Thursday, 11 August 2011

"Racism explained to my daughter"

I just finished reading a book we were assigned in French last semester. I didn't read it then, cause I was busy studying for my exams and I thought that that one book wouldn't matter that much. Turned out it did, so I bought it and read it along with my books for next semester. I thought it would be in the same boring genre as the other books we read that semester (Albert Camus, Simone de Beauvoir, Émmanuel Carrère, Annie Ernaux), but it turned out that it was real great!

It's called "Le racisme expliqué à ma fille" and it's by Tahar Ben Jelloun. Basically it's about the author himself and his daughter. In the introduction he explains that when he and his daughter was at a manifestation against racism when she was ten years old she asked him a lot of questions and that's where this book comes from. It's really genius cause the simplicty and truth of children's answers are well worth considering when we as blundering, blabbering adults go through our world.

It tells the obvious stories that we've all heard before that humour is a big part in conquereing and defeating racism, and that fear is a big part in why racism even exists. But it also tells us that our hope in defeating racism lies with the children, that children are unbiased and unprejudiced, and that they can be taught not to become biased and prejudiced. Prejudices are taught by biased adults, and it's the duty of unbiased adults to show the children that there's no reason to have any prejudices at all.

Some of my favourite quotations and their translations:
"Il a peur de l'étranger, celui qu'il ne connaît pas, surtout si cet étranger est plus pauvre que lui. Il se méfiera plus d'un ouvrier africain que d'un milliardaire américain. Ou mieux encore, quand un émir d'Arabie vient passer des vacances sur la Côte d'Azur, il est accueilli à bras ouverts, parce que celui qu'on accueille, ce n'est pas l'Arabe, mais l'homme riche venu dépenser de l'argent."
He is afraid of strangers, of those he doesn't know, especially if this stranger is poorer that he is. He is more misstrusting towards an African worker than towards and American billionaire. Or even better, when an emir from Arabia comes to pass his vacation at Côte d'Azur, he is recieved with open arms, because the one they recieve is no the Arab, but a rich man coming to spend his money.
"On est toujours l'étranger de quelqu'un, c'est-à-dire qu'on est toujours perçu comme quelqu'un d'étrange par celui qui n'est pas de notre culture."
One is always a stranger to someone, meaning that one is always percieved as someone from the unknown by those who aren't from our culture.
"Si j'ai bien compris, le raciste a peur de l'étranger parce qu'il est ignorant, croit qu'il existe plusieurs races et considère la sienne comme la meilleure?"
If I've understood correctly, the racist is afraid of strangers because he is ignorant, thinking that there are many races and considers his own to be the best?
"Le racisme existe partout où vivent les hommes. Il n'y a pas un seul pays qui puisse prétendre qu'il n'y a pas de racisme chez lui. Le racisme fait partie de l'histoire des hommes. C'est comme une maladie. Il vaut mieux le savoir et apprendre à le rejeter, à le refuser. Il faut se contrôler et se dire "si j'ai peur de l'étranger, lui aussi aura peur de moi". On est toujours l'étranger de quelqu'un, Apprendre à vivre ensemble, c'est cela lutter contre le racisme."
Racism exists everywhere people lives. There is not a single country that can pretend that there's no racism there. Racism is part of human history. It's like a disease. It would be good to know it and to reject it, to refuse it. One has to control oneself and to say to oneself "if I'm afraid of strangers, they will also be afraid of me". One is always a stranger to someone. Learning how to live together, that's how to fight against racisme.
"Les enfants, au contraire, peuvent changer. L'école est faite pour cela, pour leur apprendre que les hommes naissent et demeurent égaux en droit et différents, pour leur enseigner que la diversité humaine est une richesse, pas un handicap."
Children, on the other hand, can change. School is made for that, to teach them that men are born and stay equal in rights and differences, to educate them that the human diversity is a richness, not a disabillity.

I recommend this book to everyone who wants to read it. It's translated into several languages. Find it in the language that suits you best!

And I'm sorry if my spelling is a little off... I've been reading and writing in French all day and it seems as if my English as stopped working correctly in the process...

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What's the first thought in your head after reading this? Let me know!