A culture shock, parts of a personal experience.
“Ethnocentrism; the explicit and arrogantly held action guiding belief that one’s culture and cultural ways are superior to others, or the disrespectful, lazy arrogant indifference to other cultures devalues them through not seeing appreciatively any culture or cultural ways except ones own when one could do otherwise; or the disrespectful, lazy arrogant indifference that devalues other cultures through stereotyping of them or through non reflective, self satisfied acceptance of such stereotypes. (“Identity & Culture”- Chris Weedon 2004; in ref. to Lugones 1990: p.46)
Coming to Norway, was a big culture shock. An enormous change and challenge from the very beginning. I understood that I was out of my element, and in a place steeped with strong nationalist identity, through its language, customs, traditions and a culture that manifest itself through a celebration of their national Constitution Day on the 17th. of May.
I found out very quickly that for me, as a person of color, I was truly the outsider. I didn’t speak the Norwegian language, and I certainly didn’t look like them; and my orientation would and could never be. Welcome to a different subjective narrative .
The reason I came to this country was to be a responsible parent and a loving caring father for my sons. My vision, was to be a fair partner in raising my sons, sharing the two different cultures as well as infusing my African American identity and culture. Unfortunately the overwhelming reality was for many reasons, that it would become a struggle to give that to them; a knowledge which I feel is important to my sons and which is a part of me. To show them my culture, where I come from, to give an understanding of their other background, became an obstacle on many different levels as the other, as the outsider and a person of color, where equal sharing of identity are placated by Norwegian Identity. A Norwegian set of customary law, where and when the tradition has been such for outsiders making them unable to have any or little influence to break those barriers, these laws set the ground for. You might think the traditional or international rules of law should come into relevance, but while experiencing the customs here, does make it seem that these rules of law only are for Norwegians.
That reality of my Sons being born here, doesn’t mean that they have one Identity, but in fact they share an entire genetic ancestral line of African descendants by the very nature of shared genes. As they grow, develop and educate, they will discover the world and their relationship in it outside the borders of Norway. It is imperative and important that they are prepared for these truths. These realities that they are not stuck in some Utopianistic idealistic identity, where they will find themselves in identity crisis in this very complex ever changing world, not that they belong to one but to several. A reality that should be acknowledged rather than denied by making it one, as only Norwegians.
In this Norwegian Culture, the narrative of being cozy and a orderly good society, its resonating in their projection to the world. Although there are some truths, there are also the flaws, as in every society. One of several points that I am addressing is the way in which the behavior and attitude on how they consume and drink alcohol, is neglected within their laws which I feel is of great concern, and how this is affecting this society and how it sees itself. As i have four sons, that had been part of this system, as they continue to grow up in this culture when drinking to get drunk perpetuates itself weekend after weekend.
Is this the idealistic utopianistic culture, where girls and women, boys/men, from teenagers to adults in their 50`s go out; throw up in the streets in the middle of town, abuse the bus or taxi drivers by throwing up in their cars. Being verbally abusive and disrespectful, pissing in public places, on the streets, and in peoples private gardens. I have witnessed this behavior many times for the past 2 decades. Is this the feel good society that is what the world associate Norway in a Nutshell? Surely this isn’t a conclusive indictment, but it is of concern, as a way of being?
It is troubling to witness this this phenomenon, weekend after weekend. It becomes an aspect of Norwegian character which is offensive, arrogant and very ugly, particularly if one goes out and is subjected to this privileged attitude. Consequences go unnoticed where authorities all too often tolerate and leave them unchecked. These attitudes become the “drinking Culture” the custom that is deemed ok, because thats what we do here.
I was shocked one night walking through town at 11.30 pm, a Thursday evening; there was a young boy pissing outside of one of the more distinguished hotels in downtown Bergen, the city I live in. I yelled at him and he ran off. Another incident was when I was with a friend, whom I known for many years, who is a very well established and respectable intelligent Norwegian woman. We had been driving up to her house in the center of town. It was around 4 pm. in the afternoon. This took place close by the university, at some of the more expensive and heritage beautiful properties in Bergen. As we drove up to her house to park the car, no more than 5 meter away there was this very sober, very normal looking Norwegian boy in his twenties, pisssing on her stairs case in front of her house. Although she did verbally embarrass him, he walked off without any impunity or shame. I was taken aback ! How and why on earth aren’t there laws in such a orderly place that makes such odious, uncivilised acts like these go on? A place that project itself as, and seems to be constantly patting themselves on the back saying: Aren’t we so good, aren’t we the best, we are so orderly, and so rich? I wonder, am I in some dreamland where a blind eye is turned in a civil society of such behaviors? Who raised this boy, to behave in such barbaric manner, in this perfect world that project the good, the best, the perfect?
You may wonder why I am very concerned for my sons, their Norwegian side, that emulates in their need for inclusiveness. I had this conversation along time ago, but that is just one of the minor reasons. I am alone and have separated. Being a parent, a role model becomes harder. I saw the writing on the wall many years ago and now the writing has become reality. It is clear its time that things concerning the civil society of Norway needs to address how alcohol and the youth are following a pattern that has a long tradition as i am told. Already at the end of their High School years it is the attitude that drinking until you are bombed out of your mind this is cool. I was young once too, but in my time this was unheard of. Then of course growing up in a more strict home, yet when all sorts of drugs and alcohol was available and the dangers were of much more copious and consequential degree; you had those possibilities but then one could very well end up in the penal system. Offenders here knowing that they merely, or not at all, will be penalized, most likely get a warning or a minor fine, feel no obligations to adhere within standards of what I believe most people would call normal behaviour.
The idea of intolerance of the other culture truly resonates, as my sons have adapted the mother tongue and cultural identity of being Norwegian. I struggle with the notion of, or this idea of multicultural Identity, which is a conversation that I think is necessary, due to the one sided conversation and the lack of the other part it in this society. From my studies on the subject I’ve come across certain references to this conversation, but mostly its hidden behind closed doors and not openly in the public sphere. A deeper discussion into the policies of integration versus assimilation, and creating an understanding of a multicultural society versus a diversified one, is needed.
In many ways my genes have been expropriated, where my kids skin and color reflects mine. They play between the freys of the identity of the mother who is Norwegian. So the question becomes; where do I fit in as a father? When our relations fall apart and cultures divide us for various reasons, particularly when the cultures are so contrasting, where do I fit in as living as the other? As a loving father who wishes to educate, support, extent my tradition, knowledge and love to my sons, it has been a daunting task when the respect or tolerance of other cultures are negated.
I have witnessed the irrevocable denial of this question, where if it is the implicit question of culture, identity or belonging. Since it means I am the other, an outsider, it is the fact that as I have no status as the indigenous Norwegian, as my sons do through the surname of the mother. Whereas their heritage from their father just became a capital letter of a middle name.
Making them pass as only Norwegian, which and when in fact they share two cultures, two identities, yet half of it is neatly tucked away. Why is it so, is it the obvious, by the tone or color of my skin ? Its why I ask this question of belonging in accordance to having an Identity and culture in itself. For the past 2 decades I have experienced the difficulties of being different, an African American in Norway or the non-person, without the status as the mother has over our children, or my children who are considered belonging to the State of Norway.
Twenty years have passed; the idea of being on equal footing or the economic narrative of finding my place in a homogeneous society, where of inclusiveness is as illusive as some throwback being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or plainly being out of one’s element? I am still working diligently to catch up, making good of that deferred dream of economic inclusiveness, which still have not been fully realised.
Things are ever changing to some extent, there are certain realities, and the fact remains I will never catch up. The sacrifices that I made trying to forge and secure economic stability for my family. Hopefully in time we will endure the loss of those years passed. With the break up of my family for economic, social and cultural differences, leaving my sons vulnerable without being allowed having their father more present in their life. How the idea of belonging have impacted and destabilised my integration, and the efforts to bring about opportunity to open ourselves to understanding these differences. Enabling differences to be examined, sharing to learn tolerance and embrace the underscored misrepresentation of not who we are on the outside; but how we are inside as human beings. How to live without precondition as the other, when it is the obvious.
It would be unfair to say, that Norwegians are insensitive to the issues of foreigners or immigrants, I did not look upon myself as such for a long time since coming from New York City. An international city where diversity is in flux and a constant change of people from all over the world come and are accepted. Where they have the opportunities to make their dreams a reality with hard work, where the entrepreneurial spirit is welcome. I have always believed that through education, ambition, hard work and the same equal opportunities, one can achieve those dreams. It took me a very long time to find some very wonderful friends that have been extremely supportive to my past challenges, living here so many years. Norway is not America, not New York, and can never be compared.
The comparative experience is and has been so contrasting, but after more than 20 years living in Norway, one has to look at the positive parts and not always the negative ones. There are many good qualities and people in Norway, it took me twenty years to see this, as my children have been growing up, as young men to be. I am happy that they have a safe, secure life ahead with possibilities that I did not have. Trying hard to be a responsible father I stayed and wanted to be a part in their lives, to raise them up to be loving and caring human beings, to share my identity and culture that they would never know if I choose the latter.
Feeling like a settler in a new country and a true pioneer, you would hope for a broad model and perspective of the idea of multi cultural attitudes, identity and culture. Living in a homogeneous environment that struggles with understanding the other. Attempting the idea of equality, the concept is idealistic, it becomes a reality only when tolerance, learning and understanding differences of others is shared on both sides.
I only hope that my efforts to be a good citizen of Norway and the world reflects that my worth is not my cultural identity but my humanity, that is who I am and have always been.
As Norway continues to open its arms and “accepting” new arrivals, new immigrants, I hope and pray that they can appreciate, learn and understand to integrate with respect for where they are. Making contributions that represent the reality that we are truly transforming to become evolved humans in the true sense of a global community. The importance of this dialogue is and has been a distinguished discourse, which is in the minds of many foreigners, especially men that try to integrate into the Norwegian culture. These foreign men experience that their tradition, culture and identity, are neither tolerated or respected, but ignored and denied by Norwegians. Cultural difference become a reality, when these disparities are bewildered, especially when there are ideological difference on issues of, and how the two parties views on how to raise kids of two cultures.
Norway has in most cases a tradition of awarding the mother the children, and in cases of multicultural heritage its even higher, according to what I’ve been told by lawyers I have come across during my fight to be allowed to be a father to my sons. Unfortunately there’s little research established concerning these matters, and I do hope that these concerns are brought to light, so the judiciary and lawmakers can change these unjust rules. This is why I stayed, this is why I am fighting for my children rights to appreciate both cultures and identity, as much as Norwegians want make them their own.
Am I crazy?
When you look in the mirror, when in fact you know you’re doing everything in your power to be a productive civilized, evolving human being; one has to ask these questions, over and over again. At the end of the day what’s important is that one is loving, supportive, positive, a role model; a father that encompasses all spectrums: social, economic, intellectual, moral and spiritual. To be an inspiration, to educate and encourage my sons to reach for the stars, to explore the world at large to grow, limitlessly for knowledge, to experience the world outside their borders. Never be told that you cannot achieve your dreams..
As a father of four sons this is my obligation to them, while time is of the essence and it is my intention to continue to make my way, through writing, expressing and enlightening the very idea of pioneering, in a very special world where identity and culture do matter.
Where do we belong ?
Reflections I’ve made over some time, realizing our need and wish to be a part of some larger group or family. The question we all asked in our youth, and still do even though as matured grown ups. Where do I belong?
“The knowing the self is partial in all its guises, never finished, whole, simply there and original, it is always constructed and stitched together imperfectly, and therefore able to join with another, to see together without claiming to be another.” (“Identity & Culture”- Chris Weedon 2004; in ref. to: Hall 1990 : p. 222, Haraway 1991b : p. 193 )
We are all a construction of the time we grew up in, and it also follows us through the next generations. When it comes to the question of Culture and Identity, which has been and is an ever present perplexing observation. The topic is an ongoing hotbed of discussion abroad. Unfortunately I do not find this topic as present in the society or a part of the conversation as it should be, in the country where I live.
While I believe our heritage and background is an important part of our Identity and its intertwined with the Culture we surround us with. It makes us who we are. I also believe its important for the upgrowing generation, my own kids, that it’s important to know, learn and understand these conditions that creates our self identity. which is one of my defining decision to take the bold act of leaving my so called native homeland, as a 2 generation African American, expatriate, to support them that they may have the understanding and knowledge of not one identity, and culture.
On a boarded social and political note, America has its first black president, whose mother was a white woman and father an african man. In President Obama’s book “Dreams from my father, A story of race and inheritance”, he refers to belonging. In this great divide, of identity and culture, the world refers to Obama as the first black president of the free world. This complex issue of belonging, set in the tapestry of identity and cultural perspectives, is a very interesting topic which seems to be on the minds of many.
As an expatriate, a person of color living in a homogeneous society; I have experienced the necessity to assimilate, and at the same time some of the extremes has taken years to understand and adapt to. When Identity and belonging to the group or Clan means everything, in this society.
In todays so called post colonial post modern era; xenophobia practices are still alive and well, belonging to that or any particular culture, identity is tantamount. Belonging is part of what one looks like, and espouse the sameness or likeness to. What you have in common with some people and what differentiates you from others. Ones name, language, customs, and ideological attitudes.
Its exceedingly difficult to belong when one is faced with the obvious, of being the outsider, by your appearance. When such strong bonds as; customs, attitudes and institutions laws are specifically designed for that group or culture identity, is formed. Instead of creating an atmosphere of the other were the outsider feel excluded and not included, thus making it feel harder to belong and to become a part of the society which I live in.
With the concept and idea of globalization, getting on a airplane is as easy as getting in a taxi and travelling to another part of the city, as is flying and being in another part of the world in just a short time. The history of culture and identity is changing, people are migrating, interfacing, ever changing and interdependent.
I have always felt comfortable in my skin, but never surprised or even shocked on this journey living on this planet as a man of colour. It is uncanny and even weird that with all the past struggles of great freedom fighters, from, the controversial Malcolm X, to the great Nobel Laureate Dr. Martin Luther King, and former President of South Africa, apartheid movement, Nelson Mandela, that colour and its discriminatory practices have not disappeared, they have just gone underground. As white liberals moderate a agenda of inclusiveness being popularise the ideal that color does not matter, residing the idea that history be ignored as though it never happened..
The recent striking down of affirmative action in the supreme court in the United States of America, was a disappointment to see, when affirmative action was put in place, this law was to ensure that Blacks be given the chance to close historical gaps that gave countered groups generational privilege born into power, prominence,dominance and control. If you watch on of Tim Wise lectures, debates/discussion that you could find online, you can get an indication of some of the thoughts and research done on the issue of culture and identity.
A partial quotation from Tim Wise’s book; White Like Me, chapter 1: born to belonging: “While some might insist that whites have a wide range of experiences, and so, presumably, it isn’t fair to make generalizations about whites as a group, this is a dodge, and not particularly artful one at that. Of course we’re all different, sort like like snowflakes, which come to think of it are also white. None of us have led the exact same life. But irrespective of one’s particular history; all whites were placed above all persons of color when it came to the economic and social and political hierarchies that were to form in the United States, without exception. “ page 3.
Throughout the formation and history of USA a formal system of racial preference was codified into the law from the 1600s until at least 1964. Not until the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965; did it change. Together with the Civil Rights Act of 1968 also known as the “Fair Housing Act of 1968”, the justice system finally passed a law making racial housing discrimination illegal. The implementation of these rights did take many years to comply by, and still in the Civil Rights of 1991 was modified to accommodate certain aspects that was not included a generation earlier. For those would like to see more on the subject can take a look here. http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/mef/white-like-me-a-film-featuring-tim-wise
The Summer holidays are over and I`m happier. I`ll be looking forward to post new blogposts, which I hope will suit your interests. Thus creating some interaction, thoughts and debate between you, my readers, and me. I do hope you all have had a pleasant summer. On the next few following days I`ll present some thoughts on identity and culture. Since its a longer piece I`ve divided it into 3 parts. The first part is called “Where do we belong, an introduction”, the second part: “Personal experience”, and the third part: “Knowledge”.
So lets get started. I thank you all for any comments or feedback, I appreciate it.