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Old 15.12.2005, 14:19
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Re: Are the swiss racist?

wow - I'm sure this one will hit a nerve on both sides of the fence. Before I go on, I think it should be important to try and define the question a little more. To say "are the Swiss racist" kind of lumps all Swiss into the same boat, and while this is the same thing that "they" often to do to foreigners (tar them all with the same brush), hopefully we can do a little better than that. Perhaps a question like "is racism a big issue in Swiss society?" might be less "inclusive". Otherwise this might be seen as "Swiss bashing" which would make "us" (non-Swiss) guilty of the same sorts of things we often accuse the Swiss of. But anyway...

I don't believe that all the Swiss are racist, but I am alarmed at the sheer number of times I encounter a very relaxed attitude towards racial insults and jokes. In many countries people would simply not speak like that in public or among collegues. I've had to tell people bluntly on more than one occassion that I do not want to hear racist remarks in my workplace, and the fact that I even had to say something disturbed me. One of the people concerned continued to use the term "yugo" purely because he knew that I didn't want to hear it. I'm not talking about some high school idiot here either, I'm talking about someone with a university education (not that I'm implying that this means anything either).

Luckily for me I am white, and am not the kind of foreigner that some Swiss love to hate, but I'm still offended. My favourite is "oh, we don't mean you when we talk about foreigners, you aren't like the others" - this makes my blood boil - so I'm being treated differently because I was fortunate to be born somewhere that they like (or rather don't dislike)?

I'm also reminded about a wedding I attended a few years ago from a friend of mine who married a turkish woman. After the wedding there was some dancing, and for a while some turkish music was played and the turkish side of the family and friends danced. The only non-turkish person participating at this point was the groom. Did any of the guests decide that they'd like to learn a little bit about another culture? No. In fact, a Swiss woman at my table started openly complaining that they should be more respectful of us and our culture and not expose us to their culture in that way. I was furious to hear a remark like that, but the part that really puzzeled me was how openly she could say it in the company of others without being embarrassed. The other thing was that the wedding wasn't in Switzerland, it was in France.

I think that's the crux of the matter - many Swiss people just aren't ashamed or embarassed to express such views, whereas in other countries nobody would openly say something like that. It goes to show that racism is something that is tolerated, maybe not at an official level, but it is something that is very prevalant in this society. That's not to say that Switzerland is the only country where you can often hear racist comments, in fact it happens in many countries - in the UK for example I've often heard things that shocked me, but I just realise that these people grew up in a different society and a different school system than I did.

We were taught to value the differences that other cultures bring and to appreciate diversity rather than fear it, but I doubt that such things feature in the Swiss education system - especially judging by the number of young people (not just older people) coming out with racist and xenophoic statements (the younger they are, the more shocking it is!)

@panamahat - While it is terrible that people made racist remarks at school we should also bear in mind that school kids will seize on anything at all to pick on other school kids. If you were at a school where you are one colour, and everyone else is another colour, then you are sure to get it as the minority. If it weren't for your ethnicity they would have found something else to tease you about. The only way to compare your experience would be to go back in time and do your schooling here :-) I think the point here is that kids often aren't old enough to know better, but adults are!

I too have never been the victim of racism - since I'm white, but I do have many really nice friends from the Balkans, and they are treated really badly. When looking for apartments for example often people just hang up the phone as soon as they hear the first few words.

@richard - yes that doesn't suprise me at all. There are laws against discrimination, but one often sees job adverts which openly state the age and gender for a position - if it is illegal why does it happen? Surely even the newspaper would reject such ads on the grounds that they are illegal? There is a federal office here for the equality of men and women (you'd never guess though!), but this department is usually called something like "Equal Opportunity" or anti-discrimination in other countries. I think the failure to acknowledge that there are more types of discrimination than gender discrimination in the naming of that dept also says something.

I grew up in apartheit-era South Africa (among other places), so I'd like to think I also know something about the ugly side of racism. Thankfully the situation has changed today. My grandfather is still racist, but on the whole the population seems to have overcome their past, and most whites I spoke to do not harbour racist views, or if they do they won't express them openly. How impressive that a nation with such a dark past has made so much progress in just 10 years. When will we see a change here? Usually the hope lies with the young.....
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