I made the realisation today that I am a racist. Yes. I say this unabashedly like a person who has just realised that a summer of going to the beach has brought them a new mole. They inspect this new mole as neither a welcome or unwelcome new part of themselves and simply accept that it is unlikely to go away. Is my new found trait, like the new found mole, unlikely to go away? Probably yes, so how did an educated, liberal-minded, post-modern hippy like me, who has friends from all religions, races and creeds find herself a racist? I will tell you how…
Imagine that you live in a paradise. You live in a beautiful natural place that is so wonderful, it is considered the place to visit by the people of your country. They come in droves during the summer to take in what wonders your paradise has to offer. So too, do people from around the world, in fact the richest people in the world spend weeks sailing their super yachts around the peninsula where your paradise lies. The people of this paradise make their living catering in various manners to all of these visitors. They are proud of their home and happy to share it. They work exceedingly hard during the months when the place is filled with new faces and during the months that it isn’t they relax and spend time with their families. Of course, life isn’t perfect, even in paradise, but compared to other places in this vast world it is wonderful.
One spring day another type of visitor arrives. A visitor that is fleeing their homeland because of war, violence and instability. The people of your paradise are saddened by these visitors’ plight and set about helping them. They give the food, clothing, blankets, money and many other essential things for themselves and their children. Soon as more and more of these visitors start arriving the government of your paradise decides that these visitors need more organised help so it brings the visitors together in a place where they can be housed and fed. Where they can sleep in a bed and not in the children’s park or on a sidewalk. Where they can have proper sanitation instead of beautifully tended bushes. Where they can have three free meals a day instead of eating whatever private citizens and businesses afford them. Where they can live with dignity just like all of the people in paradise.
Soon however, the government of the paradise discovers a problem: the visitors do not want to live like them. Instead they want to live like they live but in the people’s paradise. This would not be a problem per se except that the way they want to live is a blight on the paradise. It affects the local people’s and the yearly visitors’ enjoyment of the place. These new visitors want to sleep out in the open. They want local people to bring them their old cloths, to have them buy diapers for their new babies, to ask foreign visitors for money. The local government thinks that perhaps the visitors were not happy with where it initially took them, so it finds a different place for the visitors, but after moving them to five different places and asking them to try living there instead of paradise, they just keep coming back. Now their presence is no longer just a problem it is a disfigurement. It is a fundamental change in paradise that renders it no longer what it was before; it is now paradise lost. Soon the usual visitors become less and less. The lack of visitors causes hardship to the local people because they cannot earn enough money for the winter. This in turn affects the local economy and the taxes that the government relies upon. Eventually, the government will not be able to sustain paradise as it did once before. Paradise is ruined. You decide to leave paradise. You find a house close to enough to it but away from the memory of what once was a heaven on earth and is no longer… Your heart is broken. You feel only disdain and hatred for the foreigners who put their selfish needs before that of those who lived here for generations.
So that’s it. Would you feel the same? Are you a saint who would still give help to these people as many in my town do, or would you be like me and admit hating the sight of them? Yes, hate, such a strong word isn’t it, but one that although you have never really known you find yourself embracing as easily as a new summer mole on your suntanned arm. Of course I have relayed the development of my hatred against one group of individuals in allegory so as to render it universal enough so that the reader can understand the psychology of racism and how it can be adopted by any reasonable person. For if you read attentively then you will have gleaned the following from what I said and it is this: racism occurs when one group of people hold another group of people as the ‘other’. As entities that are not equal and same to themselves. Merriam Webster online dictionary defines racism as: a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race. The interesting thing in my story is this that upon my first encounter with our ‘visitors’ I considered them to be no different to myself, however their continual differential actions caused me to realise that they are not the same as me at all. In fact their actions are not understandable, they are deplorable; they are antisocial and harmful. This causes me to hold them in a very low regard and from time to time to even feel hatred towards them. Let me explain further…
It is clear that the group of people who have left Northern Syria and fled to Turkey and who subsequently left the refugee camps where they had food, shelter, clothing, not to mention education and who have now decided that Bodrum is their new home, do not practice birth control. Now, I can accept that people do not practice birth control because that it their right. I remember watching the news in Canada just over two years ago when ISIS were terrorizing the Yazidi population and hearing my parents agree that ‘they’ had too many children. I took immediate umbrage to their statement. Whatever is wrong with living a quiet life where you can provide for the members of your family and can extend that family without worry to your subsistence? Granted it is not a Western middle class sort of upbringing that these children will have. I mean no one is getting well educated: there are no violin lessons and hockey camps, but if there is love and basic needs then who are we to judge? The Yazidi and the entire people of Syria didn’t have a crystal ball to tell them that there would be a war? They lived their normal lives which included having children until because of the war raging around them, they could they could no longer do so. I once asked my Grandmother why my father was an only child and she looked at me incredulously, and said: Because there was a war on! Having lived through it, she understood that, even one child having to go through war, is one too many. So why bring a child into a war situation needlessly? Go back to point A. If people do not practice birth control then they do not practice birth control – war or no war, but a man who chooses to not consider the possible new life he will create unless he keeps it in his pants is not a very thoughtful man. A man who because of his own desire brings a child into war is one thing but what about one that brings a child into a world of a refugee camp which he then chooses to leave with his new born and his pregnant wife. How would it make you feel to see a 6 months pregnant woman carrying a 6 month old baby as she and her husband walk down the street begging? I know how it made me feel…
The Turks do practice birth control and more than one Turkish man has expressed his surprise at our guests’ fecundity in this time of strife and displacement. Despite their opinions however, the Turkish are passionate about children and every single couple with a baby who arrive to beg on our streets is furnished with a push chair. When I look at my tattered cheap push chair compared to the ones given to these parents, I marvel at the generosity of people. The donators gave of their things freely because they could not stand seeing very young babies sleeping on thin blankets on the sidewalk. To them that was unacceptable and so sought to give the babe a safe, warm place to sleep. Those accepting of their gifts however do not seem to understand their intended purpose because they simply use them as a manner to transport their worldly goods, piling their stuff up on top of each other and pushing it around as their younger child carries their sibling and then when comes time for sleeping, they are back on the ground. You can say that this is culture but I cannot agree. I had my child in a different culture and throughout her short life we have encountered many different cultures and they all have a similar reaction to a baby. My daughter’s picture must be all over the world: in Japan, China, Iran, Iraq, Australia, UK, Germany, Canada and all over this country because people of all nationalities have stopped to fawn over her, to hold her, coo over her and have their picture taken with her. From their actions, I cannot see our guests displaying that same precious behavior.
When my daughter was first born I barely wanted to put her in her crib, never mind put her down on the ground. Even now, that she is two, I am very attentive to her. In our childproof house, I let her do what she wants and even then she manages to show up my attempts to keep our house an appropriate place for an exploring child. When we go to the park I stand close to where she is playing and have her always within my sightline. I am sure that some would accuse me of being, what is the term, a helicopter mother but it is my responsibility to keep my child as safe as possible. It is also my responsibility to ensure that my child is kind and considerate and plays appropriately with other children. As I already stated, the visitors in our town do not seem to have the same parenting chip in their brain that I and most others have in ours. So they think nothing of leaving a newborn on a thin blanket on the sidewalk and when that baby grows, they think nothing of leaving them to play at their own peril at the park. I am not talking about 6 and 7 year olds, I am talking about 1 year olds. The task of looking after their children falls to the other mothers and fathers in the playground. To be clear, when I say that they leave their children to play by themselves in the playground, I literally mean that they are not even within sight of their offspring. When our guests first arrived in town, I used to accept the task of looking after their little ones, thinking that they were suffering from a mental anguish and physical exhaustion that I knew nothing of, but now I simply pick up my daughter and leave.
I do this because I do not think that they are suffering from anything other than greed and ignorance. A strong statement but when you see a homeless father with more money in his pocket than your taxi driving husband you think that maybe your husband is in the wrong business. Later when you see him rent out his six children as begging accessories to the few childless couples in town you realise that begging is lucrative and so is child renting, but I guess a man has to make a living, or does he? In fact he does not. He and his family could stay in the care of the government and not have to live on the street. Not have to beg from the tourists that provide the money that keeps the economy going and who their begging has now chased away. Who wants to go on a chilled out beach holiday and be faced with filthy people, harassing them for money? Not many.
The whole time I have been coming to or living in Bodrum, I have identified about six homeless people, otherwise known as alcoholics. These poor people choose the devil drink over a life similar to most other people and that is their right, but none of these people beg, because they do not need to. As the Syrians migrants found out when they first arrived, they had everything provided to them by the people here. The Turks take care if their own and any others who may need their help. I honour their tolerance and charity because mine has long left the building. As I see my husband and his friends work every hour of every day of the week for seven months straight only to have their efforts thwarted by a group of people who want to live in a place that they have never called their own, in a manner in which no one here chooses to live which is in fact a detriment to the kind people who serve their needs even now, it makes me hate. It makes me a surprising but unapologetic racist. Back to the definition of that world, because you see, I am not sure if I didn’t actually have the label thrusted upon me? As I said, initially I saw our ‘visitors’ as persons in need of help. I saw them as my brothers and sisters, just as the Turks consider all people, which is displayed in their use of Abi and Abla (brother and sister) when they address others. I never thought that my racial differences gave me an inherent superiority over them but I am beginning to believe that they believe in their inherent superiority over us here. Why else would they not want to live like us? Why else would they take what we give and destroy over ability to give to our own families? Why else would they think they could take over our children’s park for themselves so that our children cannot even play there anymore? Why else would they walk down our neighborhood streets yelling and fighting with each other? Why else would they harass our tourists when they do not need money for their basic needs? Why else would they brandish about a sense of entitlement from their thin blanket on the ground? Would you do any of this were you in their position? Would you go to someone’s house who has given you a bed and a banquet and then ask them for money before taking a sledgehammer to all that they had? Would you bite the hand that feeds you? Not if you respected or honoured that hand. Not if you didn’t see it as inferior to yourself and designed to serve you. So who is racist here? Yes, I think this is a case of it takes one to know one. I think I have been taught how to be a racist by a racists themselves and sadly, I do not know if that teaching is ever going to go away?