Episode 15: "Shame stops you from trying," with Marcela Kunova

Isabelle Roughol
Isabelle Roughol

"The hostility that you feel, one of the purposes is to make you feel ashamed and to hinder you, to make sure you don't act, or you don't aspire, or you don't fight back."

Marcela Kunova is the editor of journalism.co.uk. She has been an immigrant in four countries in the last 20 years, so she's had time to deconstruct xenophobia. In a deeply personal conversation, we discussed how shame can be internalized and weaponized against immigrants, how it limits us, but also how we can rise in spite of it. We chatted about mental health, vulnerability, belonging, language barriers and how the tide is turning against immigrants. Perhaps the most intimate episode yet.

Sources & credits

Brené Brown's TED talk on shame

My episode on the journalism.co.uk podcast

Music by Dyalla.


Transcript

Transcripts are published for your convenience, but they are automated and not always cleaned up. Please excuses typos and occasional nonsense, and always check the audio before quoting.

[00:00:00] Marcela Kunova: [00:00:00] Shame is a very powerful emotion that truly paralyzes you, that stops you from doing things, that stops you from aspiring, that stops you from trying. The hostility that you feel, one of the purposes is to make you feel ashamed and to to hinder you, to make sure you don't fight back.

[00:00:20]Intro [00:00:20]

[00:00:20]

[00:00:31]Isabelle Roughol: [00:00:31] Hi, I'm Isabelle Roughol and this is Borderline.

[00:00:35] When Marcela Kunova raised her hand to be interviewed for the Borderlives series, exploring the experiences and identities of global citizens, I asked her if she had any themes in mind, a red thread through her life that could guide our conversation.

[00:00:51] "Well," she said, "have you thought about shame?" No I hadn't. And what ensued was a profound and deeply personal conversation that raised a lot of things for me, about the weight that immigrants carry, about how xenophobia is internalized and can hinder us, but also how we can rise nonetheless, and fight the shame that others might pull on us.

[00:01:17] Marcela is Slovak. She's the editor of journalism.co.uk, after a life journey that saw her travel from a Soviet Republic to the far East and back to the European Union. Without further ado, here's my conversation with Marcela

[00:01:38]Interview [00:01:38]

[00:01:38]From Czechoslovakia to Japan [00:01:38]

[00:01:38] Marcela Kunova: [00:01:38] I was born in Slovakia. Well, I was born in Czechoslovakia at the time and I was born in a family with um, my mom who was from Slovakia and my dad who was from Czech Republic. So from  day one, I learned to speak both languages, which you know, in a federal Republic, usually people can kind of understand each other's language, but they will rarely be able to speak.

[00:02:03] And, um, I suppose  this opened up horizons. You know, I just realized that there is not just one country in the world or one language in the world. I think from, you know, when I was a child, uh, , you know, being bilingual or the knowledge that the world is bigger than one country,  was just, was just normal to me. So I suppose it's all kind of started there.

[00:02:21] Isabelle Roughol: [00:02:21] So you, you didn't stop there. Where else did you live around the world?

[00:02:26] Marcela Kunova: [00:02:26] When I was 18, I went to Japan. Now I never really necessarily planned it. I um, found a job , so I lived there for six months and the kind of plan was work for six months, come back, you know, earn enough money and go to university. And that kind of didn't materialize because from Japan,  I went to Italy. And instead of going to university, I did vocational studies and after three years, I left for France. Lived there for seven years, seven years, and then I left for the UK and here I am.

[00:03:07] Isabelle Roughol: [00:03:07] And you never went home inbetween?

[00:03:09] Marcela Kunova: [00:03:09] I actually didn't. No. I mean, apart from, you know, visit or um, . Uh, holidays. I have never returned to, to Slovakia, no.

[00:03:18]You can't go home again [00:03:18]Isabelle Roughol: [00:03:18] What made you go from, "huh, maybe I'll go to Japan" to "I'll spend my entire life living outside of my country"?

[00:03:28] Marcela Kunova: [00:03:28] Um, you know, I think the fact that I never planned made that nothing really happened, in the sense that, you know, I didn't plan to stay away or I didn't plan to return. And because there was no plan, I was just kind of taking it one step at a time. When I went to Japan, Um,  well, I needed a job. It was the very short story of, uh, of uh, of those times. I mean, the, The unemployment was extremely high. There was absolutely no way I could, I could find work in Slovakia, certainly not as an 18 year old. You know, um,

[00:04:01]Isabelle Roughol: [00:04:01] When was this? What year? Hmm,

[00:04:02]Marcela Kunova: [00:04:02] That was 2001, that was 2001.  I mean, when I was young, you know, there was no such thing as, I don't know, fast foods or you know, McDonald's where students would get a job. There just weren't these possibilities. You had work or, or nothing. You weren't doing sort of student jobs , So, you know, I could never probably earn enough money to, to go to university.

[00:04:26]I come from a very poor background. I'm not going to use any euphemism there. My parents couldn't support me. Um, My sister was studying already and I could either work or, or work somewhere else and try to earn more money than, than what I could earn in my home country.

[00:04:42] And yeah, so there, you know, there was this job and I've said, well, you know, "six months, I can do that, um, come back and, and, and study." And then, you know, it just, it just kind of never, it just kind of never happened. You know, I was pushing it and pushing it forward and, you know, so and, you know, so and then one day it didn't happen for 20 years and I, and I never went back.

[00:05:01] Isabelle Roughol: [00:05:01] That's interesting. I think, um, looking back, people are always tempted to put a you know, very coherent narrative on things. But, But often when you're, you're in the middle of it, it's just what's available right now, um, you know,  looking a month ahead or two months ahead, but you rarely really plan a life, do you?

[00:05:22] Marcela Kunova: [00:05:22] No. You know, I suppose  what makes the biggest difference is that I never really felt I have anywhere to go back to. Um, I didn't have very good relationship with my family. So, you know, Going back would mean start again, so I could as well just start again somewhere else. I mean, Apart from being a citizen of a country and being able to speak the language, which is not negligible, but um, I never felt like I had those roots where I can go back or  this safe harbor where I can go back, for me. You know, I could have gone to Slovakia, but it would not have been going back or going home. It never, never really felt that way.

[00:06:05] Isabelle Roughol: [00:06:05] So how did it feel being abroad um, you know, as a young Czechoslovakian, you know, in countries where I assume you didn't speak the language in Japan or in Italy or in France? So how does that, how does that work?

[00:06:23]Marcela Kunova: [00:06:23] When I was 18, I was completely unequipped  to deal with what was going on around me. I've been always a tinkerer. I've been always like, you know, I can, I can do that, you know if I try hard enough, you know, I can do anything.

[00:06:36] And I mean, I've learned I've learned Japanese or "I've learned Japanese:" I was able to have a conversation in Japanese within a couple of months. I could get by. Um, I was working at a karaoke, which, um, you know, it's not like you need the most rich and profound conversations to have with, with people so I could get by. And, um, I was working with a fellow Slovakian, so I wasn't completely isolated. I mean, there was someone I could speak to. um, But um, you know, that, that, that felt temporary. You know, I just thought, you know, six months is you know,  long, but it's not forever. So I can, I can deal with that. Um,

[00:07:10]Meeting shame in Italy [00:07:10]

[00:07:10] When I came to Italy, um, I, I really wanted to sort of stay there. you know, I needed to go somewhere. Going back to Slovakia was not really an option at the time. And so, you know, I, I just tried really hard. I went to language school, I obviously needed a visa. Um, But, uh, at that time, so it was 2002, um, um, I don't know how much you know about uh, sort of Italian politics, but it was really a time when the Lega Nord, so the, the Italian far-right party, was really gaining power, especially in Northern Italy and um, the anti-immigration rhetorics and the anti-immigration sentiment was really, really strong.

[00:07:48]One anecdote that really illustrates it was, um, when I uh, decided to become a beautician, because I didn't have any better idea of what to do with my life. So I went to this beautician school. Uh, The fee I still remember was 2000 euros a year, and I obviously needed a visa. So I went to the school and I said, you know, "Is there any possibility to pay a deposit in case I don't get the visa so I don't, I don't lose two grand?" And the secretary kind of looked me up and down making absolutely sure that I sensed that gaze and said: "Well, it's not possible." I asked why. And she said, "Well, clearly, what you want is a visa. And then God knows what you're going to do with it." Implying obviously I was a prostitute because I was clearly Eastern European and blonde and young. So what else could I possibly want in my life than being a prostitute and not study at a school?

[00:08:41] And the resolution of that was even more humiliating than this. My then- boyfriend came with me to the school confirming that I am his girlfriend and not a prostitute. And therefore, you know, that validated it basically, you know. An Italian said, you know, I'm his property in a strange way. So, um, Then I was allowed to pay a deposit and apply for a visa, and then I got it and I could study.

[00:09:05] But just the, the constant suspicion or, how do I say it, not only make you feel you don't belong, just make you feel like you should be someone else or you should never aspire to be who you are not meant to be. That was really tough. I mean, that eventually made me leave after three years.

[00:09:29] Isabelle Roughol: [00:09:29] Wow. Um, Tell me about, a bit more about that when you said it makes you feel like you shouldn't be who you are. How does that play with your sense of identity which is already complex when you live in a bunch of different countries, as you did?

[00:09:51]How shame hinders you [00:09:51]Marcela Kunova: [00:09:51] I mean, listen: being young, being in your early twenties it's is tough as it is. I mean, Lots of people struggle with their identity and who they are and where they belong. So when you form this identity in a place where you very genuinely do not belong, uh, by the fact that you, you don't know the language, you don't know really anyone there, that, that obviously doesn't make it any easier.

[00:10:09] But I think  one of the things that I've learned very quickly was to feel shame. I think it's, it's something that is really important to talk about, especially when, when people are foreigners, because you know, shame is something that gets put on you in a way. You are made to feel unworthy or inadequate, or you know, you can't do something because you are not good enough to do it. Um, you know, And I internalized it because  I did not know any, any Slovakian, not even any foreigner for that matter. I lived in a very small town.  So  I was really sticking out.

[00:10:48] And, um, you know, at the time,  you know, I didn't have words or concepts to, to think about  how someone is making me feel. I genuinely believed I was not good enough, or you know, I have to try twice as hard to get half the recognition, or you know, I probably deserve to be treated this way because I am trying to live a life that doesn't belong to me. Um, you know, I don't belong to this place.

[00:11:13] And it took me years to understand that you know, I don't have to accept this or you know, that there's absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. But you know, shame is a very powerful emotion that truly paralyzes you, that stops you from doing things, that stops you from aspiring, that stops you from trying. you know, It can be something as little as, because you feel shame for your accent, you know, you, you will not correct a waiter if they get your order wrong in the restaurant and eat something you hate because you don't want to speak up.

[00:11:43]I didn't understand it at the time, I understand it now with hindsight: this hostility, you know, when you talk about sort of far right and um, you know, racism, um, you know, the, the hostility that you feel, one of the purposes is to make you feel ashamed and to to hinder you, to make sure you don't act or you don't aspire, or you don't fight back.

[00:12:08] Isabelle Roughol: [00:12:08] You know, you just made me realize something, which is...  uh, back in journalism school, in the US, I didn't go into radio because I was very self-conscious about my accent. So I've always loved radio, it's always been my primary medium. I've always wanted to do you know, podcasting and all that. But I didn't until this year, and a lot of it was shame, which I didn't realize until now. Wow. You just blew my mind.

[00:12:36] Marcela Kunova: [00:12:36] I know. And so many foreigners, you know, and it can go to different degrees and obviously, you know, shame , it's a universal human emotion. That's really, really important that you know, that we have this conversation because you know, shame is linked to vulnerability and vulnerability is never good, right? Because you know, it's equaled with weakness. Um, But that, you know, that that's, that's not it.

[00:12:57] And you know, I know so many foreigners or people who just go to a different country who suddenly freeze.  You function at 10% of who you are because you are just ashamed to open your mouth and speak with an accent, because of the fear of being judged or maybe being laughed at. Or being just told, you are somehow not good enough,  your accent is not good enough, you don't belong. And  this fear of not belonging  or the  need to belong is one of the fundamental human instincts.

[00:13:29] When someone tells you, you don't belong here, you don't have the tribe, you're not going to be accepted and protected, that is extremely scary if you're in a place where you don't know anyone or  where you do not belong and you try to belong. I do understand why mainly foreigners  genuinely do feel paralyzed to a certain degree, by the shame of, of being who they are or to speak up or to just appear foreign or sound foreign, because  you do get pushback.

[00:14:00] Isabelle Roughol: [00:14:00] How much of that do you think is imposed from the outside? People telling you, you don't belong here and obviously the Northern League is the most obvious, in your face expression of that. , And how much of it is  just internalized from all the insecurities that you usually feel, especially in your early twenties?

[00:14:22] How self-worth helps you battle shame [00:14:22] Marcela Kunova: [00:14:22] Absolutely. So, shame is, you do need to learn to accept what people are telling you. So someone who's talking much better about chamber to me is an American researcher called Brené Brown, and I urge all your listeners to look up her Ted talk on shame.

[00:14:43]One of the things  you need to learn is to sort of care about what other people say. And then you, you do, you know. Whoever says "Oh, I don't care"  is probably not perfectly honest. Uh, But one thing that I've learned too, to deal with the feeling of shame is  that you realize that you don't have to take what someone wants to give you. Someone says "you're not good enough because you can't pronounce R" or "because you don't sound good enough, you can't be on the radio." You don't have to accept that. You know, You can say, "Oh, I'm a great presenter and I really love this show and my French accent is actually really cute."

[00:15:19] You don't have to accept what you hear, but to arrive there, you need to have some degree of, of sense of self worth and you need support. I don't think anyone can just do it only on their own. You need to have some kind of roots, some kind of base where you can draw this strength from and push back.

[00:15:39] And,  I think many Many people, when they go abroad, this support network weakens.  Family and friends are far away. They are not so much part of your everyday life even with all the technology and WhatsApp and Skype and whatnot.  You don't feel that safe and when you don't feel safe, you flight, fight or freeze.

[00:16:00]  I think it's really important for people  to know that they don't have to accept it, but to arrive there, you need to have some source of strength.

[00:16:09] Isabelle Roughol: [00:16:09] Where did you draw yours from?

[00:16:12] Marcela Kunova: [00:16:12] My strength? Um, well, I suppose the short answer to this would be  therapy. Where I, for different reasons, finally decided I need to just sort my head out. And that's where I learned loads of these things. My whole life, I just wanted to do things, you know, I, I wanted to be journalist and I wanted to study.  I graduated with distinction despite the fact that I, I, you know, barely spoke the language. Um, And I am, I am a very determined person. I have always been a very determined person. I think that it's, it's my character trait. I had to build loads of resilience when, when I was a kid and there's probably feistiness, um, is, is part of my character. So sometimes when I get really, really pushed around, I get very, very angry and I fight back and I suppose that kind of kept me going.

[00:17:01] Isabelle Roughol: [00:17:01] uhum. Yeah, I mean you would have to, to do the things you did without necessarily a lot of family support. Um, yeah, you, You would need to have that strength. I love that you talk about therapy because I think, you know, mental health comes with so much stigma and I think, especially in immigrant communities, it's harder to talk about or it's less talked about.

[00:17:26] There is no innovation without vulnerability [00:17:26] Marcela Kunova: [00:17:26] But you know, I think one, one thing where you know, there is this conversation happening around sort of mental health. There is another conversation happening about sort of innovation and change and you know, resilience. And I think we somehow don't link the two. You know, Being vulnerable to me is the condition of innovation or change.  you know, You need to admit, you know, anything can happen, you know, I'm not safe and yet I try and yet I act and yet, you know, I do something. you know, This vulnerability is  you know, the, the, the fundamental condition of, of actually doing something, you know, making a change or, or doing something that has never been done before.

[00:18:11] And, you know, I I really you know, would like to normalize this conversation around um, just simply vulnerability. You know, When you're a foreigner in a foreign country, you are more vulnerable. It is justified. You don't have a support network. You don't really know how the system works. You have to work it out. You know, If something happens to you, you might not have a safety net. You know, You are objectively more vulnerable than if you were back in your country.

[00:18:39] And you know, sometimes this vulnerability also you know, just gives you the opportunity to, to be creative and  you know, to do things, to, to try something new, to turn your life around or to create something, you know, at work or in you know, your personal life. And it can be a fantastic source of strength and of inspiration.

[00:18:59] Isabelle Roughol: [00:18:59] But of course it's the great irony that because of all these extra difficulties when you're an immigrant ,  you put the walls up, right? Because, you know , there is that aggression that's coming from the outside and because  you might be a little lost in a new place , you put the walls up as a defense mechanism, which, is the opposite of what you're talking about, which is leaving space and leaving a door open for, for change and for personal innovation.

[00:19:35] Marcela Kunova: [00:19:35] Hmm. I mean, I think putting some defense up is probably a good idea because when you feel vulnerable, you need to do something to make you feel safe. And then you can draw the strength from there when you grow. You know, It's a bit like when you're a little plant and you know, you grow in a little glass house. You first need to grow a little bit, to be able to replant it outside. Um, So I think it's, it's probably necessary to put a certain degree of defense mechanism in place initially, until you feel strong enough to kind of come out of that shell and then go forward.

[00:20:10]Where it starts to be a problem is when you just remain in that shell, because shame keeps you there and you still don't feel worthy enough to, you know, Isabelle, go out and have your radio show or have your podcast, or be in front of the camera, and when it, when it actually hinders who you could be and who you aspire to be.

[00:20:29]Patreon appeal [00:20:29]

[00:20:29]

[00:20:30]Isabelle Roughol: [00:20:30] Hey, I hope you're enjoying this conversation with Marcela. Don't go away. Just a quick message from your host.

[00:20:37] I need 11 more patrons just to keep the lights on, on Borderline. That's not for my time. It's just to cover the basic software cost of producing the podcast, transcripts, editing, website, etcetera.

[00:20:49] I need 11 people to pledge five pounds a month, and my goal is to find them by Christmas. So if you want to help me end this awful year on a good note and keep Borderline going into 2021, please go to borderlinepod.com or look for Borderline on Patreon and become a member. All it is is a pledge of five pounds a month, that's a nice latte these days. You can also pay in euros or in dollars, so don't worry about nasty bank fees. You'll get every episode early, more content, access to live events, and join a growing community of global citizens.

[00:21:23] And you'll make me very happy for Christmas. In fact to those next 11 members, I'll definitely be sending a Christmas card. With some swag, maybe a care package, maybe I'll bake. Who knows? For 11 people there's a lot I can do. So be one of those early ones, go to borderlinepod.com or look for Borderline on Patreon. And thank you so much for listening and for helping me do this.

[00:21:46]

[00:21:47]When the challenges of youth, language and immigration collide [00:21:47]  I think you um,  hit on something that's interesting, which is that all these things that happen to you when you're a new immigrant, they often you know,  happen to you when you're young as well, because  most immigrants, you know, it's a decision they usually make earlier in life. You have a lot  fewer middle-aged uh, new immigrants because you know, it's just a different time in life.

[00:22:08] So you're you know, doing things that require a huge amount of maturity while you know, you're not very mature yet because, because you're 20 years old. Um, And those two things collide for a lot of people, I think.

[00:22:22] Marcela Kunova: [00:22:22] Oh, God, yes. And, you know, I always say I never, ever want to be 20 again, in my entire life. I mean, It's hard because you know, you are meant to act like an adult, uh, which you technically are, but then you are not. And you know, I suppose even just knowing the language of a country where you go is a massive help, you know, it wasn't the case for me. And you know, when your vocabulary is 400 words and you just can't express what you're trying to express, it's, almost like when you're a toddler, you know: you have the emotion and you don't have words to express it and you throw a tantrum because you just don't have any better way to express them.

[00:22:59] And I wasn't throwing many tantrums, not that I remember. Um, but you know, it, it emotionally gets really, really tough you know, to have ideas, to have a very clear idea of what you want to say, but not have the vocabulary to actually express it or not having the concept to express it. Again, that, that kind of shame comes in there because you know, this is what I can ask for, this is what I need, but I, I can't, I'm not able to, I'm not capable of. And, and, you know, then you start to scale back on what  you need or what you can ask for, because you just practically cannot put it in words.  When you're building your life, your career or studies or relationships, that initial phase of being able to understand and also be understood is extremely important.

[00:23:48]Moving to France [00:23:48]  Isabelle Roughol: [00:23:49] I'm curious then why after you had finally mastered that in Italy, you moved to France where you had to start all over again. like, like, Are you a sucker for punishment? Why?

[00:24:03] Marcela Kunova: [00:24:03] Put like that... um, no. The simple truth is that I, I had to leave Italy where this situation became for me untenable, personally and professionally as well. And I met someone, simple as that, and I moved to France with him. So I followed love.

[00:24:21] you know, I moved to, to France and I moved to Alsace to be more precise.  I took some time to heal, I suppose. I took about three or four months where I just really, you know, I just needed to breathe and kind of get over um, everything that happened  uh, in the last few months in Italy. And I took this time to learn French, uh, which, as you know Isabelle, is a very complicated language, especially pronunciation wise. So, you know, talk about being self-conscious. Uh, But you know, I mean, within -- um, what was it? -- five months, six months I went and applied for a job. And I finally went to university age 23, by the time when my schoolmates from high school were finishing their master's, I only started the first year. And, um, you know, it was all worth it. I mean,

[00:25:13]The changing mood in the UK [00:25:13]

[00:25:13] Isabelle Roughol: [00:25:13] You're in the UK now.

[00:25:15]How long have you been here?

[00:25:17] Marcela Kunova: [00:25:17] Since 2011 so nine years.

[00:25:20] Isabelle Roughol: [00:25:20] Okay. Okay. So that's, that's your longest stay.

[00:25:23] Marcela Kunova: [00:25:23] That is my longest streak, yeah.

[00:25:26]Isabelle Roughol: [00:25:26] Is it, Is it home now? Is this, Is this for good? Do you think you're going to be traipsing around the world again? Or how do you feel about the future?

[00:25:32] Marcela Kunova: [00:25:32] You know what? I, I genuinely hope not. I had my fair share of, of starting over and, uh, you know, it,  it should get easier every time, but I think it got more difficult every time. I mean, Especially when I got to the UK,  I just felt "Ah, again...." It's just, it's wearing it's it's, it's, it's really, it's tiring.

[00:25:51] So if, unless anything happens, I, I hope this is it.  I bought a house, I'm married, uh, I have a dog.  I like this country and you know, one thing that that really changed for me, and, you know, kind of circling back to the sort of behavior or feeling of vulnerability or shame, I mean, despite everything that people say, the UK is a much more tolerant country on the whole than any place I've ever been. Um, you know, Not like there are not racists or there are not people who  you know,a are xenophobic, but at least it is socially unacceptable. Whereas in places where I lived, uh, you know, you could openly belittle or threaten a foreigner. It would be encouraged. You know, the, the, Making someone feel like they don't belong or that they're potentially in danger, was encouraged and was seen as a sign of patriotism and in the UK, at least to a certain degree, I think people managed to suppress that and to genuinely promote tolerance as a value. And I never felt as welcomed in any country, as I felt here.

[00:27:03] Isabelle Roughol: [00:27:03] That's interesting. I think we have a different, very different experience of the UK.

[00:27:07] Marcela Kunova: [00:27:07] I suppose it very much depends where you're from. There is definitely a thing, like sort of international hierarchy of countries where you can be, and, you know, it varies from cool to, to embarrassing.

[00:27:19] Isabelle Roughol: [00:27:19] Well, I would think that as an Eastern European, you would have a harder  time than I do. Um, because you know, of all the bad clichés that come with Brexit. But I think for me the UK is the first place that I feel like I've really been made to feel like an immigrant. And I think it's probably because I arrived right, right after the Brexit referendum, and then things just, there's just a political discourse.

[00:27:50] At the same time, I mean, I agree with you. Um, I have found London to be extremely welcoming. I've found the journalism community to be extremely welcoming, more than even in my own country. Like in Paris, I always felt like an outsider.

[00:28:02]Um, And so that's been really lovely and kind of like you, you know, the more into my late thirties I go, the less I want to pack everything up again and start over. Cause like, I've done that five times, I'm over it. But, um, but the politics are, I think, are the ugliest politics that I've had to experience, but then again, I wasn't in Italy with the Northern league so...

[00:28:33] Marcela Kunova: [00:28:33] But you know, you do, you do point some, something really important, and that is that since the Brexit referendum, Uh, things are changing. And I think people are more on the edge and, um, the, the sort of anti-immigrant rhetoric is um, definitely growing. And I'm kind of, not even sure people entirely understand it.

[00:28:51]Um, you know There are sort of concepts that become commonplace or just become accepted. You know, "Oh foreigners or you Europeans," you know, I don't know, steal in shops or whatever. It's something that would be laughed at before the referendum. Now it became this, this sort of universally accepted truth that no one even... not no one, but  few people really challenge. And that climate of hostility is becoming a little bit more normalized. So I do partially feel it.

[00:29:20]Isabelle Roughol: [00:29:20]  Yes. I think for me it's oddly made me a bit more aware that I am part of the whole immigrant experience. Um, By that I mean, as a white woman on an EU passport I'm incredibly privileged when I travel around the world. , And I never really have to ask myself many questions about where am I allowed to go , and where will I be accepted and things like that.

[00:29:50]And, um, And suddenly with the whole Brexit discourse, it's like, "Oh right. I am an immigrant actually." And it's it's, um, jolted me, shook me out of this complacency um, and this you know, selfish attitude in a way too. You know, not it's, It's pushed me to think about the, the whole immigrant experience and the whole of immigrants as a group that should be uh, in solidarity, even if we all have extremely different experiences. I think it's woken me up a little bit.

[00:30:22] Marcela Kunova: [00:30:22] Hundred percent. You know, I lived outside of European union. Um, you know, I went through visas and permits to stay and permits to work and you know, permits to, to do whatever. And you know, how many times I, you know, I have traveled through the border and were controlled by armed police. Uh, you know, I have that experience and I think people underestimate how much things can change after Brexit, you know? It's not because UK was part of the European union, that it will forever be accepted.

[00:30:55] And, And I think that what worries me the most is that hostility very often gets mirrored. When you get hostile you know, towards a community or country or state, um, It, it very often kind of comes back. Um, And I don't want to see that happen. You know, I don't want to queue at any border anymore and having my fingerprints being taken just in case.  All these experiences are, again, are humiliating. Not because you should be ashamed um, but because you know, you are made to feel like you don't belong or you're potentially not good enough.

[00:31:28] Isabelle Roughol: [00:31:28] Yeah, I had that experience for the first time the last time I entered the UK. Um, and it was, it was pretty traumatic. A border patrol woman, border force, whatever they call it here, who stopped my car and asked me like four times, "Where are you going? Where are you going?" I was like, I'm going home. Here I am driving a British car. Here's my British driver's license. Here's my EU passport which gives me freedom of movement still, at least until the end of the year. It was extremely aggressive and I'm afraid that this is going to become more common.

[00:32:07] Marcela Kunova: [00:32:07] And, when  you go and register your um, stay in the country and your picture gets taken like a mugshot and then your 10 fingerprints get taken. And I asked, um, this was in Italy, and I asked "what, why, why are you taking people's fingerprints?" And, And, you know, the, the police just looked at me and said, "well for the future."

[00:32:26] Isabelle Roughol: [00:32:26] Oh, wow.

[00:32:31] Marcela Kunova: [00:32:31] So that sets the tone. Um, So you know, it all adds up. I'm not talking you know, micro-aggression, I'm talking about practical obstacles to making you feel  like you are safe or you are, you are okay to be somewhere. Um, So yeah, I very much hope uh, we are not going to see that, but  from very practical experience and from just seeing what's going on around the world, um, thanks things might get um,  more hostile. I mean, At least that's what I'm preparing myself for.

[00:33:10]Do you think thatIsabelle Roughol: [00:33:10] all these attitudes are kind of like weaponizing the sense of shame? You know, I'm wondering if, if it's done with the knowledge that it will discourage people from from, settling here or staying here because of that sense of shame. Or if it's just, maybe I'm overthinking this, maybe it's just basic human aggression. I don't know.

[00:33:35] Marcela Kunova: [00:33:35] The interesting thing about shame is that it is correlated with violence, with destruction, but also with eating disorders, depression or self-harm. Unlike guilt, you know, guilt is when you do something wrong and you make a mistake and then you feel, you've done something that is not in line with your values and you feel guilty, that will correct your behavior. You will try not to do something, so you don't feel guilty.

[00:33:59] Shame is not "I made a mistake." It's "I am a mistake." It's not, "I've done something wrong." It is, "I am wrong." So   this shame, when you internalize it, it might very well contribute to, to self-harming, but it might also contribute to violence, uh, where white people who are ashamed will want to push back or, or fight. Um, So this is , where my, my biggest fear is. Where uh, communities feel like they have been somehow downgraded because of immigration and they feel shame of  not protecting their national pride, et cetera. And then the shame put on the immigrants: "you don't belong. You're not good enough." And that can actually escalate into violent conflict that, that, um, you know, the basis of it is, is really shame.

[00:34:48] And to kind of go to your point, definitely making people feel somehow not worthy is an attempt to discourage them from trying to, to blend in or to assimilate. Because that lots of people see multiculturalism as, as genuine threat to their coherent community and, you know, making someone feel not safe is an attempt to say "don't even try to settle."

[00:35:23] Isabelle Roughol: [00:35:23] Well, thank you so much for this conversation. You've You've just given me so much to think about. I hadn't really thought about the shame angle. Um, But it makes so much sense at the individual and at the collective level too, to be looking at that. And, uh, yeah. Shame. No good. Don't feel it.

[00:35:41] Marcela Kunova: [00:35:41] And that is a very good conclusion. Despite that it is a universal emotion, You, you can, you can, you know, you can give it back. If someone wants to make you feel ashamed, you can just say "no, this is not for me. This is a parcel that arrived at the wrong address. Just take it back. I'm not taking it." And that, that is the only way to survive. Or survive? To thrive!

[00:36:03]Outro [00:36:03]

[00:36:03]  Isabelle Roughol: [00:36:05] Thrive we shall, indeed. Maybe not in 2020, surviving is okay right now, but soon enough we'll thrive.  What Marcella brought home for me is the incredible danger of internalizing xenophobia and how it limits us in our own minds, in our expectations of what we can achieve and of what we should demand of ourselves and of others.

[00:36:27]I stand in awe and in eternal gratitude to people willing to open up their lives and share such intimate details with a nosy podcaster like me. So a huge thank you to Marcela Kunova.

[00:36:39] This was not a quid pro quo, but incidentally, I also recently spoke on the podcast that she edits,  hosted by Jacob Granger.  So, if you want to listen to it, just look for the journalism.co.uk podcast on your usual platform, or find the link in the show notes.

[00:36:55] If you too would like to come onto Borderline, if you have topics you'd like me to cover ideas for guests that I should invite, please do reach out. Honestly, that's the hardest part of the job and I'm always looking and open to recommendations. Reach out. I'm easy to find on all the social media or on borderlinepod.com where you'll find my email.

[00:37:13] Remember you can support Borderline by becoming a member.  I am looking for at least 11 people to get my accounts from red to green by Christmas, which is appropriately seasonal. So join now on Borderlinepod.com or look for Borderline on Patreon and you'll get your Christmas care package.

[00:37:31] Isabelle: [00:37:31] Remember to subscribe so you never miss an episode and also to rate and review and share the podcast with your friends. It really helps me to grow the audience.  And sign up for the newsletter, it comes out once or twice a week with a lot more goodness than I can fit into the podcast.

[00:37:45] I'm your host, Isabelle Roughol and this was Borderline. Music by Dyalla. I'll talk to you soon.

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Isabelle Roughol

Journalist. Founder & host of Borderline. Former international editor of LinkedIn, foreign editor at Le Figaro, reporter at The Cambodia Daily. Global soul, messy accent.


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