Saturday, May 07, 2011

"At Least You're Not Black"

Chris has had the odd experience, while seeking employment in Norway, of having a few prospective employers smile and say "At least you're not black." I don't know if it's something Norwegians deeply mean or just an old saying they haven't bothered to clean up, rather in the manner that Americans used to say "free, white, and 21" when I was young.

But for a boy just out of the Marine Corps, it rings pretty oddly on the ears. What if I was* black? he asked me, Would it make a difference to them? I think probably yes. Scandinavian countries are homogeneous, and no European countries have much good record in accepting other races, or hell, even other tribes of the same race. The Flemish and Walloons still can't get along, for pity's sake, and the Saxons and the Celts just barely until quite recently.

And don't even get me started on the Roma.

Yeah, if you've got a gypsy-disliking Romanian wondering if you are too racist, that pretty much answers the question right there. Americans are the least-racist people (there are other anglospheric countries in the discussion), and it pays to remember that. We are accomplishing, however slowly and badly, what other nations do not even attempt.

*No, the Romanians are not the children I would have even bothered to teach to say "if I were." It is examples such as this that solidified my move from prescriptivist to descriptivist in language. Chris and J-A learned English from native speakers of their generation, primarily. That is standard English, even if I find it sloppy. It is fine to insist on conventions in conventional situations, such as speeches, papers, formal events. But other prescriptive changes describe social, even snobbish distinctions. Not that I don't use them anyway, of course, because that's who I am. Yet it is not who they are.


karrde said...

Question: in Norway, is anything obviously not Northern European considered Black?

Anyway, I think you're right. We usually think Black when we think racism, forgetting that (1) admitting such racism is cultural suicide now, and (2) the Chinese and the Irish used to suffer from racism too...among others.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Chris is Romanian and looks like he might be a Turk. Tromso apparently has a recent-immigrant Muslim population. So I have to figure these old Norwegians mean black.

I am hoping it is an odd lesson for Chris, the most prejudiced of my children. But "prejudiced" in an American sense is generally a much higher floor than other countries.

Gringo said...

Bruce Bawer has given a number of examples of anti-semitism in Norway in articles and in his book While Europe Slept.

Those libs who flagellate other Americans for the sins bigotry/racism/ethnocentrism - of course libs themselves are NEVER guilty of such sins- are unintentionally showing their provincialism.

I returned from working overseas with a much different view of American bigotry/racism/ethnocentrism. Certainly we have bigotry/racism/ethnocentrism in the US. Certainly some of it resides in all of us, myself included.

But by comparison with other countries we do pretty well. Example: in South America I was invited into two homes in different countries which featured a prominent portrati of Adolf Hitler.
Ethnic, racial and religious groups that would be at each others' throats in other countries of the world get along pretty well in the US.

The Euros would never vote for an Obama in their own countries.

Karrde brought up the Chinese. My experience with the Chinese is that they are the most ethnocentric group I have met.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Gringo, my outsider's observation is that in South America, lighter is better. It is a graduated racism rather than either-or, but pronounced.

And the Japanese may top the Chinese for racism. I think one can sort just go around the world and drop down anywhere, and find Hutus versus Tutsis. Jonathan? I think this is your territory?

jaed said...

karrde voices my first thought: I wondered whether in Norway, "black" means "Muslim" (or some ethnic group other than Africans), in the way that in Britain, "Asian" means "Pakistani".

At this point I'm curious about what they'd say if Chris asked them to expand.