Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Guest Speaker and Racism

Today was my final class in Cross Cultural Communication. On schedule we had a Swedish woman that was to lecture about the American business culture. I was curious to hear if the experiences she shared with the class would be positive or negative. Swedes have a love/hate relationship with the United States. I don't want to make generalizations but its like there is an obsession with the US and people are extreme in their feelings about it. Either you are 100% a pro-American or you hate it, that's it..there is no indifference here about the US.
Anyway, overall the lecture was interesting and at times really funny until the subject of racism came up. Now, you have to understand that Swedes do not think that they are racist or that racism exists here. Today, there is a serial killer running around targetting immigrants in Malmö, the third largest town in Sweden. There are problems with integration here...I mean entire areas in Stockholm where there are only immigrants that live there, but when she mentioned that her real estate broker in the US thought that she would be able to get an apartment because she wasn't black or Jewish my classmates were appalled. My lecturer's reaction was, "yes, these things happen even today in the US" but ask anyone in Sweden with a certain type of last name if they felt that they have been denied an apartment or a job and you hear that yes, these things happen even today in Sweden.
http://schaberhistory.wikispaces.com/
I didn't feel comfortable with the issue of racism being brought up, because its complicated and something that a white foreigner really could never understand, much less attempt to explain. I am african american and I still can't wrap my head around racism at times, so its not appropriate for it to be "just a bullet point" on a powerpoint presentation of  a Swedish woman who lived in the States for seven years. As a consequence of this racism -as a subject dabbling, a few of my classmates started to ask me questions...yippee.... about the situation and what its like to deal with racism in the US.
I started off with my view that its a completed subject. I had to explain that I didn't feel "held down by the shackles of the man" on a daily basis. Yes, I was aware that there were country clubs that did not allow Blacks to join but I had to explain, that I didn't know where they were. It wasn't like I was shaking the guard gates screaming, let me in, let me in. Yes, I did agree that the American dream was a myth to most but that only in the US, could the phenomenon that is OPRAH be an example of a dream made real. I also had to point out that poverty should not be exclusively assigned to a racial group. Most Swedes, because of negative media, believe that most black people are poverty stricken and that isn't true.
So, I did appreciate the lecturer's viewpoint that racism is bad but it left too many unanswered questions or too much room for people to draw the wrong conclusions. Racism is everywhere. Its human nature to divide ourselves and create "otherness". At least in the US we admit to our weaknesses and don't try to pretend that the problems don't exist because they do, but as long as people need to feel better about themselves at the expense of others it will continue...just like the shootings in Malmö.