With the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO the ugly specter of race, potential racism and bigotry is once again front page news.
Speculation on the shooting is rampant and credible facts are in short supply.
Frankly, (and this is putting it mildly) the whole thing is a mess. A huge nightmarish mess.
Make no mistake, I have opinions and suspicions but am attempting to waiting until credible evidence is presented so a full view of the shooting can be evaluated.
But make no mistake, it's a challenge to keep those feelings and opinions under wrap.
I write on a number of subjects, race being on of them. In April of last year I wrote a blog post with the title "Why Would A White Person Move Into A Black Neighborhood?" As usual, I received a smorgasbord of comments but last month I received an email sent from a Finnish citizen who had lived in the projects of Paris that warranted sharing:
Thinking about my own experiences, I googled about white people living in black neighbourhoods and I found your article from last year.
My reason for living in a black neighbourhood was pure chance. I'm a white Northern European male, from Finland to be exact. My girlfriend had come from former Yugoslavia to France as a refugee to escape one of the genocides over there. The French government had given her an apartment in a suburb of Paris, and almost everyone else in this particular part of the suburb was from Africa, maybe half from the Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, the other half were black people from other parts of Africa. Well, it's different from the US, but a rather black area nevertheless. And I was there because of love and war. :)
We lived in a very tough apartment building, the kind that I think is called a "project" in the US. The French police would never come there unless in a group of 20-30. Downstairs, there were always drug dealers, no matter what time of the day or night. The stairway was often full of weed smoke and empty bottles of cheap red wine. There was a Mosque nearby and often a drug kindpin went there for prayers, with a driver waiting engine running in a black BMW SUV with black windows.
My ex and I were the only blue-eyed, blondish people there. And we never had a problem with the other inhabitants, neither the drug dealers nor the other people. Nor did I ever experience any looks of amazement there, as far as I noticed.
Later, the local government decided to blow up the whole building, as it was getting into bad physical condition and also they wanted to get rid of a trouble spot, I think. So we moved to another project nearby. Here too, most people were from immigrant background, including ourselves of course. Here, there were no more drug dealers, but normal working and lower middle class people, no matter what race or colour.
How I felt about living there... Well, I got used to it pretty quickly. Sometimes I went to central Paris, and to go there and get back, I had to take the local train... maybe 20 minutes to the center. There, white people were a majority, but when I boarded the train to get home, the car often had mostly black people, for some reason more of them than Arabs. At some point, I realized that once I was in the train in the middle of the blacks, I felt like home. So back to the question... living in the middle of black people felt completely normal. :D Without even realizing it, I had gotten used to the idea that this is how people look.
Maybe being an immigrant myself made it easier to feel at ease with other non-standard French. I know there were a lot of white people from central Paris who were too afraid to go to the suburbs. This made me feel quite annoyed. Yes, there were a handful drug dealers, but it was still perfectly safe. I never saw or heard weapons and there were no robberies. Most people were completely normal with brown or black skin, and I was amazed to find out that some people seem to think they ate babies etc.
Once, in the center of Paris again, I saw two very exotic looking girls. Blonde hair, but somehow Asian looking. I passed them on the sidewalk, and to my amazement, they spoke my own dear native tongue. Then I remembered: "This is how Finns look". After all, we have 25% Asian blood on the average. As for Finland, there are no black neighbourhoods. We never had colonies anywhere and slavery was never legal.
A rosy picture of racial harmony? Well, I guess the point is, when you are a recent immigrant yourself, race is not the first thing in your mind. Or, it went like it did because my doctor says I have high-functional autism, and apparently a lot of autistic people have an innate dislike of judging people by their social group/race/other position. Well of course I'm not completely free of prejudice... who is? But still, does one have to be autistic=a bit broken in the brain to get along with people who look different? That would be sad.
I hope my mail gave you some food for thought. :)
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