Photo: Landsforeningen mot rasisme
The last week racism debate in the US (and the rest of the world) has revealed lots of very sad and horrific “go back to your country” stories. As a white man in this world, I have hardly experienced this kind of racism myself. But it happened to me one time in 2005, and the fact that I still recall the indicent 14 years later tells me the severity of those hurtful words.
For all of you that is told to go back to your country on a daily/weekly/monthly basis, I realize that my story below is “next to nothing“. But for the many people that these days write on social media that “go back to your country” is not racism, I believe my story may provide some valuable insight.
In 2005, I moved from my home country Norway to Florida, to start working as a researcher. I remember enjoying my new home from the very first day. My neighboors and co-workers were both warm and generous, and I soon embraced the US as my country.
After a few months, I started to coach youths (in soccer) at a local YMCA gym, and from then I would always go to the gym in the morning for some fitness training before work.
The morning I still recall now 14 years later, I had just finished todays training. I went to the “free coffee” table (as always), just to find a young woman (16-17 years old?) in front of me getting some coffee. I don’t really remember the exact words I told her, but it was something like: “It’s good to have some coffee after training”. And then it all started: A very loud voice from the other end of the room: “STAY AWAY FROM HER”! In the split of a second, I recall telling myself that he couldn’t possibly be screaming at me, but then I saw this guy 20-30 yards away waving his hand towards me while repeating that I shoud stay away from her. I suddenly realised that the young woman had disappeared, and I was slightly confused about the whole thing. So I started to approach the man screaming, and I went over to him to explain that I had just made a comment about how good coffee may be after training. But he just pointed at his biceps and told me that he wanted to beat me. And then he said those words that has been stuck in my brain ever since: “Get the f€6@ back to Germany”!
I didn’t really know how to respond to what he said, so I just decided to leave (after explaining the incident for the YMCA manager). The whole day, I felt really bad, and I remember asking myself “why” I felt so bad. One thought that popped up over and over again, was whether I had experienced some kind of racism. But I brushed the thought away, and told myself to “get over it”. The larger problem, though, was that I – for the first time – felt unwelcome in my new country. So far, I had enjoyed life in Florida, but suddenly I found myself really missing Norway.
I was not sure whether to show up for fitness traing at the gym the next day, but finally I decided that life must go on. I must admit I was slighty nervous about meeting the screaming man again, but I didn’t see him. Not until two days after the indicent. Suddenly he approaches me at the gym, but this time with a handshake and an apology. He told me that he had made the local police investigate me, and these investigations had revealed three things: First of all, I was apparently a good guy with a good job; secondly I was a soccer coach for youths, and finally: I was not from Germany but from Norway. So he gave me another handshake, and then he explained that the young woman was his daughter and he was protective of her.
Initially I must admit I felt slightly offended on behalf of the Germans, and the fact that a “random” man can get this kind of private information from the local police was really not reassuring. But all in all, I was relieved that everything seemed to be back to normal again, and I continued to enjoy life in the US for a few more years.
I haven’t thought much about this incident in many years, but it has always been there in the back of my head. And when all the controversy about President Trump’s tweets flared up this last week, it all came back to me. I realize now that the racism thought that popped up in my head after my “Get the f€6@ back to Germany” experience in 2005, is because my story actually falls in the racism category.
As I wrote in the beginning of this blog post: I am fully aware that my story is really next to nothing (compared to the horrific experiences others have to go through on a daily basis). BUT: If an incident “next to nothing” can have such an impact on me (I still remember the incident clearly 14 years after it happened), then its difficult to grasp how it must feel when the most powerful man in the world tweets the way he does.
So for all of you people writing on social media that “go back to your country” is not racism, I pray that you don’t have to experience how wrong you are.