Racism has many faces

At several points in my life, I have been confronted with racism. These occurrences were not life threatening but they were hurtful nonetheless. When I started going out with Mr.M, I often heard that he was only with me to have fun on his holiday. You know white guy goes on holiday to South East Asia. He promises the innocent Asian girl that he loves her. But we all know what he is after, right? Wrong! I am glad that I trusted my instincts in this case because Mr. M turned out to be my soul-mate. But he had a hard time convincing others of his honest intentions. Once we were walking down a street and a man passing by on a scooter, shouted profanities at us. Since we were the only ones walking on the path, we assumed he was offended by the fact that we were a mixed couple. We could see his face; he was one from my race.

I live in Germany for more than eleven years now. I am often asked, if I have faced racism during that time. I can only say that wherever I have been, I have been welcomed in a friendly and accepting manner. In fact my physical difference seems to add a certain level of exoticness to my being. People often want to know where I come from and what it is like there. The Germans I have met so far are extremely open to other cultures and love travelling, which I think helps to expand one’s mental horizon. They love foreign cuisine too; evident in the number of döner, pizzeria, Chinese or Thai restaurants in most towns.

Having said that, after we moved to the village we are living in now, I heard from several sources that the area we moved to was a stronghold for neo-nazis. The first time I went to the post office, which is actually integrated into a small store run by an old lady, I was hurt by the abrupt way she treated me. She was grouchy and unfriendly. I assumed that the rumours were true and was in tears when I related my experience to Mr.M. I dreaded going there again but I had to post Christmas cards. This time she was extremely friendly to me and chatted with me for a long time. The next day when I came back to post the second batch of cards, she even told me that she had pasted Christmassy stickers on the cards. She was probably having a bad day when I first met her. However the “news” I had heard caused me to interpret her actions wrongly. Imagine how it would have been, if I had only gone there once? I would have unknowingly and falsely confirmed the racism claims.

However recently I had an upsetting conversation with a German teenager. The teenager was never interested in excelling academically. He has the minimum school education. He was complaining about the fact that he had difficulties finding an apprenticeship. He has been rejected with the explanation that he was not qualified for the position he applied for. I thought he was going to admit that it was a mistake that he did not take school seriously. Instead he said in an angry tone, “Instead of training me, a local citizen, they rather employ skilled workers from overseas. They support foreigners, who only come here for the money.” If you asked him, he would not say that his remark was racist. In fact he feels as if he is being discriminated against. Is this the beginnings of racism? How to make it clear to such people in similar situations that their anger is misdirected?

I watched a documentary on the Ku Klux Klan aka the Knights Party yesterday. The reporter followed members of this group for a certain period of time. One of the men interviewed admitted to being a Neo-Nazi as well. He said that his parents did not share his sentiments. However he has felt the hatred against Jews since he was a child. He hated Jews for being Jewish, not because he was taught at home to hate them or because he was hurt by them.

Where does racism start? Does racism sprout off stereotypes? Do clichés fertilise racist ideas? Like we all have the propensity to do evil; do we all have a racist part in us? Does ignorance and hatred cause this side of us to surface and take over our minds and guide our actions?

It cannot be said often enough, be our differences are only skin deep. Inside we are all the same. We have the same anatomy. The colour of our blood is the same. If you need a blood transfusion to save your life, only the blood type and not the race of the donor matters. The same things can hurt us physically. We go through the same cycle of birth, life and death. Ultimately we all want to live a happy life. Living itself is complicated and it is unnecessary to further complicate it with racism.

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21 thoughts on “Racism has many faces

  1. Michael says:

    Nice post Irene. And nice to know about Mr. M. I agree with what you have written. But surprised to hear this – not too far back. My observation – in many plural societies, racism have evolved quite drastically for the worst. This lead to both sides of the extreme divide fighting ……………….. many wanting things to improve for the better. But, lack the will to accept an update in their mindsets. We also fail to take into consideration the Gen X and Gen Y factors as we continue moving out of sync. Besides, an updated version of liberal and moderate cultural perspective is also lacking as we continue holding-on while facing such issues in our day-to-day life. . .

    • You are right! I once heard that the indians living outside of India are more conservative than those in India. I think this is applicable to any group that has emigrated. People are afraid to lose their cultural identities and they hang onto outdated “ideas” as a form of preservation. While locals feels as if their low living standards are caused by immigrants, who take away what is rightfully their. I saw it happening in Fiji, where the Indian Fijians accuse the native Fijians of being lazy and profiting from their hard work. On the other hand, the natives accuse the Indian Fijians of exploiting and getting rich from their land. Even in Paradise racism races its ugly head.
      Poverty and youth unemployment is a fertile ground for racism to spread or discrimination claims to arise because people believe they are discriminated against because of their race. This might be true in some cases. However in some cases it is not a matter of race but rather not having the right mindset in the first place. How can you live and work in a country without even speaking the language of the locals? How can you expect to have a highly paid job, if you do not put invest in your education and future career.
      Like you said, people fight for an improvement of their own living conditions. I guess racism is not always born out of hate for other races but also out of wanting to protect loved ones and self.

      • Michael says:

        Irene, I am happy to note some clarity in your thoughts now. Remember the man who ……………………. could also mean love, concern and so forth? Unfortunately, it was expressed differently although the intention may have been noble. (Hahaha ………) With regards to the blaming game you just mentioned, this happens everywhere, don’t you think so? As for employment opportunities and careers for our young ones, I think they need to market and brand themselves appropriately to fill the niche. It is a different ball game these days. As for you, your strength is multilingual. So your best chances lies with those companies that have such a need. Oh, not sure if you see my point Irene. Keep smiling !!!

      • Hmmm… Yeah the constraints of depending only on written words to communicate. Wish you a good day! Going to listen to the Dalai Lama talk in New Delhi now. The wonders of modern technology. 🙂

  2. Fascinating post, Irene! As one half of a mixed couple myself, I’ve certainly noticed a lot of strange looks, in all parts of the world from North Africa to New York City. But rarely overt abuse – only once, from a woman on Wall Street who seemed mentally ill and called me a n*****-lover.

    I do think, sadly, that there is a lot of unspoken prejudice around, and a lot of it comes from people like that German teenager you spoke to. Life is unfair on everyone sometimes, and we miss out on opportunities, and it’s easier to say it’s the fault of the foreigners than it is to admit that you weren’t good enough or didn’t try hard enough or just were unlucky. There are plenty of people out there offering ready-made scapegoats for people’s problems and resentments. Fortunately many people are too honest to fall for that, but there are some who do.

  3. Yep, half of a mixed couple here too…we don’t get bothered too much here but I do have one story I think I’m inspired to post…my family was pretty ignorant about it which was classy of them.
    As for the ‘foreigners’ taking the jobs argument, we hear that alot here too.
    So silly.

    • It is easier to pass the blame for having a crappy life to others instead of looking for faults within oneself. Yesterday I was at a soccer match and they played a spot against racism during half time. The slogan was, “Racism begins in the head”. That is absolutely true.
      We haven’t encountered any problems being a mixed couple in Germany. So that is good.
      Cheers!

  4. puva says:

    Hey Irene..I was heartened to read the ending of the post office incident. It is also evident how our perceptions colour our experiences. Also, don’t’ you think we have all been subjects of some kind of prejudice. Coming back to the boy who who refused apprenticeship, the views that he shares are similar to many Singaporeans right now. The government says the locals lack drive however deep down we know there are many economical reasons behind their policies.

    p.s i never written anything so politically correct before hahahahah

    • 🙂 Hi Puva, thanks for dropping by.
      Interesting to hear about the situation in Singapore. During my last visit to Singapore, I thought that it was extremely crowded and truly enough the population had grown by 1 million in 10 years. A lot for a country the size of Singapore. Recently I heard that Singapore is still trying to attract highly qualified workers. It is probably a huge burden for the tiny country to remain the financial power in S.E.Asia. However it is hard for me to believe that Singaporeans lack drive! The Singaporeans I know do nothing but work till they drop dead.
      Wish you a pleasant week ahead!

  5. Hola Irene, very interesting post, did I say to you I’m from Brazil, I’ve heard quite few times that I don’t look like Brazilian, I just don’t understand why not, probably because the racism also, I just don’t make any effort to talk to those people at all, life is so short, we need to be with people that like us the way we are, independent where we are from! ….:)

    • Thanks for sharing your view, Katya.
      I agree with you, live is too short to waste time being upset over the behaviour of others. 🙂
      However it is bad when racism affects our lives or if innocent people get hurt by racist troublemakers.

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