I woke up on August 9th, and Simone Biles had won an Olympic gold medal in gymnastics. At this point, you need to know that if there’s something I dislike more than participating in sports, it’s watching it. I woke up on August 11th, and Simone Manuel had won an Olympic gold medal in swimming. The first ‘African-American’ woman to win gold in the Olympic’s swimming events. ‘African-American’, in quotation marks, because she is not only the first African-American woman to win a gold medal, she’s also, simply, the first black woman. I told my boyfriend when I woke him up, because any victory from a black person, is a victory for us all. And it doesn’t matter that I don’t like sports, it doesn’t matter that I’d be bored shitless if I had to watch any Olympic competition, at that moment, I was truly happy. Because they won, and we all won. This morning, I woke up to find out that Nafissatou Thiam had won the gold medal in heptathlon, and it made me happy. But then, I scrolled through my Facebook, I scrolled through the many proud Belgian newspapers, I scrolled through the comments, and it made me sad. Because, suddenly, one question was ringing in my head: “Why are blacks, browns, yellows, only called Belgian when they are talented?”.
There were no racist remarks. The comment sections that are normally filled with nothing but heartbreaking intolerant messages, were not there. There were some people here and there pointing out the hypocrisy of being proud of this ‘Belgian’, all the while wanting all ‘coloured’ to leave Belgium asap, but they were shut down. “Her mother’s Belgian,” (read: white) “so, she’s really one of us.”, “She was born in Belgium, studies in Belgium, so she’s Belgian.”, “If she weren’t Belgian, she wouldn’t be able to represent Belgium.”, “Why do you always have to bring race into this?”. Because sometimes, there are articles about kids dropping their ice cream cone, and somehow, some people find ways to blame the ‘immigrants’, the ‘allochtonen’ (but it’s only a joke, of course), so why wouldn’t we bring race in a discussion where race is actually relevant?
There was a time when I was just happy to read such articles. I was happy that bigots found it in their heart to be proud of ‘coloured’ people. I thought it was good enough that, even if it was only sometimes, we could all agree that we were ‘all in this together’. But somehow, as time went on, as I opened my eyes to the reality of others, I just became bitter and angry and tired of these people’s shit. Only twee weeks ago, a 15-year-old Flemish boy died in Morocco. His name, Ramzi Mohammad Kaddouri, and his appearance, brown skin, led a lot of people to point out that that boy wasn’t Belgian, nor Flemish. It didn’t matter that he was born and raised in Belgium, that he was studying in Flanders, he wasn’t Belgian, he wasn’t Flemish. But he probably would have been, had he played for the Red Devils. He would have been, had he just won a medal at the Olympics. But even in death, he wasn’t allowed the same respect that white people, or talented ‘allochtonen’, get. Even in death, they couldn’t refrain themselves from saying “Yes, one brown person less!”. And if that isn’t sad, then I don’t know what is.
And shall we talk about Mo Farah? Shall we talk about that man, born in Somalia, who just brought gold to England? England, who found in Brexit the possibility to fully express their ‘repressed’ racism. (x) But aren’t they proud now? Of that Brit who just won a medal? It doesn’t matter that he was born in Somalia. Or that he lives in the US. Or that his name is actually Mohamed. Or that they want all people who look like him to leave their country. I’m sure he can stay, now that he brought them gold.
And I sound angry. And I sound bitter. And I repeat myself. But I am tired of being partially accepted. I’m tired of having to prove, time and time again, that yes, I speak French, that yes, I speak Dutch, that yes, I also speak English, that yes, I study Law. That yes, I deserve to have the basic respect any white person gets, because I’m worthy. I am tired, of these racists, who only accept the worthy. The “you’re ok, because x and y, but the others…”. The “of course, I don’t mean you! You don’t count!!”. Of the “I’m not racist, but…”. I am tired, because not everybody is capable of learning two or three languages. Not everybody can play football for the national team. Not everybody can win gold at the Olympics. Some people only speak French, and work in a shop, and don’t do anything prestigious. Some people stay at home to take care of the kids while their spouse/partner goes and works. And yes, some people just use, and abuse the system. But don’t we all deserve the basic respect any white person gets, without having to prove that we’re ‘worthy’?
I dream of a time when people don’t need to point out that a deceased 15-year-old boy with Moroccan roots “is not Belgian”. I dream of a time when black, brown, yellow, blue Belgians who can’t sing like Stromae, or win the heptathlon like Nafissatou, are considered Belgians too. I dream of a time when I won’t have to prove I’m “worthy” to be respected. In the meantime, I’ll rise. In the meantime, I’ll try to not be bitter and angry. Because, as he said, “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”.
Sabrine Ingabire is student and writer. Her monthly column ‘ Still I rise’ appears monthly on Bleri Lleshi’s blog