Anti-racism organizations and ethnic-group activists in France are trying to link those who complain about noise on buses, trains, and subways with racism.
The question is not just about how immigration is leading to record population levels in Western countries, which means more people in cars, buses, and on the streets and invariably increases noise pollution, but also how these different ethnic groups and cultures conduct themselves in relation to “noise,” all the way from personal conversations on a bus to how they celebrate weddings and other events.
According to the anti-racist North African interest group, NEOIFRI, those who express concerns about people speaking too loudly or making claims like “your weddings are to noisy,” are guilty of the new term “volume racism.”
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Europe, which features a culture that traditionally values quiet and a respect for lower volumes in public spaces, is unlike much of the rest of the world, where noise reins supreme. The issue has led to public laws being changed in France, as Muslims and different non-European groups are known to conduct, for example, loud weddings that can cause public disturbances and feature convoys of cars honking their horns. Some of these weddings have even become dangerous, resulting in French municipalities in Seine-Saint-Denis, Alsace, and even Vaucluse and Bouches-du-Rhône establishing strict noise pollution laws to guarantee quiet for the citizens. The politicians behind the laws argue that they are necessary due to loud horns and “urban rodeos,” which involve drivers doing tricks and skidding out their vehicles in circles, which have even resulted in the death of young pedestrians.
The phenomenon of honking Muslim car convoys is not just relegated to France either; this video from Germany demonstrates it is a typical spectacle in cities across that country as well.
In 2012, the current mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi, announced that weddings at the town hall of his city should occur without shouting, whistles, foreign flags, or unauthorized “folk” music, with such infractions penalized with a 24-hour wedding ban until the rules are complied with. The move created a backlash from the city’s left-wing opposition, which claimed it led to the “stigmatization of people from Maghreb countries.” The mayor, however, countered that these behaviors were “likely to disturb (…) the tranquility [of residents] and the solemnity of the moment.”
However, the issue grows even more contentious at the personal level. Many Middle Easterners are known to speak at a higher volume level while simply talking on the phone or in personal conversations, and while there are no studies on the phenomenon, there are forum topics on the issue across the web, with many of the Arab respondents admitting it is simply a part of their culture to be loud.
In fact, the American-Palestinian anti-racist activist Sbeih, who has over 750,000 followers on TikTok and who actually claimed to coin the phrase “volume racism,” says himself that Black and Brown people are simply “loud” and White people need to deal with it.
“I’m Arab and I’m Filipino, there can be three people in one room, and it will sound like it’s 50. There’s just no escaping it, and that’s considered normal to us. When we’re talking, it might sound like we’re arguing to other people, but that’s just how we talk. And you just gotta accept it; you can’t just expect everyone to speak at the same volume as you, Kristen,” said Sbeih, who uses derogatory terms for White people throughout the video, referring to them as “Karens” or “Kristens.”
He also claims that “volume racism” only applies to White people.
“Volume racism, ok, this is where White people will discriminate with Black or Brown folk because of our volume. Whether it’s how loud we speak, how loud we engage with each other, or how loud our gatherings or our music or our weddings,” he said while explaining the term.
Others like feminist activist Elsa Miské, also known as Zazem, have praised the term and piled on against White people who enjoy lower noise levels in public settings.
“This concept is brilliant and hyper-relevant, for example, when you are in a restaurant and there are White people who come to the table of racialized people to tell them that they are making too much noise,” said Miské, creator of an “anti-racist and postcolonial” web show.
However, even within the cultures and people of Europe, there is a certain degree of difference about what level of noise is acceptable. For example, Northern Europeans are the most known for valuing low noise levels, whereas in Mediterranean countries such as Italy or Spain, people are known for speaking more loudly and tolerating more noise.
“In Northern Europe, in the French bourgeoisie, speaking rather softly is synonymous with good education,” said the historian Virginie Girod, a specialist in antiquities. “But to say that speaking loudly would be the prerogative of racialized people is an intellectual manipulation. The Latins speak loudly, and they are Caucasians. These are cultural codes that vary in space and time.”
Are White people allowed to complain about noise?
Undoubtedly, cultures outside of Europe and certain Asian nations, such as Japan and South Korea, are noisy, loud, and often unsettling to Europeans, who normally place a high value on simple quiet. Anyone who has paid a visit to India, for example, is all too familiar with the habit of drivers endlessly honking their horns in mass numbers. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) lists Delhi as the city with the worst noise pollution in the world, and city governments across India have been forced to take action against a populace that appears unable to refrain from honking their horns, including raising fines for honking and putting up signs across cities in India urging motorists not to needlessly honk their horns.
When it comes to the divide between Europeans and others, it is not just noise pollution. Other issues like LGBT rights, support for the separation of church and state, child marriage, female genital mutilation, behavioral issues in schools, and sexual violence against women all sharply call into question the multicultural states championed by progressive forces.
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Countries like Hungary have rejected multiculturalism and mass migration, with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán lamenting that Europe’s embrace of mass migration will not only dilute Europe’s vibrant cultures but also lead to various social ills.
“I also see that law enforcement and police are on the streets, and yet there is a wave of violence. Statues are being toppled, the conditions are deplorable, and there are gang wars on the beautiful streets of small towns in civilized Western European countries,” Orbán said in 2020. “I look at the countries of those who are advising us on how to conduct our lives properly and on good governance, the proper operation of democracy, and I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.”