Nebojša Radić – Off Guardian
In this country I am regarded as White and therefore, privileged – it seems. People in the streets and on television say that Whites should kneel and apologise.
How come I find myself in this bizarre situation?
How did I get here?
How did a refugee from war-torn socialist Yugoslavia turned fisherman in the South Pacific become a privileged White male?
Did I miss anything?
Is it something I did?
Something I said?
No, it’s not something I did or said. It has nothing to do with me.
Except that… it has everything to do with me and there is no-one to speak out for me!
So, there you go now, hear my voice.
I was born in Yugoslavia, the most multicultural country in Europe. Through the non-aligned movement, it had many links with third-world countries and we used to call Africans: braća crnci, Black Brothers. I grew up in Belgrade listening to African American blues musicians such as BB King, Jimi Hendrix, John Lee Hooker and Blind Lemon Jefferson, playing basketball to better the likes of Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson!
It was only in the late 90s that I noticed that the footballer Edson Arantes do Nascimento better known as Pele was black! And I remember watching him play for the first time in Sweden 1970! It took me thirty years or perhaps, ten years of living in an English-speaking country to think of the great football magician in terms of race.
In the early nineties, many of my countrymen (and women) fled the war. I too found myself in a new setting, in Nelson, New Zealand where a friend of a friend operated a fleet of fishing boats. I learnt the trade and a couple of years later, upon graduation, I could tell ALL the commercial fish species in the South Pacific.
Filling the many forms of the New Zealand immigration service and later of the government, I identified as a Pakeha, the Maori term for white people and, apparently, also for a pig. Pakeha or Caucasian, that was the choice I had. At the same time, for most the Yugoslav immigrants in Aotearoa, I was naš – ours. I was just one of us, ex-Yugoslavs and we all spoke naški – our language. We never bothered (very wisely) to call it Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian or…
Locals struggled to tell us apart, the same as we struggled to tell the English from the Dutch or the Maoris from the Pacific Islanders (NB. the great rugby player, Jonah Lomu was of Tongan origin, an Islander – not a Maori).
While in Nelson, down very South, a good friend of mine Kit Carson, a farmer, woodturner and artist taught me an important lesson. We were barbequing some meat near the Tahunanui beach when Max said that as an Irish-born immigrant, Kit wasn’t a real Kiwi. The already well-aged and proud son of Joyce, Beckett, Heaney and a very long line of Celtic storytelling alchemists stood up from his chair with a drink in his mighty rugged hand and roared: You were born in this country, Max, but I chose to come here out my own free will. I am much more of a New Zealander than you will ever be!
Thus, spoke Kit Carson, Down Under Below, raising his glass to a thunderous – slaintè!
On the day the New York twin towers fell, I left Aotearoa and moved to Britain (this country?). I now live in Cambridge, a multi-cultural city with a peculiar town and gown historical (class, racial?) divide.
For the immigration service and the government here, I am White, the other White, mind you. The official government web page lists those options:
One of the home nations or Irish (Kit Carson!)
Gypsy or Irish Traveller (Tyson Fury, the boxer)
or any other White background.
You can also belong to mixed ethnicities or declare yourself to be Jewish, Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Chinese or of any other Asian background. You can be African, Caribbean or of any other Black background. You could be Arab too (Dr Ali Meghji)!
So, all Europeans are other Whites.
Nigel Farage however, the prominent and outspoken British politician, does not complain about his French, Italian or German and not even Greek neighbours. He just does not recommend living next door to a bunch of Romanians!
At the same time, ‘Go home Poles’ graffiti compete with Banksy’s excellent artwork, anti-Russian hyper-hysteria (you don’t really want me to give you any links for this one) and the already metastatic anti-Serbian bias (uh, where shall I start with links…) that I have been exposed to over these 30 years.
Nine in ten of my conversations that started with where are you from originally? and continued with me saying I am from Serbia, ended right there – in embarrassment and silence. A sure sign that my interlocutors were educated on the topic by alphabet soup corporations (CNN, BBC… ESPN, CIA?) rather than history or any other books.
While I do not expect people to have read all the novels by the Nobel laureate Ivo Andrić or seen the films of multiple Palme d’Or winner Emir Kusturica, to have ever found themselves trapped in one of the Marina Abramović arty installations, to have understood the principles of Nikola Tesla’s coil and wireless transmission of electricity or even watched Novak Đoković play tennis, it would be nice if they could make a small mental effort to move beyond the “murderous Serbs” stereotype.
So, the western political correctness pill may pretend to be covering Muslims, Blacks and Jews but it does not cover the others, with special reference to Eastern Europeans.
I can inform you, for instance, that there is no such thing as an “East European accent”. Same as there is no such a thing as a Western European accent.
The geographical Eastern Europe features languages that belong to different groups: Finno-Ugric, Greek, Romance, Slavic and Albanian among others. Native speakers of these languages do not and cannot possibly have the same English accents. Again, is there such a thing as a Jewish, African or Muslim accent?
- Talking to a woman in a burka you ask leisurely: Oh, is that a Muslim accent that I hear, darling?
- Talking to Shaquille O’Neal during a pick-up basketball game you say: Where does your accent come from? West Africa, perhaps?
- Talking to a rabbi who happen to be dressed as a rabbi: Interesting accent that you have – Semitic isn’t it?
[NB: do NOT try any of these techniques at home]
East European is not an ethnicity. East Europeans as a compact group do not exist linguistically, culturally and religiously. They are no different from Western Europeans in that respect. East European is a prejudiced political, cold war denomination for marginalised (other) white people.
My ancestors fought the Ottoman Turks for centuries not to be enslaved or taken away by the Janissaries. As my name is not Muhammed and I am a Christian, grandad seems to have done well. Now both the descendants and victims of the British Empire slave traders tell me I should apologise. Uh, let me see…
Is racism, as we now know it here, in English, not a construct of Western European maritime imperial nations, of genocide, slave trade and slavery?
Where I come from we learnt about these sinister exploits at school. We were told about what happened to the American Indians, the Aborigines, the Mayas and the Incas, the Africans abducted from their ancestral homes, enslaved and shipped to the new brave world. We knew about the East India Company, the British concentration camps in South Africa, Churchill’s racism and crimes, the utter high-tech barbarism visited upon the civilian populations of Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Dresden. This was all common knowledge among people outside the Anglo-Saxon imperial reach.
The British Empire is racist, you now tell me? No kidding.
The American fathers of the exceptional nation were slave owners? Say no more.
The Empire committed atrocities with the ‘excuse’ that their victims were not really human. If they now, suddenly accepted the humanity of the colonised, exploited and murdered peoples, their minds would blow and disintegrate along with all of their cherished ethical, religious principles and civilised posturing.
But let’s go back to our topic, my Eastern European predicament. I am White. Other White but still – sort of, White! To be better represented, I might join forces with the other Asians and the other Africans perhaps? So much for an identity crisis of the Others (capitalised by now, mind you)!
I don’t think I am or ever was privileged in this society or, for that, matter, responsible for racial tensions. I support human rights and equality wholeheartedly. One day, when I return to the Balkans I may lay down and die of shame for what we allowed to happen to my generation and my country in those mountains. I have learnt to deal with my own and with our collective past. It’s a process that brings pain and, I hope, also clarity and hope for a more harmonious future.
So, East Europeans are other Whites. We are not privileged and we often find ourselves at the receiving end of prejudice and intolerance. Do not paint us thus, with the old, stained, black & white brush. There are too many dirty brushes lying around already… and so many wonderful colours.