Raceless in a Racial World

There’s this course I’m currently taking and one of the girls in my class wears the niqab – she not only covers her face but even covers her eyes with translucent fabric. When we were each asked to introduce ourselves she said her name and said that she was Swedish. You know how we make connections in our head without even realizing it? Like when you speak to someone on the phone and you form a mental image of them, but you don’t really realize how innacurate that mental image was until you actually see them? Well for some reason as soon as she said “Swedish” the image that formed in my head was of a white woman. I guess for some reason I heard Swedish and my subconcious immediately linked that to white – as if there are no black Swedes. During the break,when there were only girls in the classroom, she lifted her niqab and the first thing that came to mind was “oh, she’ black!” before berating myself and wondering: why did I assume she is white? Why did I assume she’s any particular race? Why did race even play a role in the way I perceived this girl?

It reminded me of the book Paradise by Toni Morrison where she deliberately leaves out the characters’ races:

Morrison…describes having to work very hard to create three-dimensional characters without indicating their race.

When reading the book I remember I kept going back to previous pages to see if I missed the part where she physically describes the characters. The beauty of reading (as opposed to watching tv) is that it gives your imagination leeway to picture the characters as you please, but it was a struggle for me to imagine the characters without knowing what they look like. It wasn’t enough that she described whether each character was  tall, short, fat, slim, etc. In a story that centred around race struggles, I wanted to know which race each character identified with (the story was centered around a group of women of different races living together, and the attitudes of the black community towards these women – hence the irony, and brilliance, in leaving out the characters’ races ). Morrison deliberately piques our curiousity from the get-go:

From its opening sentence, “They shoot the white girl first,” readers are confronted with questions whose answers are usually delayed and sometimes never revealed: Who are “they”? Do they kill or only wound the girl? Which girl is white? Who else do they shoot, wound, or kill? Why are they shooting these women? Although readers eventually learn the identities and motives of the shooters, they are never told which of the Convent women is white

That girl in my class made me wonder what it must be like for a black person to go through life with people usually not knowing her race. I wondered if that made a difference in the she was treated… It’s hard to compare her experience to other black women in Sweden because she probably faces a lot of discrimination due to her niqab. But as a rhetorical question, it’s interesting to wonder:

In a very racial world, what would it be like to go through life raceless?

يَٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلنَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَٰكُم مِّن ذَكَرٍۢ وَأُنثَىٰ وَجَعَلْنَٰكُمْ شُعُوبًۭا وَقَبَآئِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوٓا۟ ۚ إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِندَ ٱللَّهِ أَتْقَىٰكُمْ ۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ عَلِيمٌ خَبِيرٌۭ

O mankind! Lo! We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another. Lo! the noblest of you, in the sight of Allah, is the most righteous of you. Lo! Allah is All-Knowing, Aware.

July 13, 2009 - Posted by | Personal

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