In “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”, Maggie Smith as Muriel Donnelly is an ex-housekeeper who finds herself retired and on her own. She needs a surgical operation for a hip replacement and is obliged to travel to India because of this health issue. Her story would arouse empathy and compassion, yet the public feel something else about her character in view of her xenophobic behavior.
Indeed, Donnely is a racist. She has some difficulties to deal with foreigners. Her move to India makes her face uncomfortable situations. The weirdest of them will change her way of looking at the other: She will meet one girl of the “Intouchables”. When racism perceives its reflection on the mirror!
The evolution of Donnely’s character gives hope about how racism can be eradicated if perspectives are changed and preconceptions let down. But, is it as easy in real life as in fiction? Let’s have a summary look on History.
In her book “Multiculturalism and diversity: a social psychological perspective”, Bernice Lott uses this description of racism: “It is both an institutional and interpersonal phenomenon that includes negative attitudes (prejudice), beliefs (stereotypes) and acts of avoidance and distancing (discrimination) that can be overt or covert.”
In the former situation, one, endowed with rights and legal references, can expose his case and even sue the persecutor. In the latter, how is it possible to prove the act of racism when based only on one’s feeling? Racists don’t always open their hearts on public.
Lott follows that racism “is a daily fact of life that affects access to education, employment, medical, neighborhood, governmental and all other societal resources.”
It leads to some kind of social injustice and disparities. Thus, politicians and mainly the civil society have some work to do, in term of preventive and corrective measurements.
In Norway, one organization becomes famous thanks to a cup of tea. This hot beverage brings together in the same place people from different backgrounds and ethnicities. With few sips, they learn more about each other and about how to knit new social ties. This reminds a quote about building bridges rather than walls.
The concept of “Tea Time” has been launched by the Norwegian Center against Racism (http://www.antirasistisk-senter.no/index.php?cat=98689). With the initiator of this project, Kari Partapuoli, we had this interview:
About the Senter
1- Can you introduce yourself and "antirasistisk senter"?
I am the director of Antirasistisk Senter (The Norwegian Center against Racism). Antirasistisk Senter is a non-governmental organization whose main objective is to fight racism and discrimination.
2- What kind of actions does the center take in order to face racism?
We work with both corrective and preventive actions. We have awareness rising campaigns such as TeaTime, where Muslims invite people over for tea, we monitor extremism, and take part in the public debate about immigration and integration in Norway. We also have integration projects especially directed towards minority youth. We have a career center and a cultural youth department.
3- Do you provide a hotline to register cases of discrimination?
We have a counseling office where we help individuals who experience discrimination. We also coordinate the Norwegian shadow report to CERD.
4- Do you collaborate with other associations at local or/and international level?
We cooperate with a broad network of organizations in Norway. Internationally we are part of EGAM (European Grassroots Antiracist Movement). But we also cooperate with other organizations and individuals who work on our field in Europe.
5- Do you work together with sociologist to understand this tendency?
We have both anthropologists and sociologists in our network. It is important for us to understand the society around us.
1- What is Racism?
There are a number of definitions of racism. We generally use the UN definition of racial discrimination: any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.
2- Is it natural for a human being to be chauvinistic?
It is always difficult to establish if something is natural or not. We see racism in all societies, but we also see that societies that systematically work to combat racism can succeed. So no matter if this is natural or not, racism can be combated.
3- Are we born racist or is it the result of some social, educational and psychological factors?
I believe that no one is born a racist, but again, it is difficult to give an answer to this question. I think that the level of awareness in a society affects the level of racism. The more one works to fight racism, the less racism there is.
4- How can we "heal" it?
The first step is to acknowledge that racism exists. This is particularly difficult in the Norwegian society, where there is a very low awareness of racism. Racism is fought on many levels. We need to work to ensure equal rights for minorities, have good integration projects for immigrants, and raise the awareness amongst the rest of the population.
1- With an outsider’s look, Norwegian society seems to be inclusive, what can you tell us about racism here according to your field’s experience?
No society is a 100 % inclusive, and Norway is no exception. 50% of immigrants in Norway say that they have experienced racial discrimination, and when you ask ethnic Norwegians, they are skeptical to both the Roma population, Muslims and Jews.
- Kari Partapuoli and her team deserve thanks and profound respect for their work and achievements. Racism is indeed a decay that can be treated. One question that can be raised regarding the behavior of racists: is it the product of superiority feeling or totally the opposite, the result of an inferiority complex?