I consider myself fortunate for having experienced massive amounts of bilateral racism at an early age, while growing up in an Iraqi school in Bulgaria; when I was called "dirty Arab" by the Bulgarians and "stupid Bulgarian" by the Arabs.
This bothered me only shortly, as I soon realized that the Arabs are not aware that the Bulgarians think that they, the Arabs, are darker because they don't wash enough. And hadn't done so for generations. I mean If you have the habit to wash thoroughly, head to toes, five times a day, how would you think that somebody might think that you are dirty? This from one side. And that the Bulgarians weren't aware that the Arabs think that they, the Bulgarians, are stupid because of their poverty and loose moral.
Naturally, never bothered to enlightening neither of them on how they are perceived by the other. But felt personally rather enlightened. And this is where the real benefit of bilingualism resides. To prove the long known truth that The Other is not simply different and worse than us, but also dangerous; my nicknames in my Iraqi school and my Bulgarian neighbourhood were respectively The Witch and The Daughter of Baba Yaga.
To be honest none of this made me suffer. As the teeth of this sort of ignorant racism are funny, tiny milk teeth. Hence, and maybe slightly unexpectedly, I felt totally unprepared to meet the large, grown up and mature teeth of French racism, where at the age of thirty I was informed that I am not white. I was matt, I was told and to my surprise prevented to buy my usual tones of foundation in a large beauty shop. A mean literally refused to be sold my number 2 and offered to buy number 3 of my habitual cosmetic product.
This is how uncontrollably aggressive are France's racist teeth. Whole 15 years later, and more precisely last summer, this particular beauty shop chain closed their shops for a day of training in appropriate behaviour. The problem for me in that timespace spot was that I couldn’t understand what do they mean calling me matt. I mean it hasn’t been self evident when surrounded by brunettes, all of which matt.
I realized what they have meant years later, only after meeting my English manfriend next to whom I always look nicely bronzed. Having finally realized that I am matt, I tried to change my closest people’s perception about me. But, it turned out to be very difficult to convince my English manfriend and my Bulgarian son that I am not white. They don't understand me and laugh at me. “Look, look,” I will tell each of them while putting my hand next to his “I am not white, I am matt”. “Yes, you are white and yes, you are crazy” they will both agree.
There France, go and argue, who is matt and who isn’t.
We could say that French racism in its mature age has developed a complex, the Blond Complex. On French TV all female presenters are blond. False blond that is, if not completely bleached then at least highlighted. The Blond Complex has become a common North Meditaranean Coast Complex in the last years due to the emigration waves - the more you look like the people from whom you try to differentiate the more you change your look (Bulgaria who has very few migrants still has an admiration for dark hairs). Thus when in Ioannina, Greece I unwisely went to the hairdresser armed with useful vocabulary like λευκό κρασί and ερυθρό κρασί and telling myself “I want to experience the Greek look" my hair was decolourated, then bleached to scandinavian blond. Thence, when a year later in Naples, Italy I was asked "Highlights?" I said "No, thank you, dry blow only".
In conclusion it has to be mentioned that racism has positive sides too, for example its codecence. The person focus of racism often is talk to and accompanied as if five year old child. Thus, in France I was systematically given more change back. Whenever I would try to return the extra euro or two, it would be impossible, because obviously people who speak French with an accent can’t count either.