The (not) fine lines of difference

Today a friend of mine sent me this video, with the self-ironic caption “that’s ok, I have a feminist friend of color and I send her videos of racism.”

My first thought was “yes, I’ve heard them all.”  My second thought was “I could add a few more”:

“”We Portuguese are all coloured.” {said reassuringly}

“Why are there no black people here?”

“Yes, we had that discussion about art, and we thought of inviting you as a speaker, but we’re having one on multiculturalism for you!”

“If you participate, it will show how diverse we are.” {said ironically..I think!}

“Let me tell you about racism…”

And still more (though not said in an activist context):

“I thought all Africans had dark skin.”

“In Brazil they have many names to distinguish between different shades of black and brown.” {said in impressed tone}

“Don’t be so sensitive about labels. I hate having to be politically correct.”

“I have a friend from [insert African country]. Do you know her/him?”

“People in Africa are [insert description related to nature/ sexuality/ gender/ culture].” {said with authority}

But it also made me reflect on some of the things I have embarrassingly thought or implied:

“You are Chinese. Tell me everything about the year of the dragon.”

“Russians/ Ukrainians are cold.” {in relation to social conduct}

“Russians/ Ukrainians are probably not cold.” {in relation to the weather}

“Russians/ Ukrainians.”

“Everything I know about Japan/ Russia/ Eastern Europe… I’ve learned from novels.”

“Armenia… not sure where that is, but something bad happened there, right?”

“Colonialist/ sexist/ fascist…”

“But where are you from?” (I might even have added “originally”) {Hanging my head here.  Sigh.}

My friend subsequently challenged me to make a video in response (I have opted for this post for now!) and to invite others who may have something to say along/ about these lines to participate.  What are your thoughts on this?


Looking forward


It has been seven years since I moved to Portugal from South Africa.  And it has been just about seven days since I have returned from a brief family holiday in South Africa.  And so, there is this inevitable moment of reflection, of looking back…  It always arrives at some point during a visit home: I am in my old bedroom (it hasn’t been mine anymore for decades, of course!) and it is a Sunday (Sundays are nostalgic days for me, something about drawn-out afternoons, and childhood memories of being encouraged to nap but wandering and daydreaming instead) and I start to go through my boxes of old letters, mementos, cards, etc.  This is more than a “trip down memory lane” – it is an intimate archaeological process as I unearth stories (co-written by my significant others) of myself once again.  (I even excavated an old bar of chocolate that a friend gave me about ten years ago!  This is also a way of learning to let go.)  And there are tears and wistful smiles, outward traces of a stirring of deep wordless feelings written in hieroglyphics.  And sometimes, an insight, a tentative realization.  This time I thought:  the past is (in the) details.  And while it is good (even though often hard) to look back, to appreciate the value of what I’ve lived, right now I am looking forward.