26 August 2012

White like you

For the most part, I enjoy living in France. Aside from people greeting each other by bumping cheeks and making kissing noises, and the French aversion to hugs, I don't have many legitimate complaints. But I have a problem with the socially accepted racism among white French people.

If you've never lived here, note that Africa is to Europe as Mexico is to the United States. There are a lot of immigrants. But the cultures don't blend like in America. French society tries not only to integrate its foreigners, but to assimilate them, to make their foreignness invisible, to make them French.

So, setting the scene: Today at work, a black African woman comes to my register with a few items. I'm not Sarah Palin, I know there are lots of countries, cultures, languages, and skin colors in Africa, but I don't know which specific country she's from. I tell her the total, and she's 20 centimes short. The white French woman behind her hands me a 20-centime coin. The African woman thanks the French woman and leaves.

Then the French woman says to me, "Blacks aren't like Algerians and all those."

I look at her like, holy shit, did you actually just say those words to me.

What does that even mean? Is she insulting black Africans or Algerians or the whole fucking continent? That she says "black" instead of a proper demonym rules out cultural commentary. She's going racial with this.

But I don't say anything because I'm a cashier and she's a customer, and if I speak I'm going to end up calling her a racist, and my supervisor will have a talk with me about my social skills. Again.

I scan the rest of her groceries, not looking at her or speaking. Then she says, "You don't like my mentality."

"No," I respond flatly.

I mean, what does she expect? "Au contraire, I love racism!"

Call me an overly sensitive American, but I think there's something wrong with a culture when people think it's okay to make a racist comment to a complete stranger (or to anyone, for that matter). If I was black or brown or anything but white, she wouldn't have. She assumed that because my skin was like hers, I'd share her ignorance as well. This isn't even an isolated incident, white French people say racist shit all the time.

I'm not saying there isn't racism in the States, but at least there even racists know it's unacceptable. Unless you're in the deep south, it'll get you a lot of cold stares and a reputation as a bigot. Point for America.