SAIH lunch seminar on racism and stereotypes
The SAIH lunch seminars got a great start with the energetic presentation by Thomas Talawa Prestø on Thursday the 1 st of October. He spent more than an hour discussing racism in Norway and as a general concept. And his presentation did not leave the audience cold, since many people wanted to share their experiences or comment on his ideas. Perhaps the hottest topic of the lunch was the problem of asking about someone's origins. What many people do not realise is that these questions often go beyond the normal social curiosity, and might be negatively received. Coming from a multicultural background Talawa Prestø could explain racism as a personal experience but also analyse it in an institutional context. This personal, and in many ways passionate, approach made the presentation interesting and very informative.
Talawa Prestø divided racism into racism against black people and racism against white people. According to him, black racism covers all aspects of life, such as living situation, job hunting and health, and it can be seen as a social problem. Opposing racism against black people from an individual level is hard, since it is a system that does not have its counterpart in white racism. White racism is an "emotional" problem, where action or power is in individuals' hands, but it does not handicap people's possibilities as systematically as black racism does.
A white European is seldom aware of the social sanctions a black person can have if she or he embraces their natural look, such as natural hair or skin colour. It was shocking to discover how much pain and even self-mutilation is related to attempts to look more like white people. And the notion that the chemicals used for African hair would most likely not be allowed for white people is just one example of how the white are still privileged.
One of the most important notions was the fact that talking about racism is uncomfortable and it should be so. The highest level of anti-racism is not the comfort level of white people, and to reduce racism we need concrete actions. Talawa Prestø pointed out, for example, the importance of conversations and seminars, how we can reduce racism by raising empathy and respect and by making adjustments in curriculum. Maybe something SAIH can contribute to.
Written by Hanna Lehto