHOOSE TO SPEND OUR LIVES WITH IS A MATTER OF THE HEART, SOUL AND MIND. Nothing to do with color!