Small jabs, here and there, my entire life
On the EDGE: An opinion column about current issues in Norway and the United States
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I have white skin, blue eyes. Do you think I’ve encountered racism?
Do you think I look foreign? And if you’ve heard me speak, do I sound Norwegian? And those of you who know me or know who I am: do you think I’ve encountered racism?
I have white skin and blue eyes. Your answer is no, isn’t it?
Nonetheless, I’ve encountered racism. Not much. But enough.
I grew up in a home with two cultures. Two languages. Mom is Norwegian, and Dad is Chilean.
I speak Norwegian and Spanish. I was born and grew up in Bergen. I am a Norwegian citizen. Just the same, now and then, I’ve felt racism. And with the little that I’ve experienced, it gives me the chills when I think how much others who have a different color of skin experience in their daily lives.
When I’ve felt how unpleasantly some people can act against my family and how incredibly shortsighted people can be, how much have others experienced?
I can “hide myself” by using my two pure Norwegian names. The name Elen Vik gets me job interviews. The name Elen Alicia Castillo Vik doesn’t.
One might like to say that it’s a random occurrence, but when it happens time and again, when does it stop being “random?”
My paternal grandmother and aunt once had the entire staircase to their apartment house sprayed with “GO BACK HOME.” They were the only foreigners living there at the time.
When I was in elementary school, I went to the bank with my dad. The woman working there would consistently turn to me, not dad. Finally, I had to say, “I’m a child, I don’t understand any of this; it’s my dad that you have to talk to.”
When we were out and about in the city, I also heard comments murmured about foreigners when I was a kid. Dad took everything in a fantastic way. Rose above it.
But when I had my first child in 2019, I had to have a caesarean section. My kind, gentle father helped me and went along to the nurse for the routine checkups that my baby had to have.
For some reason or another, the nurse had a tremendous need to point out time after time that “here in Norway” all babies have to be vaccinated, that “here in Norway” we do this or that. All this, despite the fact that Dad had already told how he had taken paternity leave without pay in the 1980s, so he could take me to the clinic to get my vaccinations.
I also said that I had grown up here in Norway several times, attended Norwegian schools all my life, and that we were familiar with the vaccination program, which we, by the way, supported. I still don’t understand why she had this need to point out the vaccination program “here in Norway,” why she would look at Dad each time she said it, so that in the end, it felt so uncomfortable that he stopped going to the clinic with me.
The world’s proudest grandfather felt that it was no longer OK to come along.
This year, I took my second child to the clinic and asked for advice about sleeping. Then came this comment: “You people with a foreign origin are often more sensitive and soft when it comes to putting their infants down.”
OK. Maybe she didn’t really mean anything with these comments, but what was the point? Small jabs, here and there, my entire life.
Some wonder why we should be so concerned about the protests in the United States right now. I hear people say that there’s not especially much racism in Norway. That’s wrong. If it’s not so obvious to everyone, it’s clear enough for those experiencing it. And they are many.
What I’ve experienced probably doesn’t seem like much for a lot of people, and it really isn’t either.
I have never, and will never have to be afraid of the police when I am in the United States visiting family there.
I don’t need to explain to my children what they have to say if they get stopped by the police, that they’re not dangerous or carrying weapons, like many have to do with their children in the United States. Children!
I don’t have to be afraid that someone will attack my kids because of their skin color. I have never been the recipient of hate speech or been denied entry somewhere because of my skin color.
Racism isn’t something that you’re born with, but something you learn. And my children are going to learn that all people are of equal value. In the same way that my parents taught me that all people are equal.
I hope that my children will be able use their full names without having to think about it.
And most importantly: that everyone with a skin color other than white can move about freely and feel like they are worth just as much as all others.
This is our responsibility, people! What my family and I have experienced are mere trifles compared to what others are going through. Despite everything, I still benefit from most of the advantages that everyone in Norway and the white world enjoys. But those protesting in the United States today have very good reasons for doing so. That’s why you should be concerned about the protests in the United States.
Racism. Must. End. Now.
The opinions expressed by opinion writers featured in “On the Edge” are not necessarily those of The Norwegian American, and our publication of those views is not an endorsement of them. Comments, suggestions, and complaints about the opinions expressed by the paper’s editorials should be directed to the editor.
This article originally appeared in the June 26, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.