It took me time to accept who I am, and be confident in my identity.
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When I went to primary school, the teacher asked us to write down words we do not like to hear about ourselves, on a piece of paper. The next day, all the words were to be discussed in plenary.
I do not remember what the purpose of this was, but I guess it was about how words can hurt others and why one should not say certain things. There were many who had written down things no one wants to be called, such as “stupid”, “ugly” or “fat”.
A few people in the class had decided to include more personal keywords, myself included. I had written down the word “Pole”.
Everyone knew right away that I was the one who wrote it down, because I was the only Polish person in the class. Some thought it was strange of me to write down the word. “You are overreacting,” it was said.
I moved to Norway at the age of nine. There was no reception school nearby, so I was thrown straight into a classroom with Norwegian-speaking classmates and teachers.
I had to try to learn the language by sitting in the Google Translate class in front of me and trying to keep up with the class. I learned to speak Norwegian eventually, but I was pretty bad at it at first. I guess that was why I was “petty bullied” and teased by classmates.
It did not take long before I learned about the stereotypes Polish immigrants hear in Norway. Being called a “Pole” did not feel like a term for my ethnicity, but rather a word that says I am poor and inferior.
I had to try to learn the language by sitting in class with Google Translate.
The word felt more like a synonym for cheap labor. Scaffolding work, house painting, physical work. Such professions are only looked down upon if they are performed by a Polish person.
Would be respected
I began to feel that I should hide my immigrant background from those around me. Hide it in order to be respected.
I did not dare to speak in my native language with my sister in public or to pick up my cell phone when a family member called. I would not be labeled as different again.
Michael Schøyen writes in a Si; D post about why he has almost no dark friends. How he was seen as sensitive if he said that something hurt him, because it was always “just” jokes.
Although Schøyen’s story is unique, there is still a lot I can recognize myself in. I just wanted everyone to like me, and I would be respected.
My immigrant background meant that I was not always on the same line as the others. It was not right for me to say about it. Because if you say no, you will be branded as “too sensitive” and made fun of.
It took me a while to accept who I am and be confident in my identity. I do not know if I’m quite finished yet. What I do know is that it should be allowed to speak out and be taken seriously.
It’s okay to be hurt by comments. It is allowed to experience stereotypes as offensive and inappropriate. A joke should be funny, not offensive. And it’s not okay to call me “Polish.”
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