A white friend of mine posted a link to a video on Facebook. The subject of the video is racism and he encouraged everybody to watch it. I did! I cried while going through it but refused to make any comment. Somehow, it kept showing up on my feed, and I understood that it was the video’s invitation to me to say something and here I go:
I am a black woman coming originally from Cameroon. I lived most of my life in France and Norway. My most painful experience living among Norwegians, working and interacting with them was to find out that, in the end, I would never truly belong and they are not truly my friends. (Thank God there are few exceptions!)
I was lucky enough to spend two months of vacations in my country of origin, Cameroon and I came back to Norway exactly one month ago. Being in Cameroon made me realize how much I spent my life “begging” white Norwegians for approval, friendship, and love. I have to be perfect otherwise I am thrown out, because they’ve heard that people from my color or culture are not trustworthy. After years building a friendship and believing that I could truly call someone a friend, I’m saddened to realize that this friendship can disappear at my first mistake! It feels like people are just waiting for the moment I would confirm all that they’ve heard about people like me…
Two days after I came back from Cameroon, I started feeling the pain of being so lonely in Norway and for days, I was just sleeping, feeling depressed! But it made me understand something. My doctor said that I have a chronic depression, but I now see that there’s nothing wrong with my brain. I feel depressed because of the constant lack of real human connection and interactions here in Norway. I have very few real friendships and most Norwegians are not really interested in being our friends. Is it because of their preconceptions? I wonder why.
Thus, many times, when I shared my psychological suffering with my friends who, like me, are foreigners in Norway, they told me this: “Grace, you will keep being depressed as long as you will try to fit in the Norwegian society. It’s a society that makes you doubt yourself, makes you feel small. They are not interested in being our friends. They complain that we don’t integrate just as to have a reason to hold against us, but how can we integrate if the friendship zone is closed to us?! And, Grace, if you keep trying to be with them and being part of their society, you will keep feeling depressed and it’s because YOU KNOW YOU ARE BEING REJECTED! ”
It is in my habit to give some thinking to well-intended advice giving to me and, sadly, there were some truths in the ones mentioned above. There is very few depression among communities like Somalia, Eritrea, Philipinos and all those groups, who have decided to keep together and ignore the ” white, the Norwegians .”
I am against a society where people have to stay mainly within their own communities. However, I have to say that I still try to figure out how to be happy as a Cameroonian living in Norway and among Norwegians. I know that I’m a multitalented person and I can highly contribute to the community where I’m, but here in Norway, I started doubting so much about myself because the subliminal messages I receive about people who look like me are conflicting so much with what lies within me!
I have been in workplaces where ethnic Norwegians will sometimes not show up to work (egenmeldinger all the time), would take longer breaks to smoke and speak on the phone. More, some made critical mistakes at the job site, but nobody said nothing nor complained about anything. Contrasty, there I was, giving my best and even much more than I am supposed to do for the company or organization. But, unlike my coworker, the slight mistake I would make will condemn me and It will be like the end of the world!!! And that single mistake is unfortunately what will be remembered, ignoring all the dedication and good work I have been demonstrating. That’s not nice! This is unfair!
I’ve seen previous bosses keeping contact with all the employees or people who have worked for a long or short time in the company, but they will cut all contacts with me like I was the worst thing that has ever happened to the company or organization. They will “forget” to invite me to Christmas dinner (Julebord) and events, but others were invited. On Facebook, I see them following and interacting with each other, but not me.
It’s a painful feeling to be thrown out and “others” are kept in the circle, in the group – they are the ones invited and wanted! It makes me feel like a bad person, the worst employee of the history of the organization, but I have to fight at the level of my mind and refute those lies by reminding myself that I am not perfect but me too am a good person.
While I was in Cameroon I felt so much better! (Even though we also have our social fights there but nothing that made me doubt myself until the core of my being.) At home, doors were open, I felt worthy, appreciated, valuable and I started to have faith that me too, I can reach my goals in life. While in Norway, I feel less than, observed, judged and the future feels uncertain and depressing.
Since I came back from Cameroon, I’ve decided not to try any longer. I Stopped trying to make friends with Norwegians; I also stopped trying to integrate myself into a society which in truth doesn’t want to let us be totally part of it. And of course, when a white person will read this article, they might think: “Here they go again, these black people, always exaggerating and complaining. They are not grateful for being here, and if they are not happy; why don’t they leave?”
I will leave!!!
The problem of racism is so deep, and the subliminal messages start getting implemented in a child’s mind at a very young age. When I was a little child, going to bible school, reading the children Bible, I noticed that God, Jesus, and all the angels were whites and the only people who looked like me where Satan and the demons. Think of the message it sends to the subconscious mind of that little girl. Think! We were taught early in life that whites are the chosen ones and we are cursed. We learn to feel small in front of whites, after all, they look like God and Jesus The Savior…
As a musician, I have witnessed how the doors of the medias are shut for musicians doing African music and how much harder is it for them to be heard on the radio or seen on the television. From our music genres, our dress and hairstyles, our food, and yes, more and more white people enjoy them nowadays, but they are still considered a culture of a lower class.
From unfair friendship codes, discrimination in workplaces, a despised culture, and to other areas of our existence, dissipating racism and white privilege (which is so deep-rooted in white people that they are not even aware themselves that they are still somehow racists, even though they have come as far as agreeing that black people shouldn’t be killed like animals and their lives matter) feels like uprooting the Mount Everest. The task feels so huge and deep that for the sake of keeping our mental stability, leaving white people on their side and avoiding the effects of their unrecognized racism, feels at times like the right thing to do.
Racist? Me? Never! Well, dear white friend, in the journey of being totally racism-free and not maintaining your white privileges, check how you are doing in relation to this:
There were times when I was unfairly treated and I wanted to fight for myself but did not because I knew I would only be labeled as an angry black woman. During those times, I was dreaming, hoping and praying that ONE of my white friends would take the fight for me, that ONE of them would stand up for me, that ONE of them would speak up for me. Nothing! And the pain of the unfairness became deeper with the pain of abandonment and the realization that in fact, they were not really my friends and I am alone in fighting my battles because I alone am black.
I knew that if ONE of my white friends had spoken in my favor or stood up for me, the other whites would have listened and things would have been a little better for me. But their passivity is what hurts even deeper!
We black know that most whites don’t really care because they’re not the one suffering. The battles are ours. The challenges are ours. White people know that they belong. They know that in comparison with you black, they belong in the community, the workplace, the circle of friends. They know that if there must be a choice between you the black and them, there will be no match! They know that the fight is for us and “when I find myself in times of troubles, “mother Mary” comes to them, speaking words of wisdom, let it be.” They let it be and they leave us in our shit!
Many white people are truly motivated for erasing racism, – and I can understand that it feels insulting to acknowledge that one still is a racist, a white privileged – and they genuinely ask how they could contribute to the creation of a world without racial prejudice and privileges? My personal experience taught me that what is crucially needed is more white people who will speak up and stand up for us when we are treated unfairly. We need white people who will be courageous, fair and who will take the fights with us and for us when necessary!!!
I was crying while watching the video, and it showed me how much pain is hidden beneath my mask but could surface as soon as there’s an opening. Some black people express their pain through anger, and maybe that’s why we hear so much that most black people are always angry. They have reasons to be. Others, like the depressed type where I belong, express their pain through silent crying and isolation. Someone once told me that “Silence is a girl’s loudest cry. You know she’s really hurt when she starts ignoring you.”
My deepest pain is not against those who treated me poorly, but it’s towards my white friends who saw me going through this inequity and discrimination, but looked the other way, pretending they didn’t see anything, remained silent, cut all contact with me in order not to feel themselves the discomfort of seeing me hurting, and let me alone in dealing with the subtle consequences of my existential problem of being born non-white. The silence of my white “friends” is what hurt the most. Therefore, I came to the personal conclusion that a white friend is not really a friend until he/she stands up for the black friend! True, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” – Martin Luther King Jr
Speak up! Stand up with us!
To all white people who will read this. Before writing your comment, in your mind, take a trip to some country somewhere in the world where the population looks nothing like you and where your “friends” let you down when their peers are unkind towards you. And in your mind, try to feel what the writer of this article experienced. If you are able to relate and have some compassion, that’s what it means to be a fellow human being. But if you cannot put yourself in my shoes, well, why don’t you look the other way and pretend you never read this?
We African people living among Norwegian have seen so much and we have so much inside ourselves that if we’re given the opportunity to pour our heart, we can write a whole book! That’s why I will stop this long article here, go among my white Norwegian population, shut my mouth, smile and keep pretending that I am not suffering inside my soul. Let there be peace on the prize of my silence…
Listen to my song “My Grievances”
(This song and its lyrics will add another dimension to this article. Enjoy! )
Disclaimer: This is my personal experience and it might be different from the ones of many black people living in Norway. But your different experience does not invalidate mine and vice versa…
Let’s be respectful of people’s experiences and thankful for the good ones we have.
Grace Eboué 🙂