“But You, You’re Not The Same.” — Racism At House 35.

October 8th, 2016.

It’s 7:50pm. My sister’s friend Sabrina* just left the house after dropping off her two kids. We organized a little slumber party for them and everyone was in a good mood.

She was trying to leave discreetly so that her children wouldn’t cry or make a big fuss about it. At 3 and 4 years-old, they are a bit young and it’s still hard for them to see their mother leave any place. What was supposed to be a quick visit had already turned into a one-hour negotiation process between her and the kids. Besides, she was a bit stressed because she had parked in front of my neighbours garage with the lights on to signal she was coming back soon. It’s not the best behaviour but as we live in a closed residence she thought that if someone really needed access they could ring the bell and she would move her car. It’s not an ideal situation but it’s not unheard of.

Anyway, she finally left at around 7:45pm. When she came out she found two cars blocking the exit and making it impossible for her to get out of the residence. Apparently, the other neighbours couldn’t access their house and decided they would teach her a lesson by blocking the way (I spare you the « Could the car pass or not? » debate — if you ask me there was plenty of space but my opinion is just that and the neighbours didn’t agree at all).

There were two options. They could’ve rung the doorbell with a little bit of attitude and ask us to move the car while displaying how mad they were about the whole thing — After all, our house is on the way to theirs. Or they could’ve been annoyed, or even really upset and rude, when Sabrina knocked on their door to apologize and ask them kindly if they could move their cars. Of course they chose option number two with a touch of I’m-gonna-slam-my-window-at-you-and-stop-responding-all-together-that-will-teach-you!

This is the scene I witnessed at 7:50pm. Don’t ask me why they chose to answer the door by popping their head through the window, I don’t know (coooowaaaards).

To be honest, at this moment I thought we could still fix the problem. I just thought, you know, we’re going to talk it through, apologize and that will be all. They will feel like we respected them and we will avoid more problems. But that was without counting one big determining factor : my neighbors are racist and we are, well,… arabs.

In 1998, after living in Paris for 30 years, my parents decided to become the owners of a house in the suburbs. We moved to the new house while celebrating France’s first World Cup win. It was 18 years ago, I was 10 years-old.

My neighbours, we will call them Prince Charles and Marine Le Pen (name given according to their physical attributes) were already here. Unlike other people who left town at the same time as Manuel Valls — former French Vice President and Mayor of this town — because theythought there weren’t enough « blancos » left - they are still here. Therefore, we have been dealing with their passive-racism for 18 years. You know the kind? The type of racism that don’t express itself in words but that you feel. Like tonight.

Tonight, at 7:50pm I decided to knock on their door to understand what was going on. No answer. I check the time and decide to ring the bell. The couple opens the door : (I use a soft voice like I don’t mean any trouble) « uh…good evening,… I don’t understand what’s going on, is there a problem? »

Oh Lord… You should’ve seen their faces. They had prepared and the moment was finally here : they were going to educate us. This here is a very special type of racist behavior. This type of racists aren’t aware they are racist. They will never call you names like « sale arabe » / « sale noir » which means « dirty arab / black » in French (commonly used racist insult here). They only speak in implicit terms that the recipient usually understand perfectly. They will say things like « in France we respect the rules » or « I don’t know how you’ve been brought up but we do things this way here.” Prince Charles and Marine are champions in this category. « We don’t have the same education » is one of the first things they tell me and they don’t even take the time to properly express the reason of their discontentment. They bark.

At this moment, there are three of us in front of their door : my sister, Sabrina and I. Everyone is tensed and upset. I try to get everyone to calm down but no one listens. The conversation isn’t going anywhere. They threaten to call the police, we offer to dial the number. They close the door on us twice and speak over us every time we try to make a point. Then, they accuse us of monopolizing the conversation. They aren’t looking for a solution, they are just looking for more confrontation.

In reality, they’ve been looking for confrontation for over 18 years. It’s been 18 years that we understand their game and refuse to play. We keep calm and just think to ourselves that they aren’t worth it. 18 years that we don’t call them out on their racism because they never said anything explicitly racist. « Black and arabs, always try to use that racism card » after all, or so they say.

The truth is that racism is an attitude. it’s not just the words and the physical violence. Racism is when you’ve had neighbors for almost 20 years who take any small opportunity like a parking issue to tell you that you « don’t have the same education ». It’s when they stop saying hello to your sisters as soon as they decide to cover their hair with a scarf but keep saying hi to you who don’t. It’s when they think they can teach you the French way of life even though they watched you grow up in the same country as them. It’s the people who tell you « but you, you’re not the same ».

Well, bad news, I am the same. And from today I will call you racist whenever you are being racist. We shouldn’t be afraid to call things by their names. It is because we don’t that Adama Traoré died this summer. It is because we don’t that we can see policemen tell women to take their clothes off on the beach. It is because we don’t that black people are still being killed by the police everyday in the USA or that we block access to Europe to Syrian and African refugees. Let’s expose racism, be it explicit or implicit. We aren’t the victims, we are just at the best seat to notice these behaviours and condemn them when they happen.

And seriously racist people, get over it, you’re being a real pain.

Awatif Bentahar

*Name has been changed

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