Friday, July 11, 2008

Meet A Black Person



Some days my life feels like this...

(15 July 2008 - Comments are now closed)

65 comments:

Aja said...

Before you came to Slovenija, you said on Michael's blog, that you're gonna report how it is to be black in Slovenija, specially if you'll find any discrimination.
But you didn't really, did you? I mean write about it.

I can imagine some kids pointing at you, staring ,giggling , they're not used to black ppl, there aren't many here.
(Specially since you live in a small city)
But otherwise, how is it to be black in Slovenija, did you have any unpleasant experiences?

Camille Acey said...

waddya mean? i write about it every day! i am black and in slovenia every day. this blog is my pictures and my opinions. if you are waiting for like "horror stories" you probably won't get many, but you can look under the "africa", "racism", or "blacks" tags for things that are more "specifically" about race.
*
also i sort of resent the notion that black people are something that people need to get "used to".

Aja said...

well, the simple fact is, there are not many black ppl living in Slovenija, so you may find yourself in a situation where someone will stare at you, that's all I wanted to say

Ppl are not used to seeing black ppl here.
What's wrong with this sentence?

Timah said...

Ah! I guess I shouldn't complain about being in a group which comprises less than 3% of the population here in the Cornfields.

I recall your Searching For My Sister post where it seemed you were having some trouble making a connection with other black folks (women in particular) in Slovenia. Has it gotten any better or more of the same?

Camille Acey said...

@aja - I understand there is a "difference", I just don't understand what it is, and I don't understand what people are seeing when they see me.Frankly this is a problem world round not unique to Slovenia AT ALL. In the summer there are people here who tan themselves to within an inch of their lives and become dark enough to be one of my cousins but they don't get stares. What is this marker of difference between them and me that is the shock? And when are people taught that it is something shocking? Is it just that Slovenian people know that people come in many colors (they've seen them on television for sure) but don't really believe it until they see it in the flesh? Some days I feel like people look at me like I painted myself brown just to cause a fuss. I think a lot of non-black people think the "frightening mystery of blackness" and the "answer to the mystery" are housed within the skins of black people; it may be surprising to find that we actually possess neither. The unshocking "sameness" in the people you pass by every day without blinking an eye is what you should be examining more. It is certainly a bigger lie than you think.

@Timah - Ha ha, I am envious of your 3%! :) Well that searching for my sister post was not that long ago...nothing has changed. I do have a good and diverse crowd of friends (some of my friends are, by the way, of Afro-Latino decent, which helps) and I have to believe the right people will keep flowing into my life. Thanks for reading!

Camille Acey said...

Also what I was MOST trying to insinuate with this post is that it sometimes feels like my blackness stands in the way of making friendships. Like people sometimes enjoy chatting me up for the cool factor of being somewhere and chatting to a black person, but will never really call me to hang out or do anything like they promised. It sometimes felt this way in New York too. If people are curious about the insiduous ways that racism works, they shouldn't go looking just for big bloody road side scenes; it is the mundane places, the spaces of the every day, that will show you the hurtful and damaging ways in which it plays itself out.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure how relevant this is, but in Slovenia people tend to stare at others a lot in comparison to some other countries (says my book on UK-Slovenia cultural differences, anyway). There's no malice intended - you're sort of 'allowed' to look at other people in public places (e.g. on a city bus or something). But then, if you see someone who is black (or some other minority group easily distinguished on appearance alone), you remember that you're *not supposed* to stare so as not to appear racist (or equivalent). So that just flies in the face of what people normally do, and it makes the whole encounter much more awkward than it should be, probably for everyone involved. But I think, in most cases, it's done in good faith.

And do you think it isn't fair to say that someone who is black in a country that's predominantly white is *interesting* to look at? Just like someone sporting a green Mohican hairstyle might be.
But you're allowed to look at the latter and not the former. (Yes, sure, you can find a picture of a Mohican hairstyle online, so you're aware they exist, but you've got to admit it's much more exciting when you see it in real life, no?)
I think this 'rule' must have been imported from some other culture where staring is generally frowned upon, and it doesn't fit in the local culture here, and instead just results in hypercorrection of behaviour. Hence awkwardness. It's also a problem because most black/Asian people here come from abroad and don't speak the language well enough to be able to stimulate some discussion, and their backgrounds (and hence favoured interaction patterns) are indeed very varied themselves, so it's hard to induce a paradigm change. However, I think/hope that sooner or later the country's population will diversify to such an extent that cultural modes of behaviour will have to change and naturalise. And that should make it all OK - no more awkwardness when encountering minority groups (whatever they might be) because the standard way of public behaviour will have adapted to such an extent as to feel natural to everyone.

Camille Acey said...

@anonymous - Being black is not the same as CHOOSING to have a green Mohican hairstyle. I was born this way and will stay this way till I die.

Also I DO speak the language and I find that once people discover that then dynamic always invariable does change, but geez!

Anyway, this country may or may not diversify in the race department, but in the meantime it's not bad and people here treatly me fairly well. A lot of people seem to think that "once there are more X sort of people everything will be fine" but I've actually had MOST of my bad experiences in places with the greatest racial diversity, and not vice versa.

jana said...

Don't know if this helps at all, but I think that in general it can be difficult to meet people in Slovenia. Seems strange to write that sentence, given that I know A LOT of people. I remember reading in some guide book published by some Slovene organization in the early 1990s that Slovenes are pretty reserved and visitors shouldn't expect to be invited to dinner. Ha.Ha. At the same time, though, I've met lots of people who've really helped me a lot. So who am I to generalize?

Still, I noticed when I first arrived here that it was especially difficult to meet people my own age (early 30s at the time). Seemed most people in their late twenties, early thirties were already married, had kids and were not going out much, tending to socialize more within the family. You have to remember also that the connection to family is really different in Slo than it is in the US. At least in my experience (how many 30+ year olds do you meet in the US who still live in their parents' house?).
Thirdly (at least I think I'm on point 3 now, it's late), I also find that Slovenes have a different way of conversing with people than I'm used to in the US; it's a different structuring of questions, inquiries, curiosity. Don't know if you've encountered it, but a friend of mine who was here for only a week noticed it, so I'd say it's not just me.
Finally, I've noticed that it seems to be easier to meet people when I am involved in structured social organizations -- work, school, associations with a related cause -- you move around the circle of people and bump into them and get to know them. Context context. I lived in Paris for 6 weeks once and felt very flustered at the end because I didn't have a "role". I became really aware of how we create our identities in a social environment.
I notice that effect now because I am currently in a little less socially organized work environment (freelancing at home) and it has completely changed my social circle.
I can usually walk around Ljubljana and meet someone I know, but I still pretty alien here, and that is after 7 years, being "white" AND speaking the language. Sometimes, though, I think that the feeling occurs on various levels (within me AND within the larger society(ies) -- who pushes whom away?
I find it really curious these days because I have become a novelty because I walk around the center toting an extremely tiny baby bundled in a sling/wrap connected to a small oxygen tank. The looks I get run the gammit from endearing, sympathetic, friendly to horrified, confused and distrustful and include everything in between. I don't think that I've ever in my life been so aware of people looking at me. What makes us stand out? Are we so different?
Sigh...enough of my late-night ramblings...

Camille Acey said...

@Jana - Thanks for writing. I knew you'd have good insight into all of this.

I didn't want to come off like I was complaining. I mean I like in Radovljica for chrissakes! Nonetheless, I am slowly making friends. Getting an office job really helped a lot in terms of getting to know more people and getting invited to things. I remember when I moved to New York, it took AGES to make friends. I was just sitting in my apartment for months and months and then I joined this art collective and BOOM I knew too many people.

Also, yes I find conversation with Slovenian people to be more about inquiry than actual flow of conversation. Even amongst Slovenian people who've known each other for a long time. I think it is because they are loathe to open up and I think the language is structured to be about effective communication and NOT communication of feelings and ideas so much. I find the language gets really clunky when it comes to talking about more abstract things. I think For that reason I think "The Captain" likes talking with me in English, he can sort of float off in free form contemplative stuff. (but, then again, I am still learning)

One thing I can say is we don't really do the whole socializing with family thing. I am always amazed at how non-family oriented our friends up here are. I expected it to be more like big Italian mealtime with grandma and even the family dog, but not here. Not that I've seen. Might just be our misanthrope friends...

Anonymous said...

>> Being black is not the same as CHOOSING to have a green Mohican hairstyle. I was born this way and will stay this way till I die.

Yes, sure, but I don't think that makes any difference to the argument. Surely you don't think it is permissible to discriminate against people solely on the grounds of their choice of hairstyle? Sure, it's possible to change the hairstyle, but not your skin colour (well, not easily anyway); however, to the external observer that is irrelevant: it's still something noticeable about a person and you're not going to think to yourself - 'oh, yes, that's something changeable about a person, I'm allowed to look', or 'right, nothing they can do about it, hence it doesn't interest me', right?
If you prefer, then, how about using a really tall person instead of someone with a specific hairstyle? They can't do anything about it, but it's still OK to show some interest in them, whereas it's (apparently) not OK to do the same with someone who is black/Asian/etc.


I didn't mean that there would be less *discrimination* if there were more representatives of groups being discriminated against, and you're certainly right to point to there being, perhaps, an inverse correlation between the two if anything. But I don't think there's much discrimination going on in the racial sense around here (although you probably know better if there is than I do), and with those so inclined it probably makes little difference one way or the other - but having greater racial diversity would quench people's interest and everyone would learn how to behave appropriately in such situations.

Personally, I used to find it a bit awkward if I saw someone black on the bus for example, because I didn't know if I'm allowed to look, or if they'd feel weird if people 'stared' at them (indeed, I'd think that they'd probably be more sensitive to that than others), and it was generally hard to find somewhere to look at (the road outside?) whilst trying not to make them uncomfortable. Now that I've lived in the UK for several years it's quite different, since I get to see and talk to people of other races on a daily basis, and I normally don't even notice if someone is e.g. black if I pass them in public transport or something. It's just a non-issue, something totally irrelevant as far as I'm concerned. And I think if others in Slovenia were a bit more exposed to people of other races, then the whole problem we're discussing would go away.

I suppose that's basically saying that people here need to 'get used to' black people. I'm not sure why you resent the notion, as you wrote earlier; could you expand on it a little bit maybe? I don't think there are any negative connotations involved; the 'getting used to' refers just to adjusting local cultural and behavioural responses.

Nicole J. Butler said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nicole J. Butler said...

"Anonymous" wrote:

I suppose that's basically saying that people here need to 'get used to' black people. I'm not sure why you resent the notion, as you wrote earlier; could you expand on it a little bit maybe? I don't think there are any negative connotations involved; the 'getting used to' refers just to adjusting local cultural and behavioural responses."


I'm sure Camille can answer for herself, but I wanted to add my 2-cents to the conversation. The notion that black people are "other", "non-standard", or somehow anomalous and have to be "gotten used to" gets waaaay old. What, really, is there to get used to? If people of other races can tan their skins as darkly (or darker) than many black people, then the answer doesn't lie in skin color alone. So what is it? This set of qualities that we possess that make us (perpetually) the "other"? It can't be cultural, since the Diaspora of people of African descent is widespread across many cultures. What is it, then?

It doesn't make any sense, and since there is more variation within so-called 'races' than between them, we know that race is merely a social construct. Yet, to be willfully ignorant of the fact that it plays a large role in many interactions that we have can put us at a disadvantage.

Aja - I don't think you meant anything by it, but just the question "how is it to be black in Slovenija..." when this blog itself is about the experiences of a black woman in Slovenija is telling. Maybe it's just the wording of it. I don't mean to split hairs.

Aja said...

"The notion that black people are "other", "non-standard", or somehow anomalous and have to be "gotten used to" gets waaaay old. What, really, is there to get used to?"

No, not non-standard and not anomalous, these are words you used, I didn't, those words are nowhere to be found in my comment, not in the lines not between them.

What I'm trying to say is I can imagine black ppl are very sensitive to discrimination, because of all the injustices that you had to put up with in the pat and also nowadays,

and because of this you sometimes see a bit of a hostile meaning where there is none.

Nicole J. Butler said...

Okay, Aja -

No, not non-standard and not anomalous, these are words you used, I didn't, those words are nowhere to be found in my comment, not in the lines not between them.

I never attributed those particular words to you, but do tell me, why would kids point & laugh at her? Is being black funny? Some might think so, but most (thinking) people would not. The only reason for pointing and laughing and having to get "used to" (which are words you DID use) someone is if they, or their actions are non-standard and/or anomalous (MY words). You said it yourself: "People are not used to seeing black people here. I am not attacking you. I fully comprehend your comments, I am just telling you (from my POV) that being perceived as the "other" gets old. Especially when nobody can really explain what it is that makes up my "other-ness".

What I'm trying to say is I can imagine black ppl are very sensitive to discrimination, because of all the injustices that you had to put up with in the pat and also nowadays,

I will agree with that. We (in general) do tend to be hypersensitive to slights, both real and perceived. Some have likened it to PTSD, and I believe that is a viable assessment as well.

and because of this you sometimes see a bit of a hostile meaning where there is none.

I'm not sure where 'hostility' ever entered into this conversation. I just re-read all of the posts, but perhaps I'm overlooking it. Feel free to point it out if I am.

Since you mentioned 'hostility' for some reason, I will say this: When discussing racial issues, lots of unpleasant ideas, perceptions, and truths come to light. It has been my experience and the experience of many other black people that I know or know of that the moment we start telling some uncomfortable truths, we are often dismissed as "playing the race card", getting "emotional", or "hostile". I don't doubt that some of the time that stuff is going on. People are people and we all react using the same range of human behavior, but is it that far-fetched that our experiences and truths might just be valid and not need second-guessing?

I have no beef with you personally, Aja (don't even know you), but you seemed confused by the response you received, and I went on to read the comments by "Anonymous" and I just had some things to say based on my personal experience as a black woman.

Camille Acey said...

@nicole - thank you for your reading, and thank you SO MUCH for your response! i was hoping someone else could get in here and confirm i wasn't crazy! i am (of course) in total agreement with you and thank you for taking the time to break things down for people. if we had a quarter for every time....

Aja said...

OK, I'm a white person, living in a society of (practically) white people.
So, it's true I don't know how it is to be black, I don't have a clue. That's a fact.

On the other hand I can't understand (well I can of course, but that's not the point)
why you can't take a simple fact that ppl would stare at you because they never saw a black person in their lives before (not counting TV) without having any bad thoughts.

alcessa said...

Actually, I have to support Aja a bit... There are indeed many reasons to be stared at in Slovenia. To be picked upon, treated badly and ignored. I am not going to quote them here, that would be self-pity. :-)
Also, if we avoid being stared at because we are white like everyone else, we often cannot avoid being treated badly for many other personality treats, body characteristics, personal habits and decisions that stick out in a given part of the Slovenian society. You know, Slovenia is a place of closely knitted societies (there are more than one) and believe me, the resulting scrutiny of your own neighbours and co-citizens can be quite painful. It will even influence your life significantly, this ability to adopt to local developments. It is often a good thing not to be included too much, because the evaluating machinery will start grinding the very moment things get personal. And justice (of judgement) is not the lubricant here, mostly not...

Camille Acey said...

@aja - OK, I'm a white person, living in a society of (practically) white people.
So, it's true I don't know how it is to be black, I don't have a clue. That's a fact.


Aja, I think you answered your own question.

@alcessa - Last time I checked America wasn't exactly a bastion of non-judgemental social justice loving peaceniks either. Don't think Slovenia and Slovenian people are special in being exceptionally judgemental. There is very little about this place that is unique.

Aja said...

I admitted my limitations, but by ignoring the second part of my comment, you stubbornly refuse to see the situation from our point of view.

OK, have it your way, no problem.

alcessa said...

Camille: Don't think Slovenia and Slovenian people are special in being exceptionally judgemental.

Yes, you're right. The other part of the world that comes to my mind - where people stared at me, for no obvious reason, is Eastern Germany. They even made me eat meat, which they'd never have succeeded in Slovenia :-)

Well, I don't know about you, but I think prejudices/unqualified judgments about others are a waste of time and of my energy, so I tend to avoid such people. I am quite good at that, actually :-)

I also wonder whether there is a list of ... of reasons for being treated badly... You know, a top ten of Nasty Things To Say Or Do To Others... Like, if you weren't black, my guess is the next characteristics on the list I am going to create right now, a thing that would bring you "those looks" and "such words" would probably be the fact that you are a woman. That is my guess. Next thing, in Slovenia etc., your wealth, presence or absence of a house, a car, a boat... Your sense of fashion, choice of hobbies, your cooking. I don't know whether political views are checked with women, maybe. And then the rest: being taller than, slimmer than, more successful than..." At the end of the list, we'd find people who sort of actively dislike you: in such cases, your ass may be large (sorry for that personal example of mine), your nose may be ugly, you may be too fat, your hairstyle may be terrible etc....

And on and on we go... In most Slovenian environments, you wouldn't escape having to fight prejudice...

I think Slovenia is exceptional in two ways: there are still enough things we know only from the TV and: there are no large areas where one could live sort of anonimously, as I said before, it's a small country full of people who "know you". So, in the end, most people probably have to play the game of belittling their next to survive socially.

Camille Acey said...

@aja - If you can't see things from my point of view (as you even admit yourself), what makes you think i can see things from your point of view?
i cannot. i have never lived my life as a white person. not. one. single. day.

Aja said...

But I can try to imagine, you on the other hand, seem to be unwilling to do even that.

LOL
I have to laugh to this ping pong, it seems like 2 not just one stubborn ppl are involved,
I can imagine none of us 2 wanting to give up and we carry on this conversation still when we're both old and gray.

Lora said...

OK...

American ideas about race and civil rights are culturally specific. As an educated middle class American, you are in a cultural position of power over most Slovenians. When you insist that your American civil rights are morally superior, how can you be sure you are not just another cultural imperialist? What is different between what you are doing, and Americans who disdain the Afghanis because their women wear the burka? Or victorian brits who dehumanized african tribesmen because their women were not put up on a pedestal?

Camille Acey said...

@aja - I think "imagining" is what has gotten the world into this mess in the first place...a whole lot of imagined assumptions. I'd rather we struggle to find a place of common language and true understanding.

@Lora - HA HA HA. If you wanna run into the room, spew some wacky moral relativist equations, and then scream "REVERSE RACISM!" at the top of your lungs then by all means do go for it, but know that I'll only chuckle and walk away.

Nicole J. Butler said...

Aja said:
"...I can't understand (well I can of course, but that's not the point)
why you can't take a simple fact that ppl would stare at you because they never saw a black person in their lives before (not counting TV) without having any bad thoughts."

Was that directed at me? Because I never said anything of the sort. I never said anything about bad thoughts or negativity. I am from the southside of Chicago which is predominantly African-American. When I move to Iowa to go to college,I believe there were 600-650 black students out of 35,000. I could not buy cosmetics or pantyhose in the stores because they didn't stock them in any shade remotely close to mine. I could go all day long and not see another brown face, let alone a black one. I met lots of people from small towns in Iowa, Nebraska, and the Dakotas who had never seen a black person except for TV. Sometimes they stared & made comments. Whenever they asked questions (because I got to know some of them), I did my best to answer fully and truthfully. Questions like "Why is the inside of your hand a different color from the outside of your hand?" (It's a different type of skin - you don't tan on the inside of your hand, do you?) And comments such as "You're pretty for a black girl." (That implies that black girls aren't usually statement, and is offensive. Examine it, and don't say it again unless you intend to be offensive). Most of them meant me no harm or negativity, and I knew that. It was just ignorance and curiosity.

Still, after several years of living there (post-college), feeling like I had to be The Representative For Black People Everywhere got old. I was sick of answering questions and explaining my existence. When I stopped trying to make things more palatable for them, I started hearing labels like "hostile" and "angry" thrown around.

Does that make sense? Ignorance is expected - we are ALL ignorant of some things. Asking questions is fine too, because sometimes it's the only way to gain insight. What I have said from the beginning, and what (I believe) Camille has said from the beginning is that it takes a toll.

You are seen as "standard issue". Even if you have big ears, a wonky eye...whatever - that particular feature of you is seen as an anomaly, but your whole being is not called into question.

You said you don't know what it's like being black because you have never been black, well - some people here are giving you a crash course in one aspect. Why can't you accept it as a lesson?

Lisa said...

Damnit Camille, stop imposing your imperial will on Slovenia! Your posting a video of a black guy shaking people's hands is clearly proof of an unaceptable imposition of American civil rights on poor uneducated Slovenians!!!

;)

Nicole J. Butler said...

Alcessa--

I believe the discussion was about being stared at (pointed at, and giggled at) due to being black, not "reasons to be stared at" as you mentioned in your post.

For the record, I do agree that there are many reasons to be stared at, but that wasn't what we were talking about.

Camille Acey said...

@Lisa -I guess that means I better take my battleships out of the Port of Koper too, right? How can I expect to expand my fiefdom with that kind of talk? The Emperor will be FURIOUS!

Lisa said...

I'm just impressed that someone with a liberal arts degree has a battleship. But blowing up the Slovenian navy's only rowboat was out of order.

Camille Acey said...

@all
actually it might be helpful to note that i didnt initially post this because i was getting stared at. as a matter of fact in the Not Giving A Crap competition in the Olympics, Slovenians would SURELY be medal winners. People do sometimes stare but I think I've been more irked by the sort of thing Nicole mentioned, having to be The Representative of All Black People Everywhere. Sometimes I am not just the co-worker I am the BLACK co-worker or THE BLACK neighbor. Junk like that. It was sometimes like this even in New York (where I lived for many years in a predominantly Polish neighborhood). I am not saying I am shocked, but like Nicole said, it takes its toll and I have a right to say so.

Camille Acey said...

@Lisa - LOL! Hey they started it.

Lisa said...

Seriously, though :), thank you and Nicole for your perspectives. There is a persistent invisibility/hypervisibility issue with visible minorities in Slovenia. Invisibility in terms of a denial that they even exist. Chinese people in Maribor, no way! Black people in Ljubljana, it's not possible! Never mind that there are actually many people from all parts of the world (yes, less than Canada or the US, but still, many and more all the time). Also, many of these people have been there for years (or their whole lives). So there is a persistent discursive othering that is perpetuated in everyday talk, reinforcing how non-white Slovenians are not part of the mainstream community.

Hypervisibility (which I think the staring issue is a part of) is about making a choice (on the part of the person staring). It's not an instinctive act (having taught preschool, I can vouch for the fact that children don't automatically notice these supposed 'differences' unless adults helpfully point them out) to be astonished by someone else. So it can also be a choice to unpack that reaction, and turn inwards. Rather than making a black person explain themselves, what about asking yourself "why do I find this person intriguing/different/weird?", "what are my assumptions here?", and then setting about unlearning those assumptions (and not by peppering the first black person you see with demands that they educate you).

There are a ton of good books talking about racism, privilege, what it's like to live as a black person in America (or Europe, or Asia, etc). There are novels, plays, blogs, and art about these things, and it's all available out there... Just as it's a choice for a white person (be they Slovenian or Canadian) to stare and think of someone else as exotic or different, it's also possible for a white person to make a choice to educate oneself.

Anonymous said...

Conversations like this are always fascinating, if only to see what outsiders are eager to project on us--

Delux

alcessa said...

nicole, camille: actually, I am quite close to imagining "your toll" - I was just trying to show that there are quite a few reasons out there for which we have to explain or defend ourselves. Also, I was not really trying to generalise (I'll stick to my statement that I can imagine some important aspects of your toll and keep the reasons to myself, if you don't mind) - there are societies that need much more explaining than others and there are many people out there who have to explain themselves. And even though it is not the same, it can be just as bad. Again, I don't want to go into detail here. I am sure I (we all) don't care for competitions as to whose load is heavier, so I'll just put it as my personal belief.
Seen from this point of view aja's first question was not really an attack but sheer curiosity. Of course you have all the right in the world to be fed up with these...

Lisa said...

@Delux: and isn't fascinating to use the words "outsiders" and "us" in the context of the conversation? Who "we" are and who "we" are not is central to the discussion of issues of race, othering and privilege (in all countries, btw).

m said...

people who are percieved as different for whatever reason in any situation with any group of people wind up with a similar situation to the one you describe . i mean i guess we could just limit it to black if you want to, but that would be a little wild and inappropriate.

people are going to be curious, some confused, exited, rude, even overly friendly, and maybe not even care when someone arrives on the scene like no one they have ever met before. you are different, people are so curious that they forget themselves or simply cannot understand that it's a person they are talking to not different nationality, long legs, or dark skin.

doesn't make any of it necessarily pleasant, but it's a reality and I just want to broaden the issue a bit.

a good friend of mine from australia (she is white) moved into a small town in the czech republic and she was constantly questioned. people were curious- wanted to know about where she came from, how it was different- what she thought of their country and WHY did she choose the czech republic... as in why choose this country so different from where you are from and how does it feel?? she was just different than anyone they had ever met and that was understood beyond her skin color.

another example- a friend of mine is 6'8" and wherever he goes people think they can make comments on or question him about his physical appearance, touch him, or engage in conversation with him soly because of it without any real intention of getting to know who he is. he's heard every ridiculous tall comment/question in the book. they even feel they have the right to chastise him for not playing basketball (they actually say "what a waste" when he says he doesn't play) or just outright stare at him. he's gotten used to it and would usually laugh and just let people act out their (usually harmless curiosity) - but i had a second friend who took it in an entirely different manner - he is also 6'8" (believe it or not!) and he couldn't handle the attention. he would become nervous, angry, or embarrassed if he thought someone's glance rested on him for too long. he was convinced they were thinking he was a freak. both friends still deal with people "acting out" their curiosity, but guess which one is a bit more well adjusted...

jana made a good point about having her strategy on how to deal with it, and there's something to be said for feeling the warning signs and moving on when people are not seeing the forest for the trees (i.e. seeing you only for your skin). don't consider yourself impolite to change the subject, change company, or bluntly saying what you think if it means saving your emotional energy in the long run.

the states, for all it's racial/cultural issues, still has its often confusing, evolving, but reasonably sophisticated vocabulary on race/culture/identity. that's one of the things i learned when i left the country that i had taken for granted. it's one of the interesting things about the EU today - how people are going to handle and develop that dialogue as the countries become more intermingled and with its huge influx of non-EU-immigrants. this is one of the things our "young" country has extensive history on because of the nature of how the US evolved from the very first europeans who dropped in on my anscestors to the immigrants who flooded in through ellis island to today.

anyway -congrats on the office job a.k.a. portal to more real friendships/grounded (hopefully more fulfilling) personal contact.

Anthrophile said...

Mes deux centimes:

I feel it's more than a little disingenuous to specifically ask somebody how they feel about something, to goad, even:

" But you didn't really, did you? I mean write about it.
[....]

"how is it to be black in Slovenija, did you have any unpleasant experiences?"


And then, when they honestly answer you, instruct them that they need to feel differently.

"On the other hand I can't understand (well I can of course, but that's not the point)
why you can't take a simple fact that ppl would stare at you because they never saw a black person in their lives before (not counting TV) without having any bad thoughts."


That's presumptuous. Feelings are not controllable, only actions are, and Camille's actions have not warranted all, or indeed ANY, of this criticism and accusation. It is not her job to feel contented at all times just to make others comfortable, just because they think she should be contented. Every single person on this planet has a right to their feelings. Feelings don't infringe on anyone -- only actions do.

You ask why she has these negative thoughts, she tells you why, and then you tell her not to have the negative thoughts. (Well, you soften it by putting it question form: How do you feel? Well, why can't you just feel differently? And then accuse her of being stubborn! Because she won't lie about her personal, private feelings when asked directly?

(Because seriously? I would submit that the vast majority of the time, a great many minorities DO lie, and smile, and suppress, and internalize, and pretend to be happy in front of the mainstream culture(s), sometimes to the point of hair loss and stomach ulceration, just to avoid pile-ons like this. Nor, for the record, is this unique to the West. Nor to racial/ethnic concerns.)

If one does not like the way another person feels, one should refrain from asking them to detail it. Honest inquiry is one thing, empathy, or even just information-gathering -- but attempting to quash and mold someone else's inner self is quite another. Talk about "imposing ideas on others"!

"I admitted my limitations,"

Not really:

""On the other hand I can't understand (well I can of course, but that's not the point)"

And wow -- Camille is is asked a specific question about how she feels, and answers honestly: weariness at being constantly placed in the position of representing an entire race of diverse people (and not only in Slovenia, as she specifically stated), and this is the equivalent of American cultural imperialism? But instructing her how she should feel is NOT an attempt to colonize her soul and outlook?? Possibly it might be a good idea to speak to more diaspora blacks, if the American-ness is a stumbling block? It might be shocking how the answer is not much different. (I suggest Brazil or the Caribbean as a start-place? Just off the top of my head.) Or just leave the question alone if there is clearly no interest in the answer that exists, but only in changing it. There are plenty of other nice topics.

This whole setup seems like a not-very-complicated baiting, to me.

Those would be my feelings.

Anthrophile said...

Addendum: "And even though it is not the same, it can be just as bad"

I don't understand why ANYONE thinks that there is any disagreement about this. Has Camille or anyone else given any indication that she doesn't know that?

But she was asked point-blank how SHE feels about certain aspects of HER situation and HER life.

Seriously, should she lie? Should she say "I'm always happy and am so perfectly spiritually transcendent that I only ever think about souls who are worse off than myself?"

LOL Camille, I'm gonna stop talking for you before I overstep. Apologies.

Anonymous said...

Lisa?

Nothing particularly fascinating about it-- I was addressing her as a peer, a woman of african descent from the US, with whom I have been communicating outside of this blog for some time.

Hope that clears it up for you--

Aja said...

"Every single person on this planet has a right to their feelings."

except a white person meeting a black one, or so it seems from your comment, anthrophile

Anthrophile said...

Aja -- has anyone here in this thread told you how you should feel about being white? Or have they stated how THEY feel about who THEY are and what happens to them? Seriously, I'm asking.

And if you feel this put upon by black people I honestly and sincerely still don't understand why you pressed the question in the first place.

Anthrophile said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lisa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Camille Acey said...

@Lisa- Yeah I know you mean well but Delux is right, she and i are definitely "we" in this case.

Lisa said...

@Delux: apologies, there goes my own assumptions at work about what you were saying: I assumed you were a Slovenian person angry about what "outsiders" were saying about the sunny side of the Alps. :) I mistook you for a name I thought I recognized from the Slovenian blogosphere.

Anonymous said...

Lisa, no problem.

Camille? I'ma put on some public enemy, and we shall now do the dance of negro hegemony! wooohoooo!!!!!!

-Delux

Lora said...

@Camille Acey - "HA HA HA. If you wanna run into the room, spew some wacky moral relativist equations, and then scream "REVERSE RACISM!" at the top of your lungs then by all means do go for it, but know that I'll only chuckle and walk away."

Reverse racism... who am I, Rush Limbaugh? I was being serious.

The question comes from when I lived in the middle east. I often asked myself how to criticize a mysogynist society without being a cultural imperialist, without that the bill of rights has more moral weight than the Qu'ran. Its tricky, but it can be done.

Here's another question: if race is culturally constructed, does your race change when you move from America to Slovenia?

Camille Acey said...

@Delux - Oooo girl, lemme just put on my daishiki!

Anonymous said...

Camille? Time for a soul train line!

Anthrophile said...

(Hee -- The sad thing is that I still think people are talking to me and jump a little bit every time I see the name "Camille.")

Nicole J. Butler said...

Alcessa -

I never said, nor do I believe that Aja's first post was an attack, in fact, I went as far as to say the opposite.

DCMovieGirl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DCMovieGirl said...

Wow, the reactions here are all kinds of fucked up.

She needs to justify feeling singled out? It's somehow her fault for feeling this way?

What the hell is wrong with you guys?!

I guess you're going to go to a depressed person's blog and instead of offering comfort blame them for feeling that way.

Then you'll explain why their depression is no worse than yours.

Great job on the assholeishness guys.

Aja said...

"She needs to justify feeling singled out?"

Gosh, I do wonder how you understand the lines that I wrote.
My english is far from being perfect, but I thought up to now, that maybe good enough to be understood.
Understood?
Not on this blog. I don't mind. I didn't mean anything bad, if you understood it the way you wanted, (obviously my words mean something else in another culture)

that's your right, I guess.

Maybe, with your reactions you gave me a unique opportunity to feel a little bit, like black ppl sometimes do, when they are alone and a hole bunch of ppl against them.

Anonymous said...

"Maybe, with your reactions you gave me a unique opportunity to feel a little bit, like black ppl sometimes do, when they are alone and a hole bunch of ppl against them."

If that's your primary understanding of Black people then no wonder this conversation is so disturbing.

--Delux

Anthrophile said...

I never said, nor do I believe that Aja's first post was an attack,

For the record, I agree with this. I was far more gobsmacked by Lora's random "cultural imperialism" train, which is why I commented at all.

But I believe that Aja is more concerned with defending her country (or what she thought Camille was saying about her country) than listening to Camille as an individual, listening to what Camille actually did say. Which is normal -- people love their homelands, I defend mine all the time, even though I criticize it -- but needed to be clearer. (And really, the defensiveness wasn't even necessary -- Camille SAID she was talking about more than just Slovenia.)

Aja, you said that you could imagine schoolchildren pointing and giggling. But do you realize that this is a situation you made up? Did Camille, in this thread, ever mention anything of the kind?

Everyone -- I mean, at least three or four people, one anonymously -- went off on this "being stared at by strangers" tangent, when that wasn't Camille's main point at all, then seemed determined to drag her back to "being stared at by strangers" as the culmination of the black experience (and instructing her to just accept it), when Camille, as the actual black person who SHOULD have been defining her own experience, was talking about something entirely different. Aja started it, but she was far from "alone" nor was she the strongest voice. Her question was relatively mild, but lots of lecturing, talking down, and condescension followed, as if Camille were a schoolchild. About staring and accepting being stared at -- when that was never the POINT.

Can we reiterate that what Camille spoke most extensively on was NOT "aloneness" and not any actions of "strangers" but on people who knew her and treated her as the representative for black folk worldwide? And who spoke to her in a friendly way, but only superficially? This has gone completely unremarked in favor of this "staring" business.

Would you like it if I, in complete American ignorance, started lecturing others on what Slovenians think and experience? Would it be okay if I told some Slovenians that I think they are very upset about, say something random like pork, and then explained to them why they shouldn't be upset about pork, when they most likely weren't even thinking about pork? Then if I went and started talking about the history of pork, and how pork is regarded in other countries, and that some people have equal problems with beef and it's rude to only be concerned with pork -- when the actual Slovenians who should be answering my questions do not care about pork?

Of course not -- I have no right to do this. But that's exactly what's happening here. If the goal really is to listen and ask about "the black experience," the black people must be allowed define the "black experience" for you. You don't get to draw the outline and confine them in it -- if you do, you simply will not get an accurate picture of reality. Don't project what you think the "black experience" must be and then get angry when people disagree -- listen.

However, If your goal is to explain your own culture (AND THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT), then it would be better to just say that up front.

If that's your primary understanding of Black people then no wonder this conversation is so disturbing.

What she said.

The first mistake is thinking that it's all about you. It's about someone else who is trying to explain HERSELF, TO you (that's where you come in) because you asked. From where I stand, it looks like a bunch of people ganging up on CAMILLE.

And this isn't a cultural or racial thing at all -- it's not even a moral or ethical thing it's a discussion thing. These are basic debate-team rules for any topic. This is the logical fallacy called "moving the goalposts" or "false premise," and fallacies get in the way of truth.

Lora said...

@anthrophile

Well, i'm back.

The 'meet a black person' video is a satire about how class overlays race, and segregates America. Its funny.. because its true.

Maybe I shouldn't have used the term, 'cultural imperialism' but my point was this: a black American in Slovenia most likely has more education, more options, more power, than the white people there. So the satire doesn't really stick - slovenia is not aspen, and being the only black person in slovenia means something very different than being the only black person in aspen.

ie. there are no black people in Aspen because Aspen is expensive and the US is a racist country. There are no black people in Slovenia because there were no African slaves in Slovenia.

"However, If your goal is to explain your own culture (AND THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT)."

I agree with you here when you speak to Aja.

Camille Acey said...

@Aja - Ste rekli več kot dosti neumnosti, torej... the time has come for you to shut the hell up and go away. Ciao, Adio...Don't let the door hit you on the way out.

Camille Acey said...

@Lora - a black American in Slovenia most likely has more education, more options, more power, than the white people there.

HA HA HA. WHUT? Where are you cooking this up? This is absolute and utter nonsense.

There are no black people in Slovenia because there were no African slaves in Slovenia.

There ARE black people in Slovenia. I am one of them and there are quite a few more than me.

Oh dear Lora, you are so full of crap I'm sure your entire neighborhood must smell. I will have to show you the door now. It's the same one I just showed Aja so it shouldn't be hard to find. GO AWAY.

Lora said...

@camille acey

Yes ma'am. Best of luck to you in your travels.

(& apologies to my girl in Brooklyn - I'll behave next time!!!)

Anthrophile said...

Lora, it might surprise, but I agreed with much of what you said.

But ultimately, it was a tangent, and still taking away from Camille's point by addressing an entirely different point, which I found condescending.

The two societal situations (Aspen and Slovenia) came about differently, of course, but the end point is the same -- Camille is in a situation where she is often asked to represent her entire race, and she finds it tiring. Of course the analogy will not be perfect. Is it ever?

(I would also question whether or not this particular phenomenon is even necessarily racism, in Slovenia or in the U.S., at least when it comes down to individual questioners. It's normal to be curious about what is different, and it's far better to ask than to make up offensive stuff. I ask questions about sunburn! :-D But regardless of the motivation of the asker, the askee can and will get tired, just as a mom getting tired of her kid's questions doesn't make the mom or the kid evil.)

This is a SMALL situation, a personal situation. Not an indictment of any culture or a commentary on White Society Around the World. Yes, of course there are differences in the populations of these places -- but do you think Camille doesn't know that? She's a professional writer on the subject. And we are attributing offense to her when she, I thought, explained exactly what offended her very well:
"...[I]t sometimes feels like my blackness stands in the way of making friendships. Like people sometimes enjoy chatting me up for the cool factor of being somewhere and chatting to a black person, but will never really call me to hang out or do anything like they promised. It sometimes felt this way in New York too."

We are talking about the feelings of one woman in her personal blog. DCMoviegirl's comments on depression hit home very strongly to me just now. Camille is not trying to enlighten the Slovenian public -- she is expressing weariness, and we are turning around and lecturing her.

Granted, this is kind of normal -- people go to university to learn how to speak in that psychiatrist manner of non-imposition because it's not inherent. But I think it's something we need to be aware of -- all the projection I'm witnessing here actually upset me, or I would have quite contentedly continued to be a creepy lurker person.

(Which is sad, because I was actually excited by your comment on race being relative to location. It's a concept that has fascinated me for a very long time. But I don't think it would be the best idea to have that discussion here, after all this. Again, we are framing the discourse that should be Camille's to frame.)

Aja said...

"@Aja - Ste rekli več kot dosti neumnosti, torej... the time has come for you to shut the hell up and go away. Ciao, Adio...Don't let the door hit you on the way out."

Thank you very much,
that was very kind of you.

Anthrophile said...

Addendum: This is a SMALL situation, a personal situation. Not an indictment of any culture or a commentary on White Society Around the World.

And by treating it as such? We are doing exactly the same thing: making Camille into a Racial Representative instead of an individual.

Nicole J. Butler said...

Well put, Anthrophile. All of it.