Racesplaining and other outrageous privileges: The bag incident

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By: Edinah Masanga

He was watching me with a hawk’s eye, the well-dressed lad with a platinum beard at Stockholm central station. I had just disembarked from the train from Malmö and had a connecting time of twenty minutes.

There was one little problem though, I was pressed with a need to relieve my water so badly I couldn’t bear to stand still. So I was jittery. And I couldn’t care less about my bags which were piled on each other, the smaller purse on top, just metres away from where I was stomping up and down.

I first noticed the platinum bearded fellow, he was very handsome, aged but the face was a sight to marvel at. And so I got captivated by that at first but then I noticed his eyes following me around and I wondered.

At first, I didn’t pay much attention to that, as I have come to do many times here in Sweden; I choose to ignore small actions that make me feel uncomfortable.

It was hard to ignore this particular stare though and so I started to feel uneasy the way everyone was paying attention to me and I decided not to stand in one place looking all jittery.  I started taking steps in the opposite direction of my bags.

Suddenly, everyone moved away from my bags and two ladies began chatting worriedly while looking at me. And then it hit me, the unattended bags were the problem, not me. I assume people were wondering if I was trying to abandon the bags but with what intention?  It is understandable that people get afraid of unattended packages with the number of terrorist attacks that Europe has experienced.

To my fellow travellers, I seemed to fit the profile of what would be a possible terrorist in their minds. Why? My skin color could provide a plausible answer to that.

I didn’t find this incident insulting at all because I understood their valid fears.

What I found infuriating was when I shared this experience in a certain forum and a fellow participant started going on about generalisation. To which I answered her that ironically that’s what I felt those fellow travellers did to me, they racially profiled me using broad generalisations of who would be considered a terrorist.

She tried to force me – and I resisted strongly for the first time – to accept that what had made me uncomfortable had nothing to do with my blackness, that my skin color had not been a factor in those travellers reactions towards my unattended bags.

This was clearly an attempt to diminish my own individual experience by racesplaining it while making it look like I am incapable of making a reasonable deduction of whether my skin color had been a factor in that incident.

Racism exists in Sweden. The problem is that the conversation has been shut down by denialists and those trying to protect the so-called integrity of the Swedish society. And in shutting down this conversation we have made racism almost invisible. Like as if it does not exist yet it flourishes in our society.

We should not explain other people’s experiences as if they were our own. Even worse, we should not explain other people’s experiences using words that are acceptable to us in ways that are palatable to us. We should never do this because by doing so we take away other people’s agency and relegate their experiences to nothing. And in that nothingness, there are silent tears that get cried every time racism is experienced. And scars that get inscribed on the soul.

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