From time to time, news emerges in this Europe which does not fail to prove to me that in fact, we are not moving towards the acceptance of the difference. Quite the contrary: it seems that more and more people think of intolerance towards anything that is different, anything that is not formatted and standardized. It seems that the need to feel secure is directly related to this need to format everything to the same extent. “If you’re like me, you won’t be dangerous from the start,” these little minds will think.
Arrived here, the reader will ask what purpose I am going to speak here in acceptance, in the pressure one feels to normalize the individual, to what topicality I am referring. And I will say, dear reader, that I just scanned a piece of news that said that a primary school teacher in France was dismissed from his post (he had been working for 11 years) and placed in administrative tasks. It’s because? Did the teacher abuse a child? Did something steal? Nothing like. Sylvain Helaine’s “crime” is, according to the press, just that of being the most tattooed man in France. The news is accompanied by a photograph which shows me a fully tattooed human being, including his eyes (which are now completely black), in a procedure which will have been performed in Switzerland, since this is prohibited in France.
PSP, GNR, and prison guards don’t explicitly ban racist tattoos
Looking at the photograph, I can’t tell that it’s something that I consider beautiful or that for me is an expression of art. But I have nothing more to say about photography. Nothing tells me if Sylvain is a good human being or even a good teacher. Nothing in the photo and in these tattoos tells me if Sylvain is a calm human being or, on the contrary, a nervous man, if he is married or single, if he has family and friends or if he is he is lonely. The truth is that the photograph and its image only tell me one thing: I am looking at someone who loves tattoos. Only that.
However, this is not what some parents in France thought, who accused him of “scaring little children” by his appearance. Result: Sylvain was prevented from teaching. The beginning of the news I had access to couldn’t be more illuminating how the world still thinks, beginning the line with a “Would you entrust your elementary school children to this man?” Around here, I have seen information circulating among groups of teachers whose content of the question is much the same: the emphasis is on excessive tattoos, on the image and on the fact that I am working with children of six, seven.
What am I to deduce from the comments I have seen here and there (beyond our borders)? That nothing has changed. I conclude that we continue to judge by appearance. We continue to forgive white collar crimes because, after all, they were carried out by good people, who wore the best suits and designer shoes. We continue to educate in the format. We do not accept the difference. Anything that can be different from a distance is singled out, denied, labeled as scary, and as such should be tucked away and classified out of sight.
The best of Público by e-mail
Subscribe to newsletters for free and receive the best news and the most in-depth work from Público.
Sylvain himself mentions that after a first moment of amazement, his students completely forget that he is different. But those parents don’t want him there. It is not the children who are afraid of him, it is the parents. And so I think as much as we struggle in schools with citizenship classes (which have been so challenged recently), we continue to be far from a society that wants to be inclusive and accepts difference.
I think the children will have no problem accepting Sylvain’s difference, so explain to them that the teacher is different because he decided to be him and that is not the aspect that defines him. Parents who care about their children can take advantage of this and explain to them that in the world we are all different. Taking advantage of this idea, they can explain that some are more different than others. And that it can depend on the will of the person (tattoos, piercings) or on nature itself (a certain type of handicap). And as they explain this, they can take advantage of the packaging and explain that the difference is just that. Superficial, which is in sight. It doesn’t make anyone superior or inferior. Because, as far as I know, “inside” we are all the same, the blood flowing in the veins will be the same color in everyone. Perhaps contact with difference leads these children to become adults who are more tolerant of difference in color, behavior, life, and thoughts. Perhaps it will make them want to live in a society that is actually more inclusive.
Much of the positive could be drawn from Sylvain’s appearance in the education of these future citizens. But it is only me who continue to believe that the world can evolve towards tolerance. However, the truth is that in 2020, intolerance to difference continues to exist. The truth is, we have evolved so much and, after all, it has changed so little. We continue to see hearts only because of the “face” we present.