THE PARADOX OF RACISM


 

Mixed race family hands by jacknal

 

Being of mix race or colour can have some startling effect according to where you travel.
I was born in the 50’s and in my case the maternal side is white, with a little bit of both black and Indian and the paternal side is black. In conclusion I am a mutt whose roots are from the French Antilles, more precisely Martinique.

Of course, I have passed or been called anything which I am not. At about fifteen, walking in the street with my school friends a man, surrounded by his family, shouted at me to go back home together with some other expletives. I did not know what to respond. You see it happened in France, and probably like that man, I am French and my birthplace is Paris.
In my days “colored” people would nod in acknowledgement when crossing path, we were so few.
I spent the majority of my school years as the odd ball; I was the only on looking like me. One of my teachers nicknamed me “snowball”, even in summer.

I have seen it all in my early years; kids trying to scrap off my skin to ensure that it was not paint, others crossing the street in fear of my presence or classmates putting me on the slavery auction block during history class.

These are moments I remember well because they hurt me; otherwise I greatly enjoyed my lonely life in France. In culture, I am very French and, like the stereotype, I love good food, wine and whining about politic and all the paradox of life.

Around 1969 my parents moved to New York. From Kennedy Airport we took a Taxi to Manhattan. Going through Harlem, around 125th street, I was shocked, it was the first time I had seen so many black people in one place. I was 17 years old.

I quickly assimilated to NY life style. I mingled with everyone, blacks, Latin and white. The colour barrier was thin for me and yet segregation was not fully in their past.
My nickname changed from snowball to Frenchy.
Frenchy, I couldn’t believe, I had to leave my country to be considered a full fledge citizen.

Over the years I did go back to Paris. At a discotheque on the Champs-Élysées an employee, at the front door, looked at me from a distance and shouted “You, Mohammed come here!” My name is Patrick.
But the most embarrassing moment was when looking at a black man urinating in front of a building near the Centre Pompidou. Crafting his liquid art he turned his head and our eyes met, then he started to loudly insult me as why I was not minding my business. I was not embarrassed by the words he used but more to the fact that he was black and from his look I could tell he was African.

I know Africa very well; I have now been living on this continent for about 15 years. In Africa race takes another dimension. It’s more precise, define, subtle and full of metaphor.
In the US, during my time, I was very much aware that, within myself, I was black. People knew but rarely mentioned a person by the colour of their skin; jet black or high yellow and only a black could call another one nigger.

African can perceive the minute difference of shade in a person. Each person identifies with at least one tribe and each tribe carry a stereotype like a Jew, Chinese or Arab does.
So what happens to a person like me who has no tribe and the color and the texture of my hair does not categorize me anywhere.
It is simple, as told by a not so nice African gentleman “you not black enough” and followed by a slightly tipsy other” I don’t like you”.
In Rwanda I use to often go to a small bar and restaurant to eat and wind up the day. I made a number of acquaintances and we use to joke a lot. No one knew were I was from until someone asked for my nationality. – “I am black but born in France”. Suddenly, I was hated.
I know it was a mistake to say I was French, due to the genocide. But, come on! Even being a little black did not help.

It is interesting that African often mention colonization and slavery as the main roots of their problem. I accept that colonization was, but they are blind to the role they had in slavery.
Slavery was a good business for African. They were the one catching and selling their kinds to the white man but they blame the whole thing on the West.
When I say I am French and black, they don’t understand. Yet, they were the one responsible in manufacturing the product that I am.

Anyway, In Kenya, I can invite friends to a restaurant, order the entire menu and the waiter will give the bill to the whitest among us. My skin is not as light as the other so I must not be able to settle the bill. But the most interesting is what they call me; they call me “muzungu” which in Swahili means either foreigner or WHITE.

Patrick-Bernard

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