It’s a post written for a Afroswedish active facebook group but It hasn’t been not posted because look how I manage to make a thesis with it. So…
Sorry for the long post coming AGAIN but living here raised a lot of questions that only found silence so far and I want to understand. Especially because I’m considering leaving even if my European activity agreement says that I have 5 months left to do here (I could be useful for people and myself somewhere else). But if I can learn one last thing out of those first 7 months, I’m interested in. So I’m posting this. I hope I’m not offending, I want to understand what’s wrong with my way of doing and being, and what I don’t understand. So if you have time to read all this, just give me the light.
(I don’t have issue with people hurting my feelings a little bit so I can improve, do better, do useful, or just stop.)
I come from Belgium (born and raised). My parents came from Congo (DRC) about 35 years ago to do their Ph.D. I came in Sweden as a volunteer to do a European Voluntary Service (Erasmus+, EU), which means volunteering, living in a shared apartment with 3 others volunteers and receiving 3.000SEK per month to live. I’m in Linköping working in two cultural houses and my main tasks are working in the cafés of the houses, and trying to make projects. They are doing this program for 9 or 11 years now and I’m the first person of color they have, and it’s not really going well many times.
But my ongoing questioning is not about white Swedes, but about black people, black community(ies), black « consciousness » and black activism here.
I thought that we would have more in common than the general topics, because it’s Europe. But what I experience so far it’s that maybe Afroswedes have a more similar way of functioning to white Swedes, and that probably allows me to acknowledge that I have a Belgian way to function myself too (that’s a really awkward feeling). That the « afro » part of Afroswedes and Afrobelgian/french is, in terms of community and synergies, less that what it could suggest. Deepening my understanding of Afropean.
Honestly, I came here to take a break from activism. I was supposed to work on sound techniques and help young people to organize stuff but is was a trap, the agreement has never been respected. I was pressure to work for free not in sound stuff with white privileged kids so the white privileged paid staff could not give a fuck about making the place alive since I’m the exotic entertainment. So at the end of March, after two months of shit, I said no way, that if I have to work for free but not do what was planned, I’ll work with and for black people. Plan: taking the money where I find it, using my Erasmus+ label as a convincing tool, and using this money to do something new, create Afropean connections and support black people here (EXTRACT). But what I didn’t get is that maybe this is not wanted by Afroswedes neither. So being in trouble with my organization doesn’t make any sense.
Because in France and Belgium, when we have any opportunity to do something – and when there is a budget for it (really rare), even small, it’s the cherry on the top of the cake – we jump on it, we organize and we do stuff that we didn’t even know that we could do. But here it doesn’t work like that at all for sure. Like doing something free, getting some money to make people come and proposing to make connections with other black leaders and artists of Western countries is not wanted. And I don’t know what to say to all the people outside Sweden who heard about the project (From Finland to Brazil) and are so interested in coming, like even cecile emeke (« Strolling ») answered, because it’s not wanted. I thought that the most difficult part would be to make them come in Sweden while in fact I have a way harder time with Afroswedes. Like I should just go back to my country. And it’s getting too late to make it possible as I thought it could be.
Something else I never felt that strong before is the hierarchical relationship between what is « afrosvenska » and what is afro immigrant/newcomers. I deeply feel that « if you want to join the circle, you better integrate first » from black people. And in my brain it doesn’t make sense because it’s the same circles who calls out afrophobia. Like not speaking Swedsish, or not sounding like from the UK or USA, puts you in this wrong category. But it looks wrong to see that it’s possible to talk about afrophobia and say afroswedes and at the same time having a problem with Africa and African immigrants deep inside. And this has consequences in my understanding of black community in active groups here because I see the practical sense of community beyond words, exposure and fun, deriving from African heritage about the way of living while in Sweden, people don’t even know the name of their neighbors.
It’s even more than that… I don’t know how to explain it clearly but it’s like the assimilation discourse has just been transformed, not overturned and so, even if it’s not explicit, the desire of acceptance from the society still prevail and the look down on Africa remains. And it’s something I’m used to it to from white people, but I didn’t expect that I could have this intense feeling with black people, in particular because I’m so used to been seen as integrated back home (I say that I’m an « afro-ratée » (afro-failure)) that been looked down like I’m African, like it’s a bad thing, it’s just a whole new thing for me. And with the network I have in France and Belgium, we don’t expect anything from the state or the institutions or from white people in general. Not even a nice look. Like the white gaze doesn’t have to have any impact. And it’s a way to resist to this pressure to be THE good black. I’m not trying to leave the wrong box for the good box, because from my perspective the boxes should simply be destroyed but this lead to avoidance from black people, like I have to look more Swedish first to be taken seriously. Like I should want it. And I’m weird if I don’t care.
Like a white black culture without shameful roots. Even in mainstream culture, in France and Belgium, afro-trap, or the spreading of Congolese sapology, or a music album called « Négritude » that all come from the creative immigration and immigration-descent culture became unexpectedly cool somehow in the mainstream, but in Sweden I feel that the Afro-American culture is still the good black.
And I had a long way to go with black people in Belgium and France, I’ve been an outcast since I’m a kid within black circle, communities, activism, because I’m disabled, queer, feminist, geek, in the punk metal hardcore scenes, building my seat in places I’m not invited to… like I’m not black enough (and when I was a kid I was like « I’m not trying, I just don’t like P. Diddy for real »). But I tried to contribute my way and it worked. And I had the opportunity to closely see many racist mechanisms because I was first in youth activism, queer activism, feminist activism, social justice activism and then I came to black people like « you know I tried everything, white people are crazy ». So I know I can bring something and I want to learn from others to contribute to the change. But here it’s the first time that I feel outcast by black people because I’m not white enough. And I’m not here to be Afroswedish, it would take literally all my time and energy trying while it’s not the point of me coming here. Assimilation.
I see the respectability politics as being really strong but because of my personal experience, I don’t give a damn about respectability. For me, respectability is just contributing to the overall oppression. (And seriously, I mean, I really can’t play the respectability card too long because I learned from an early age. Like the first time I’ve been arrested by cops I was 12. If I try to be respectable, it’s just so not credible, even my mom would roll eyes. XD)
I also feel that recently in Sweden the exposure is more a thing by itself, while what I saw lately in France and Belgium is that we play the exposure game at the beginning – even if because our radical position we know we’ll have to pay somehow (I can tell A LOT about it, from death and rape threats, to being fired, to having ministers talking about you in the Parliament so you’re broke, to…) – because we understand the necessity of representations in spaces we don’t exist but soon we get fed up with it because representation without action/change it’s not viable for us. When we have to stand in the spotlight for a longer period of time until the shit is fixed, without even talking about it we share all the contacts we have (like refusing an interview and giving the name of another black person not heard before) and support each other so we are everywhere and with many faces, making harder to ignore us, or to stereotype us, or to create new norms about the good kind of black. But that’s just for the face. The practical part dealing with how we actually do the transformation is the core thing. And for this, few faces are not enough, we need many hands and many skills and knowledge. Especially in a society that is an organized amnesia. So I feel like the aims and the goals, and how we decide to reach them are more explicit than in Sweden.
It’s maybe also because we France and Belgium have a heavy long history of colonialism, neocolonialism, revisionism and immigration. I don’t know enough about Sweden except the country was highly involved in slave trade. (I thought I could learn more by meeting people but opportunities had been too few)
More about the cultural gap… Belgium is a mess, an invention. Our population is bigger than the Swedish one (in term of density, we are the first in Europe, Sweden is the last one), there are three official communities based on the language they speak (French, Dutch, German), three territories (Wallonia, Flanders and Brussels), seven overlapping governments (3 for communities, 3 for territories, and one federal), our capital is also the capital of Europe and hosts its institutions, and on top of that, we have a royal family because why not. So conflicts and direct discussions to fix them and creativity to do so (because nothing is normal, there is no normal solution) is kind of the norm culturally speaking. We have to go for it or it will be more and more messy, like until not having a federal government for so long that we break the record detained by Iraq. So from my perspective, individual interactions in Sweden are far more about conflict-avoiding, looking but not interacting, looking people fail and not helping, and small slow talks, even if many times it doesn’t fix anything but protect people comfort and the unlucky ones just have to live with and adapt to the problem. And when they adapt, the problem is seen as fixed. And I really have difficulties to adapt myself to that. I don’t know how to see it in a different way so I can work with people like for real and I don’t look like a threat. Most of the time, I don’t know if people feel insecure because I want to go straight to the point or if people simply think I’m shit. Black people included. And people don’t talk. After all this time, people just don’t talk.
And I consider looking to each other, all of each other, as one of the big challenge of black activism. I’m working on myself a lot about that since I decided that I’ll not apologize for being black anymore. For me, being unapologetically black also means to not ignore or look down on all the expressions of blackness, of negritude, like « brother/sister, I see you » in a society that wants us to assimilate so we don’t really see each other and so we’re isolated whatever the packaging is. But if I’m the only one looking, it doesn’t work neither. So I’m questioning myself : am I doing wrong with Afroswedes ?
The last thing I’d like to understand better is the dynamic. Activism seems more based on friendships. I don’t know if it’s really different from Belgium and France on this. But I knew and I don’t have network, and I don’t speak the language so this point became crucial. I feel like with white people in Linköping, if they look at me it’s often because they want me to be their black friends so it’s cool, but with black people it’s more a look like « are you good enough to be my friend/around me » even if they smile while I’m asking if they are interested in collaboration. Like we’re not speaking the same language. While my way of working is based on « we don’t need to be close friends to destroy the supremacy, so what’s the plan? ». Even when egos are fighting, we have to acknowledge that the other is valuable for what.they/s.he’s doing/thinking/being. It’s not always easy. Egos can be big in France, because it’s the same ego that allows us to not take shit from the society anymore, so we have to learn how to work together with this factor. But if trying to be best friends with people is part of the activist work here, it’s really challenging because I’m not this kind of social and I don’t want to act fake with black people. I mean I do it when I want to keep my job or when I don’t want to be in trouble with white people.
France and Belgium are not better FOR SURE (white people crazy everywhere) but it’s way different, even regarding black people, and it’s a lot when you’re not prepared to a such difference, and I don’t how to meet you half way, or if it’s even possible.
But to sum it up, my question is WHAT’S UP ?
I’m gonna eat more peanut butter alone.