Friday, September 30

Racism is a health risk

In citizen, Claudia Rankine cites the research of the epidemiologist Sherman James, who in 1980 concluded that people – in this case African-Americans – who suffered prolonged and systematic racial discrimination they suffered from cardiovascular diseases, heart attacks and mental health problems, due to the enormous stress of enduring such discrimination. This phenomenon is known as “John Henryism”. The name refers to the legend of John Henry the railway worker, a black worker who, seeking that he and his companions would not be replaced in the construction of the railway by a hammering machine, plays a race against the boss by fixing the nails in the rails at higher speeds. than the machine itself. He wins the race, but dies immediately after due to the enormous effort that this implies. Facing racism, Rankine herself says, is that, being at risk of death.

Reading the first few paragraphs of the book daughter of immigrantsof Safia El Aaddam, the idea came back to my mind johnhenrism and did not leave me until I finished reading. It begins in a psychologist’s office: “I have realized that I am incapable of carrying out things that are easy and simple for other people (…) I feel that they are going to reject me, I feel that a barrier is formed in my the throat that prevents the passage of my saliva. Ella-ella Close your eyes and try to travel to the oldest memory that has made you feel this way. The first time you felt rejected, Lunja, it doesn’t matter how old you were- she tells me with an even calmer tone of voice”.

From that first scene a story unfolds that could be that of any daughter of immigrants. Lunja, the protagonist, goes back to her childhood in a town on the Catalan coast to tell a story in which prolonged and systematic racism and the poverty derived from racism itself turn a girl into an adult before her time and whose adult life is marked by panic attacks and generalized anxiety.

Safia El Aaddam describes, from the eyes of little Lunja and with the childlike innocence of someone who is still not able to understand why the world is the way it is, the feeling of desolation and the lump in the throat caused by the laughter, the looks and teasing for having a name that in the ears of the teacher “is very strange” and that is why she is unable to pronounce or remember it; the shame of having curly hair, the sadness of thinking that she was born with “broken hair” because her classmates repeat over and over again that her hair is ugly, “like mop”, because she herself dreams of having curly hair. smooth and being able to wear a bow on her head like most of the girls she goes to school with, those who in the eyes of society represent beauty.

The shocking thing is that the so-called flesh color does not look anything like your skin tone, because it is pink and not brown, that in the patio they yell at you that your color is like poop and that’s why you stink. The terrible frustration and feeling of loneliness and helplessness when going to the teachers to tell them that they insult you and they answer that they are just jokes and in turn they laugh… at you. daughter of immigrants It hurts because it breaks with the illusion of the school as a safe place, as a “second home”, to give us back the real image of one more space where the racist and classist violence that is experienced outside its walls is reproduced.

Schools are dangerous places for racialized childhoods, more than 10% of all cases of bullying are suffered by the daughters of immigrants. Just a few days ago, Saray, a 10-year-old girl, jumped out of the window of her house on a fourth floor in Zaragoza because she couldn’t stand the racist harassment she suffered anymore: they called her “fucking sudaca” from the beginning. previous course. It was her second day of school. The school is not responsible for what happened, quite the contrary, they affirm that “something like this was not expected”, however, it is the teachers who many times, totally lacking any training in anti-racism, allow and perpetuate the aggressions. Not to mention what it means that the teaching staff is 90 percent white and the only people of color in schools, institutes and high schools are canteen or cleaning workers.

Racism and classism in schools are also the cause of academic desertion, but prejudices normalize school dropout, blaming it on the “lack of desire to learn”, the “laziness” of the sons and daughters of immigrants, or the “bad head” of the gypsy student body, without focusing on the material conditions and life experiences of each student.

“Don’t you have the books yet?” a teacher asks Lunja in the third week of classes. She knows that she won’t have books for the entire course because her family can’t afford to pay for hers or her brother’s, and with embarrassment she repeats over and over again that “they are already ordered but they haven’t arrived. the bookstore”. Her teachers know this too, and yet they insist on asking the same question week after week, year after year, embarrassing her in front of the entire class. “Studying is for the rich, not the poor”, says Lunja and continues: “The Spanish educational system excludes and harms. No, poor people and poor immigrants don’t fail in high school. It doesn’t cost us. It’s not that we don’t want to study and we fail, it’s that you won’t let us. The educational system is made to exclude poor people and migrants, to always keep us in exclusion and that we do not climb any step. Silvia Agüero points out in many of her talks that “I have not failed, the system has failed me”, when speaking of the educational gap in the Roma community.

Discrimination and exclusion begin in the first years of life of the daughters of immigrants and racialized childhoods and extend throughout our lives, regardless of the level of schooling or the job. The johnhenrysmo It can be extended to the experience of Lunja, who, being a victim of racism and workplace harassment, begins to suffer stomach pains, pain, vomiting, dizziness, anxiety and panic attacks. Racism is a wound that is inflicted on the bodies of very small people and that gets bigger and bigger over the years, without having a single moment of respite to be able to clean it, cauterize it and allow it to heal, until There comes a time when the enormous stress of bearing it makes us sick.

Safia El Aaddam’s book is a brave and necessary novel, a critique of the Spanish educational system, a denunciation of structural racism, a first-person testimony of bullying, child poverty, and also an example of the urgency that many daughters of immigrants and racialized people we have to talk about it.

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