I grew up in Zimbabwe, a place where racism is pronounced. I was taught from a young age to be confident and bold. I grew knowing I have to believe in myself, but I was never taught how to deal with racism.
The truth is when you experience racism. You forget almost everything you have learnt. You feel like rubbish, worthless, and it messes with your confidence. My first experience of racism was in South Africa, and I was 22. I remember that day like it was yesterday. I could not believe myself and how I was treated by a white man at the airport in Johannesburg. As you can tell, I can still recall that day because it had a significant impact on me. I believe no one should be treated like a second class citizen, under no circumstances. So when I was treated differently, it hurt me.
I lived in the United Kingdom before moving to Switzerland nine years ago. As you know, the United Kingdom has more black people than in Switzerland.
While in the United Kingdom, there are many black people. It is easy to build a community amongst ourselves. But that is not possible here. Switzerland doesn’t have that many black people, especially where I live in Hagendorn, Zug. When we moved into our village, we found an apartment we liked, and we chose it. My biggest worry and concern was for my children. How were they going to cope? Were they going to be given the same chances and opportunities as everyone else? How were people going to view them? All this was going through my head simply because we are black.
The world has managed to create stories about black people. And what’s sad is many people believe them and very few people question them. Stories that say black people are criminals, thieves, liars. All which is not true. What is true is that all races have criminals, thieves and liars. Settling in Switzerland has been a journey. I say this because I believe we haven’t settled yet. We have lived in the same village for nine years, and truth be told – never one day have we felt different. We are not best friends with everyone, but we are welcomed and treated well.
Have my children had the same experience? Well, the honest answer is no. All my three children have been victims of racism. We all know, racism is taught. I guess some parents teach and tell their children to tell black people to „go back to their country.“ We haven’t heard many of these incidents because the school has dealt with them professionally—something I must genuinely commend them. We are lucky to live in a peaceful and welcoming village. This, I know, is not the same for every black person in Switzerland. It isn’t easy to have to explain to your own children why they are black. It is one of the most challenging conversations we have had with our children. I don’t even know why they are black! Honestly, I do not have the answer. I also do not know how I can equip my children to deal with racism because even for me as an adult, I have been a victim of racism. I have been a victim of subtle racism. This is what I can say has been my experience in Switzerland. Subtle racism.
The people I have encountered do not scream hate, but they will exclude you „nicely.“ Opportunities come, but you are somehow never „good enough.“ You try and be part of something, but you can’t „exactly fit in.“ My view is racism in Switzerland is somehow organised. It is not as aloud and pronounced as we have seen in America. So somehow, it looks as if it doesn’t exist. I have never had anyone come to me directly and be racist. But what I know for sure is, I have missed many opportunities because I am black in Switzerland. No one may want to admit they are racist, but there are people like that here. I understand and respect that many people do not know much about black people. Besides what they have read or watched in movies. So if you were given the opportunity to work with those people – what comes to mind is what you read and heard. But the question is, is it true?
The bigger question is, what race does not have people who do what black people do? So, why is it when it comes to black people it becomes worse than it is, and we are then looked at as monsters? I am asking all these questions because I am tired of all the people who say, they are not racists yet they use their subconscious bias to judge black people. I am posing these questions out of frustration for the misjudgement that has been made about me because I am black. And I know if I don’t speak up my children will become victims of the same things. I am aware of critical opportunities and decisions that have been about me that I was not given simply because I am black. I have had people come to me furious about how they had tried to fight for me, but no one listened.
I am, however, very grateful for the opportunity I have had to work with people who have accepted me for who I am here in Switzerland. Swiss people who have not questioned me but have given me a chance to be myself.
I have incidents where racism has taken over and played against me. My hope is that this stops. The majority of my experiences here have been positive and enriching. It is highly commendable to everyone in this country.
I do not fear for my life, and I don’t worry about my children going to the playground. I feel safe and feel like a great citizen, and I hope this stays the same.
It is easy to look at this problem as an America problem, but this is a global problem, one even Switzerland needs to address. In Switzerland, racism happens under the radar, so it is easy to say, it doesn’t happen. But I am a black woman telling you that it is there and something has to be done about it by all of us! I believe now is the time, we all need to stop and really question ourselves. Because yes, black people will never be white. But is that a right to exclude someone from something? What needs to happen for all this to stop?
Are you a racist or anti-racist? Do you know the difference?
The journey to recover requires everyone to be involved. When I say everyone, I mean all races. To be able to have diversity is a great way to get different input, perspectives and experiences. There is beauty in a boutique of flowers because the flowers look different. But when put together, they look beautiful. The truth is when one hurts, another also hurts. I am dreaming of a more inclusive Switzerland – not through lip service but action. We have all heard about the many things people will do to be more inclusive, but what has been done? There are few black people in Switzerland, but the few that are here would love to contribute to the growth and success of the country. Give them a chance if you can just as you would to any other swiss person. Let us be open to different. Let us learn from different. Let us embrace different. Let us be united in our diversity. Because in one way or another, we are all different.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Lisa Chuma is a Social Media Content Strategist, she helps busy business owners and startups use social media to get leads and clients. She is also the founder of the Women’s Expo Switzerland.