The assassination of George Floyd in the United States and the #BlackLivesMatter movement once again shows that racism is a very serious symptom of a pandemic that I call exclusion. And very often, it is the minorities who are excluded, but it can also be women, who are far from being in a minority.
And what is the trigger for this disease? A virus called intolerance.
Yes, in this period of Coronavirus crisis, inequalities are becoming more and more obvious.
I talked about this in an earlier article, especially about the difficulties that certain social groups may have had during confinement.
It seems to me that the already existing problems took on another dimension during this crisis. It is as if we have taken a magnifying glass to all the problems in our society as it is built in the 21st century.
Racism: the symptom of a serious illness
Why do I say racism is a symptom, not a disease? Because it’s actually a manifestation of a more general phenomenon, which is exclusion. And very often, these are the excluded minorities.
If we go back in time, we can see that exclusion is what makes people victims of racism.
Think of apartheid or Nazism for example. These are two examples where communities have been completely rejected, even exterminated…
And racism is everywhere! This is not a story that is limited to South Africa, it’s all over the world, from Australia with “blackbirding” to the United States, or to Germany in Nazi times. Not only did some groups become slaves but they were even the victims of genocides. This problem is usually correlated to colonialism, minorities and religions. Colonialism was a form of domination and power abuse over local populations that were later on enslaved. There is also a form of slavery of white populations, when they were in the minority, for example in Australia, with the “Irish indentured servants“. Then you have human trafficking, and that happens to both white and black.
My experience with racism and exclusion
My mother is mixed race and from Madagascar. I don’t even know all the origins she has, but most likely they include Asia, Africa and Europe. My father is French with Dutch origins … So hey, when you are mixed-blood in France, people do not know where you come from, so they usually think that you are part of the immigrant majority, ie Morocco or Algeria, basically.
I talked about it briefly on my Instagram page, and I must admit it was not a very pleasant experience. To start with, I have been assigned all nationalities, with the word “dirty” in front of it, so I have been Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Algerian, Moroccan, Arabic, Turkish, Brazilian, and even Chinese (yes! Chinese… ignorance is really that bad).
Interesting, now I live in Spain and the funniest thing is that I have a lot of mixtures, but none of them includes those mentioned above.
Taking me for what I was not made me angry as a teenager. I hated shortcuts and the ignorance of people.
Later, I took it as a joke and even a compliment (except when the word “dirty” went before it, when I was obviously disrespected).
Eventually, after many years, I can say I am proud of my mixed heritage. I am a global citizen and I can be from anywhere, which is a great asset when you’re travelling around the world!
Racism and exclusion at work
But I’ve been “lucky” so far. I have never been physically assaulted because of racism.
I have suffered “just” moral violence and all kinds of discrimination.
Especially at school and at work.
When I was at school, I was bullied because of my mixed-blood looks. It upset me, but I got over it, thinking they were “only kids”, although I am pretty sure their racist comments came from their parents. Thankfully it happened only occasionally.
From moral harassment to racism
However, the violence during my adult life has really exasperated me.
What has impacted me the most as an adult is when I stood in for a hotel receptionist who was on maternity leave. I was morally harassed by a girl and the manager of the hotel that belonged to a big chain that I will not name, in Lyon. As I was recruited by phone, and because I have a Dutch surname, she was shocked when she saw a little brunette with a matte complexion and curly hair…
She didn’t hesitate to tell me that my hair looked messy and kept making unpleasant comments about my appearance.
I want to clarify: my hair did not fall into my eyes. I had a completely “presentable” hairstyle thanks to a superb hairdresser from my village of Saint-Gaudens who taught me how to tame my curly hair. You can have curly or afro hair and be impeccable, but according to this hotel manager, it was wrong …
Maybe she wanted me to have had my hair straightened every morning…
After 10 days of being put down, I left in tears. I packed my bags and went to work on the French Riviera… where I had no problem. Probably because there, towards Saint Tropez, there was a greater tolerance.
My assistant manager was lovely and also gay. I still remember his red hair and his freckles. An endearing man with whom I learned a lot.
The nuance between nastiness and ignorance
On the other hand, my direct manager made the following statement the first time we talked: “Ah, with your name I expected to see a tall blonde”. Later on, she said it would be better if I wore heels, but with my feet problems, I can’t …
She did not insist, however, and never made such comments again. I think in her case it was not wickedness, just ignorance. But I still found it to be evidence of a backward mentality and an educational problem …
You may be saying to yourself: why didn’t you react and defend yourself? First of all, I was 20 years old and so how could I have proven that this receptionist I was supposed to cover during her maternity leave and her hotel director from Lyon had harassed me morally? I didn’t have a cell phone to record the conversation at the time! I was on a probation period, it was easy for them to get rid of me.
Intolerance: an educational problem?
That’s what I tend to believe. A phenomenon of generalization, we “simplify” as I mentioned earlier, and we want to stick a label on people or put them into a box. We encounter prejudices all day long…
It is pathetic!
But if only we learned the cultures of our neighbours right from primary school in a fun and educational way, I think we would change the situation and that children could even educate their racist parents. Because for them, I don’t know if it’s not too late …
Children should be taught that beauty is in difference.
As a Catalan friend tells me, I don’t want to be a copycat of another person. I want to be myself. And that means taking on board all my differences…
A political problem?
It’s so much easier to throw the stone at the other, at the one who is different, the outsider…
It is his/her fault if there are no jobs for example. It’s an argument we hear all day long.
It’s her/his fault that there is violence on the streets. The fact that we group them all together in ghettos and marginalize them has nothing to do with it, of course!
In short, for politicians short of ideas and lacking intelligence, it is a copout to accuse someone else and whip up hatred among people.
Divide and rule
A religion issue?
Just read books about religious wars. It’s a huge problem that has existed for centuries and on every continent.
How is it possible when all the gods in the world preach love and respect for others?
Simply because, in my humble opinion, religion may not be the real problem.
Religion is just an excuse used by those who want to take power, by those who want to take land and property. In reality, it is a problem of greed for power and money, as most of the problems that exist on this earth….
What is a prejudice and how it correlates to intolerance and exclusion?
As I said above, it’s putting you all in one category and you’re not allowed to get out of it. We hear clichés all day long, like:
- One cannot be blonde, beautiful and smart at the same time
- One cannot be an actor and singer simultaneously
- If one is an economist, one must be a capitalist (unlike the economist Thomas Piketty)
- One can’t have frizzy hair and be Miss Universe (thank you Zozibini Tunzi…)
- One cannot be rich and take public transport
- One cannot be poor and intelligent (Dixit French president Macron in below video if you understand French…). Indeed, Macron has made so many contemptuous speeches that I have ended up believing that he likes to generalize too and has a lot of prejudices. If I am simplifying, allow me to share with you an article that gives an idea of the kind of vocabulary used by Emmanuel Macron:
- One cannot be an opera singer and a gardener
- One cannot be organized and spontaneous
- One can’t refuse a joint or a drink and be cool
- One can’t need a wheelchair and at the same time be able to walk or even run.
Shall I continue? Or do you get the point I’m trying to make? It’s still crazy that our minds are not open enough to accept our contradictions. And besides, it’s not even a contradiction. It is for the one who makes judgments, but it is in fact just a complementarity.
So let’s stop judging and oversimplifying. We don’t know everything. Let’s accept that fact.
What is behind intolerance?
As I said, intolerance is the phenomenon that leads to exclusion, and it tends to affect minorities in the main.
Minorities come in different forms…
- Sick people
- People with physical disabilities
- People with mental disabilities
- People with an invisible illness or disability (deaf or hard of hearing, with chronic pain like fibromyalgia, with diabetes, etc.)
- People who are homeless or very poor
- The unemployed (well, let’s hope it remains a minority if being able to have a roof over your head and enough to eat makes this necessary)
- Obese people
- People with a religion that is not the dominant one in the country where they live.
- People with different sexual orientation
- “Racial” minorities, as already mentioned, even if I don’t like this term because we all form just one race, the human race…
So I think we have to rebel against all types of oppression and discriminations towards differences. Not just those of skin colour. Because this is only one part of the problem…
Exclusion by abuse of power, domination and inequality
Domination is another aspect that causes some people to be mistreated and excluded.
And there again, there are many power struggles in certain groups:
- Man against woman
- Adults against children
- Animals against humans
- Capitalism versus ecology
- IQ vs. EI (Emotional Intelligence)
- Bosses against employees
- Corporations versus citizens
And I forget many others!
How long will it take to achieve equality?
For this, real democracy is needed at all levels.
I am not saying that all men are against women.
I’m just saying that historically and culturally, women have always been considered inferior to men in the majority of countries, even if there are beautiful examples illustrating the contrary.
Matriarchal societies are, according to anthropologist Heide Goettner-Abendroth, completely egalitarian, even if one hears everywhere in the media that this is not true. The controversy is really everywhere and we no longer know who to believe. But all I know is that it’s a different mode of society that at least deserves our attention.
Watch this short video to better understand
And it’s the same for children, animals, etc.
They very rarely have their say, even if children can speak very early! They are often overlooked. So imagine the animals who can’t talk at all…
Criminal abuse examples
Even more worrying is the abuse of these groups.
The #MeToo movement has revealed this for women.
As for children, there have been so many horrible stories of paedophilia happening even at the heart of the Church… It is a scandal that is starting to be talked about, but we are still far from where we need to be to stop these criminal acts.
And then animals, you can see what’s going on with the food industry. It’s completely crazy. How we can enslave an animal like this for our consumption. Even if I don’t believe veganism is the solution, I think it is an important pillar in raising awareness and showing that there are other alternatives for eating. Whether we like it or not, we will have to drastically reduce our meat intake.
And then I also find it unfortunate that the current pandemic which is destroying so many lives, directly and indirectly, has not been correlated with the way we treat animals as if they were our slaves. Whether in zoos, markets, or huge agricultural concentration camps…
But I don’t want to simplify the problem by pointing the finger at farmers. Some have been forced to use this method to survive financially.
Like everything, it’s much more complex than it appears…
As for capitalism, if its principle is that growth must be constant, we must ask ourselves what type of growth we are pursuing. If it is materials-based, then ecology will always be flouted in the name of money, profits, “jobs” (nice illusion, by the way, which we still believe in …). It is also a catalyst for animal abuse, among others …
What is the cure for the “exclusion” disease?
How to cure a lack of tolerance, then? Education, of course, is fundamental as I have already explained …
But it’s not just that.
Yes, that’s what we’re doing right now. We’re on the street, and that’s great.
You have to be heard for justice to take place.
But there are various ways to denounce. It’s not only about demonstrating in the street.
If someone discriminates, you have to find the courage to speak out. I have a friend who did it once, and I was so proud of her! Indeed, during a promotion review, she was asked if she was planning to be a mom. She didn’t speak out for herself, because she doesn’t want to have children, but she did it to address this injustice. She could have feared for her job, but she didn’t. She took courage into both hands and opened her mouth.
Inform and get informed
When we receive information that can help people open their minds, to help them understand, to help them realize the extent of the problem, we should not hesitate to share this kind of information.
And when someone passes on information to us, we must take everything with a grain of salt. We have to educate ourselves and compare different opinions to come up with our own.
Avoid generalizations and amalgams
Not everything is black or white.
No, not all cops are murderers, and not all foreigners are delinquents.
This is exactly what I explained about prejudice.
If we avoid these generalizations and over-simplification and accept that things are much more complex and that each person is different, then we will have understood a lot…
Militating is possible. Join a movement, a cause, or create your own.
This is what I am trying to do with my Planeta Sana project.
And I hope that you will join me, because I really want to stop these inequalities, in my case related to environmental health. Meaning, stop discriminating sick people from others, give them a place in our society, and help all human beings to live in good health by fighting for the protection of the environment. Because it is the basis of our health and well-being.
Let’s not forget that minorities are the ones suffering the most from climate change consequences. That’s why I am involved in environmental justice!
A value that must be instilled in our young people.
It is the basis of everything. And I think if we really knew what respectful behaviour and speech were, our society wouldn’t have as many problems with racism, discrimination and everything else …
Why don’t we like differences? Why settle for a monochrome world when it can be all coloured like a rainbow?
I think if everyone were lucky enough to be exposed to cultures that differ from ours early in life, we would be more likely to accept others and their differences.
Obviously, I am an expatriate, and I realize that it’s part of human nature to complain about the differences with our country of origin.
But if we can overcome that, we realize that this is what makes the beauty of the country in question. No country is perfect, like no one is perfect.
Everyone has their charm and that’s why I love to travel. We discover new scenery, we get out of our routine and we experience another reality. Sometimes it’s such a change that it looks more like travelling in time than travelling in space. Because our home country is so different.
When you travel, you tend to learn to be resilient. To adapt to others, to their culture, their customs, the way they dress, their cuisine. It can be very intense, and so wonderful at the same time!
But what I learned is that travelling can also be harmful to locals. So educate yourself. I already wrote an article on responsible travel that I recommend to you.
And to give you an example, this article explains how to get to know a culture respectfully.
And you, what do you think of racism? Do you also believe that this is a problem of intolerance, domination, abuse of power and exclusion? Do you see other causes? Are there other types of discrimination that I haven’t mentioned that you want to denounce? Do you have any other suggestions for stopping this virus of exclusion? Your comments are very important to us, so don’t hesitate to share your ideas!
If you liked this article, feel free to bring it to life by sharing it. Maybe that’s how we can beat this disease!