Monday 26 July 2021

#CBR13 Books 22-23: "Eg snakkar om det heile tida" by Camara Lundestad Joof and "Ikkje ver redd sånne som meg" by Sumaya Jirde Ali

Eg snakkar om det heile tida (I talk about it all the time)
Page count: 94 pages
Rating: 5 stars

Official book description:
I call a friend. 
Did the man in the bar call me a black b*tch when I didn't want to give him my number? That time we had arranged to drink beer, but we drank tequila instead?
She goes quiet.
No. He called you the n-word.
Thank you, I say. Thank you for remembering.

I talk about it all the time is a witness statement, an appeal and a personal examination. Camara Lundestad Joof is born in Norway, with a Norwegian mother and Gambian father. This book describes how the racism she constantly experiences infects her everyday life and controls her thoughts. She searches her memories. What if she remembers something incorrectly, how will anyone believe her? How many details do you have to remember to seem credible? Does she believe in herself? And can she ever be free of the question of skin colour?

Ms. Joof is a stage performer and dramatist who works with documentary stage shows and deals with intersectionality, de-colonialism, and the criticism of common societal norms. While she is born and raised in Norway, and her mother is Norwegian, she has faced absolutely staggering acts of racism for much of her life. This short work of non-fiction is a series of short vignettes, some only a paragraph or two long, some covering a few pages, where she gives the reader insight into only a selection of all the 
insults, slurs, prejudice and micro-aggressions she faces on a daily basis.

I read this essay collection as part of my job, as we Norwegian teachers were looking for short and engaging texts in "nynorsk", a written variant of Norwegian that secondary and high school kids here are required to learn. For those students who don't live in one of the geographical areas where the language variant is the majority written language, there tends to be a lot of complaints and grumbling, and getting the pupils motivated to learn and write gets harder with each passing year, as English becomes more and more dominant in society. Nevertheless, the excerpts we used from this collection certainly sparked a lot of discussions, and also gave a lot of our minority background kids a chance to talk about difficult and unpleasant experiences they, friends or family members have faced over the course of their young lives. 

While I was able to borrow this book for free through the school, I bought my own copy, as I was deeply affected by Ms. Joof's words and her understandable anger, sense of despair and just disappointment that despite not ever wanting to, she keeps having to "talk about" new racist and prejudical experiences all the time. While Norway is a wonderful place to live in many ways, we have a long way to go when it comes to dealing with racism.

Ikkje ver redd sånne som meg
 (Don't be afraid of people like me)
Page count: 92 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

Official book description: 
"It's only now, as a twenty-year-old, that I understand how crushing the 22nd of July was to me. To my identity. I was thirteen years old, and I did not escape the political. I carried it with my entire being"

Sumaya Jirde Ali came to Bodø (in the North of Norway) as a child and was treated like everyone else, she felt that she belonged. In this book she recounts the carefree days of her childhood. She tells about the schock when she heard about the terrorist attack in Oslo on the 22nd of July 2011 and what it did to change her self image and beliefs about belonging. She describes the feelings of shame and self contempt, of becoming dehumanised, and the need to belong. We also get insights into what she does to counteract hate, keep her spirits up and stand up for what she believes. 

I read this back in April (yup, that's how far behind I am on my reviews right now) and it feels very strange to review only a few days after the tenth anniversary of the terrible tragedy that features so prominently in this little book. As a teenager, Ms. Ali, whether she wanted to or not, was forced to face up to the knowledge that Anders Bering Breivik, the white supremacist who ended up killing a total of 77 (8 with a bomb in the centre of the Oslo government district, 69 at Utøya, a small island where the Labour Party Youth Association were having their annual summer camp) did it because he believed it was wrong for Norway to accept immigrants like her and others like her. While this horrific terrorist attack was so shocking and devastating to the Norwegian public, this book highlights how much worse it must have been for people with an immigrant background. Ms. Ali came to Norway as a young child, her family were refugees, she didn't ask to move here. However, after the events in July 2011, despite a relatively idyllic childhood in the North of Norway, she very much did not want to stay here. She had terrible guilt, just because of her immigrant status and the colour of her skin. 
As someone not directly affected by the terrorist attack, it's staggering to me how many people had their lives irrevocably changed by it, and still deal with the aftermath. Ms. Ali eventually accepted that her family were not going to listen to her pleas about moving back to Somalia, and got involved in public debates and tried to make a difference with her life - which sadly has led to her facing a lot of harassment in public and online. Like Ms. Joof, she's had to have police protection on occasion, and she admits to now having several mental health issues, anxiety among them, because of all the verbal persecution she has faced. 

Both of these books are short essay collections as part of a series called Norsk Røyndom, which translates as Norwegian secrets. The series asked a number of prominent members of society from a number of minority and discriminated groups to write and tell their stories. As well as these books about racism and racial harassment, there are books covering disability, LGBT+ issues, religion in modern society and other kinds of otherness in Norway today. It's a very informative and interesting project and I suspect I will seek out more after seeing the high quality of these two books. 

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

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