I have never once had to lie about or hide my ethnicity. I am Norwegian-Iranian (as mentioned in the bio) and I am completely comfortable with being Norwegian-Iranian. I would also be comfortable with any other constellation of mixedness; Polish-American, Kenyan-Bolivian, Israeli-Italian-Bosnian, Arab-Swede-Macedonian, Spanish-Icelandic, you name it. The reasons why I am comfortable with my ethnicity are many. First, ethnicity is not very important in terms of my identity. I can’t deny that my background has shaped who I am, but if I run a “who am I really?” inventory, several adjectives come to mind looong before the noun(s) describing my cultural background (make of that what you want..). I also feel no shame and absolutely no guilt in terms of my heritage or the actions of the groups I am perceived to belong to. The leadership in Iran for instance; they are (largely) a collection of massive jerks. This is not only in my mind, they regularly make asses of themselves in global public fora. Remember when Ahmadinejad claimed that there are no gays in Iran? Or his ignorant and cruel Holocaust-denial? Yeah, not my fault. The guy is a tool, and I have no responsibility for his actions or words whatsoever, despite our (partially) shared ethnicity. I also have no responsibility for Breivik’s actions. Neither am I to blame for how a certain subset of Norwegians behave when they travel abroad (uhm.. Some drink. A lot. And some have been known to move to other countries and demand that the native population learn the Norwegian language…). Again, it is not my fault, nor my responsibility. I can try to educate them or attempt to make them see how silly they appear, but it is usually a futile endeavour. Besides, it’s kinda one of those “I know what’s right for you” things that I prefer to avoid.
Now, my refusal to be held accountable for others actions is tied to my ENORMOUS PRIVILEGE (I know all-caps is annoying, but it is called for). In terms of looks, I am indistinct. You can’t look at me and decide where I am from, and in cases where I have encouraged others to guess, guesses have ranged from Norwegian, British to Russian to “maybe..Uhm….???” I am so pale I am practically light-blue most of the year. My hair colour is brown and I have blue eyes. I (usually) breeze through customs, and I am perceived as innocent until proven otherwise. This is not the case for a great majority of people across the world, and this brings me to the point of this blog-entry.
First, let me describe the horrible event mentioned in the headline of this entry. What happened was this; an asylum-seeker hailing from a country south of the Sahara killed 3 people on a bus travelling from Valdres, central Norway. The man was psychotic. Psychosis is not exclusive to any group, and it is not unheard of that the paranoia (commonly) associated with psychosis ends up causing harm, most frequently to the individual experiencing psychosis, but sometimes also to those around him or her. The man had likely experienced hardships you and I cannot comprehend. Imagine having to flee from one country to another, aided by human smugglers. Imagine being stowed in a rickety truck and having to remain in said truck across the (incredibly dangerous) Sahara. Imagine having to travel great distances at sea in a boat that’s not really seaworthy. Said boat is also likely to hold many more people than what it is meant to. Imagine leaving, even abandoning your friends, family, maybe also your children and spouse in the hopes that they may come after once you have found a safe place to live…The families these refugees leave behind are likely to have invested quite a bit of money in the trip (travelling across borders while not holding papers is not cheap) thus helping, but also placing an additional burden on the refugee.
Then you’re likely to be rejected from one country after another. You’ll arrive one place, get thrown into an awful detention centre, then shipped back to the place you last came from. This can go on for years and years, and unsurprisingly, many lives have been lost. Keep in mind that the people making this journey have no fault in their own misfortune, they were simply born in the wrong place. These are places where paperwork and official records are shoddy at best, and non-existent at worst.
Upon arrival in Norway, refugees are placed in a ‘mottak’, another kind of detention centre. The conditions in some of these are awful to say the least. Many are for-profit, and refugees from all across the world are placed together. There’s nothing for them to do and most have horrible trauma in their background. You might wait for months or years while someone in a far-away location decides your fate. You have no idea how long it will take, and you have no idea of the outcome. You are at the mercy of a public official, and the uncertainty is overwhelming..
Pretty grim, no?
Our man had recently had his asylum-application rejected and was set to be shipped out. He was to be sent to Spain, back to another detention centre. He snapped. He killed. Innocent lives were lost, including his own (he is alive and in a psychiatric ward, but if or when he comes to, what kind of existence and reality will he be facing?). The survivors on the bus will have to deal with the trauma for years to come. The families of those killed will never get back their loved ones. It couldn’t possibly be more tragic.
What is worse is the fallout. Politicians are calling for locked detention centres. That is, innocent refugees will be treated like criminals, because once you lock someone up and deny them freedom of movement, you’re effectively placing them in jail. The bus-company that owned the bus on which the incident occurred has decided that they will not allow refugees on their buses for a while. So one tragic event has led to a whole group of people being punished. What more is the fear many of his countrymen face. I was told as recently as today (by people from the same region) that they now attempt to conceal where they hail from in order not to be associated with either the man or the event. People who belong to visible minorities have it rough enough as it is, it seems awfully unfair that they should live in fear that the general populace might find out that they were born ‘in the wrong place’.. Most have done nothing wrong, but still have to live in fear. All because we as humans frequently view those who are dissimilar from us as a coherent group, not as differing individuals with different experiences, different psyches, different lives; yet, with the exact same emotional range as ourselves. We stereotype and assume based on very limited information. Any time you hear the words “people from X are like Y”, you’re witnessing stereotyping. It is not so bad when the stereotypes are innocuous (“Norwegians are docile and for the most part friendly”) but it is outright dangerous when the qualities superimposed on a group has elements of “this is why these people are dangerous”-reasoning. People are frequently killed because they are perceived to belong to a group believed to be dangerous.. (There were several cases of Sikhs being killed or badly beaten post 9/11, simply for having beards and wearing turbans…Yeah, ignorance is very very dangerous).
I (again) can’t come up with a good/useful conclusion, but I sure hope people come to their senses. I hope they do remember that one should never judge all the people from a given group because of what one single (very sick) person did. Let us not forget that if the shoe was on the other foot, we might all have been judged based on what our resident terrorist Anders Behring Breivik did.