Some background information: My country, Turkey, is not part of the EU, and most of its people are Muslims. More than three months ago I moved to Northern Ireland, in a big multicultural community and people have been curious about my culture and they asked me many questions about it. I appreciate curiosity and I answered those questions as much as I can, even if they were a bit "off".
Going back to the question, which is a bit problematic and apparently has a racist background, I want to analyze its different forms through the examples that I have experienced, and the reasons behind racism. It cannot be justified by any means but having a deeper understanding of it will eventually help us improve.
I have a very simple answer to this question which was asked me on the very first day I arrived at my project country. I was exhausted due to flight, and I cannot remember what I exactly said but it was somewhere between in lines I feel normal. After more than three months I still feel ‘normal’ and I don’t think people who are from a specific country necessarily represent their cultures to the fullest. In fact, now we have the internet for many years, people are getting more and more familiar with this concept: the universality of being human. Now we know that the things we think, the feelings we have are not so different from each others', and we all deserve as much as others do.
We are individually different and quite similar at the same time. And this is not due to our race/country of origin. The most efficient and helpful action to take would be accepting the fact that it is unrealistic to live in a world where everyone has the same background, or the same kind of behavior because they were born in the same city/country/continent. We can embrace the differences as part of human nature. Using pronouns as “you” or “we”, as stated above, is not very welcoming and it does not help to create a friendly environment.
Yet living in a multicultural environment is a great chance to see the different shades of this life. Thanks to that I have been asking and wondering, and learning new things every day. For example, the way we speak and behave, the jokes we make, do they have anything to do with our mindsets?
Somehow, they do, it is called “linguistic relativity”1 If we keep saying “you are different from us” we will be excluding that person in their living space, which is quite unfair. Words are basically influencing our perception and that is why the question stated above is linguistically problematic.
Racist jokes are even worse because they are just “jokes” They are not supposed to be taken seriously, which is a cheap justification considering how bad its effects can be. (We will also take a look at them) Here is an interesting citation by a professor of Philosophy:
Jane Austen sees that joking speech is not responsible for the facts. Thus it can be acceptable to express something you believe to be false in a joke. But seriously saying something you believe to be false is largely condemned. We call that lying, and it is permissible only in special circumstances, such as when assuring a new parent that his slightly squished newborn is beautiful. The main norm covering joking, however, is that the joke is funny. There are other norms covering jokes as well, of course—e.g., I shouldn’t joke on learning that you have been bereaved. But because jokes do not have a responsibility to the facts, it can be socially acceptable to say something jokingly that would be hurtful if said seriously; if Mr. Knightley’s criticisms are successfully passed off as a joke, Mr. Woodhouse will not be hurt. 2
Joking speech is not responsible for the facts, and that is why people are quite comfortable abusing it. “I was just joking” or “I did not mean that” are not valid excuses. That is why it should be always avoided. We are responsible for what we say and what we do.
With the impact of the internet, especially the social media platforms, ice cubes between cultures are slowly melting down. 3 And that is one of the main reasons that we have the internet. To learn more without any borders!:
“The World Wide Web has shortened communication lines between companies and between persons, enabling global contacts to strengthen and cultural exchanges to increase. How increasing usage of Internet and other new media continues to shape our social life has been among the fastest-growing topics in communication research in the past decade.” 4
Even if these materials are quite promising and helpful for many people, racism is still present, and apparently, it will keep being around for quite a while.
Now let’s take a deeper look at this topic because I believe it needs to be talked about, over and over again until people fully notice that the lines of racism are so blurry, that it will remain unnoticed how their words influence the way they think and behave. Even the most "innocent" joke can make some people especially kids take them as facts. We can see this concept -kids being manipulated by their parents' thoughts- in cinema as well. Check Dogtooth(2009)5 Imagine everybody in society making the same jokes… That is how stereotypes become stereotypes, right? As I stated above language and culture are highly related to each other and we can see perfect examples in idioms6, not all of them have negative connotations: for example, German people are known for their preciseness, but are they all precise or punctual? Or are they all supposed to be that way, even if it is generally considered to be a good personality trait? What if they were criticized for not being as “punctual” in their whole lives? Is it acceptable to approach people with any kind of prejudice?
These questions should be considered on an individualistic level, we should not take them as absolute facts and always sprinkle some common sense on them. We do not need to constantly and deeply think about what we say -especially when it takes so much effort-, we can be just quiet at times, which is better than asking racist/offensive questions.
Another problem with racist jokes is that people you are making fun of about their nationality will try and justify what you did. Just like I did quite a few times. “oh they didn’t mean that they are my friends” “they thought it was just funny, that’s ok” no it is not okay. It is not really okay if you are coming with this stereotype about my nationality, and such a stereotype that I haven’t heard of in my life will naturally make me think. What made them say that? Is there a historical background to that joke?
Speaking of history, middle eastern politics is another field that people come to me with any questions. Even blamingly I have been asked quite a few times about Armenian and Kurdish people. The answer again: I don’t know. I didn’t study history, even if I had studied history all I could do would be basically transferring the information I had as objectively as possible. All I want is a peaceful environment, where people can be themselves without violating anybody else. Plus when I think of my ‘minority’ friends in Turkey I cannot think of any discussions we had, I was never asked such questions by them. They never blamed me for being Turkish. But now being far away from home, being offensively asked such questions is just uncomfortable and unfair. We can ask people about their experiences, about their dreams, about what they want to learn and teach and take and give, and what they want to become. They will tell you amazing stories and motivating dreams. It works 100%. So let us all stop judging people for the things they did not and would not do.
Meeting many people from different countries taught me to do so. Every single person I meet will have a different point of view on certain topics. I utterly accept this fact, if I am not asked a question in a blaming way “but your country doesn’t respect minorities what do you think about that?” or "minority problem can only be solved with guns". I say everyone needs to be respected and treated equally and we can do this without war. This person is quite furious and just wants me to say “I am sorry to be Turkish, we are really horrible” instead. This person says that terror and guns can be the solution. The truth is this person is talking without a clue how difficult it can get living in a country full of conflicts. I remember walking home between pepper gas that I could not walk anymore and faint. I know how traumatized people were when the bombs were planted all over the big cities, and we did not go out because it was dangerous. That is what I know. The things that person asked me, believing that guns and war are the solutions. Again, how come do I represent the things that my country does? I was the victim walking in those streets wondering if something bad will happen to me. I am not a politician myself and I do not like politics either. I only represent myself and I would like to be seen as an individual. Am I just my nationality to you? Is that how you see people? If your answer is yes, I am sorry my friend, but you will hate everyone. Every country has a dark story or many. And your way of thinking is way too toxic&violent to deal with.
This person was basically projecting their feelings through what’s happening/happened in my country to what happened in their country. And they did not experience it the way we did it in Turkey. Okay now let’s try and fully understand the absurdity of this: I am being criticized for something I did not do, the topic is quite disturbing and involves traumatic events, and I have bad memories/traumas related to it, the person believes that being violent is okay. I refuse to talk about it any further. Despite my having stated them, they kept insisting on talking about it. Well if you want to blame and fight people for where they are from, you can easily do it. Just a quick Wikipedia search will do.
Anyways I did not attack back. I just said I did not appreciate their way of attacking me and they needed to behave. Hoping that some decent approach will heal their negative attitude.
My mind being full of the questions I mentioned above, I decided to do some research on the reasons behind racism, and how to stop it:
Here are some of them:
- We take on the views of people around us: it all starts at home!
Could it be that our families/people we love have some unacceptable thoughts about people from different countries and we grow up hearing them, and even unconsciously we take them as facts?
- We hang around with people “like us”
Spending time with people like us is something rather comfortable because we will not put extra effort, we know these people! And eventually, we think that what we have is the best among the others?
- We’re quick to judge
We often put labels on people. He dresses like this so he must be into this music. She goes to that school so she must be rich. We can also stereotype people from different racial backgrounds as “lazy”, “brainy”, “aggro”… you get the idea. 7
The way to beat the stereotypes:
- Don’t judge a whole group.
We blame others for our problems When we feel angry or frustrated, we often look for someone else to blame for our problems. As a community, we can do the same thing. People who look or talk differently to us are easy targets. You can hear it happening today in comments like, “those people take our jobs” or “they get government handouts all the time”.
- Acknowledge racism in all its forms
This first step to ending racism is to recognize its existence. Many people think of racism as always overtly blatant or intentional, but racism comes in many forms. In the United States, studies show there’s bias in every sector of society from healthcare to housing to media. Job applicants with “stereotypical” African-American names are less likely to get called for an interview, while around the world, the beauty industry celebrates fair skin while degrading dark skin tones. It’s also important to understand the history and evolution of racism.
Most people claim to hate racism, but if they aren’t able to identify what it is, it will inevitably continue to thrive. Those affected by racism are gaslit. They’re told their experiences aren’t actually examples of racism and that they’re misunderstanding what’s happening. People are even shamed for speaking up and told that by “changing the definition of racism,” they’re stripping the word “racism” of its meaning. This blend of denial, gaslighting, and shaming normalizes the more “subtle” forms of racism and allows it to thrive.
This last part was the most interesting to me. It is “blurry” and “subtle” but we should never let people tell us what we think and feel is wrong. If we feel bad about a joke, that means it is not a joke, it is harassment, and nobody is entitled to that. Not our friends, not people we see in a volunteer gathering, not even our families. People should learn not to make them.
Now we have the reasoning behind racism, let’s see the other way around:
What are the negative effects of stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination on mental health?
People may experience mental ill-health and other challenges as a result of stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination. People who are the targets of stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination may:
have low self-esteem
experience mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
begin to believe negative stereotypes about themselves
experience intergenerational trauma
feel like they lack control of their own life
experience issues at school and/or work (e.g. bullying, harassment, etc.)
start to lose hope in the future
experience loneliness and isolation
feel like they’re unable to trust others
experience physical effects (e.g. trouble sleeping, etc.)
I know that many people face racism every single day and for them, it will not end soon. In this case, there are actions to be taken:
Talk about racist experiences with others
Many studies have suggested that talking about racist experiences, instead of bottling them up, can help a person process feelings of stress, anger, and frustration.
Similarly, engaging with — instead of ignoring — racism is likely to be beneficial.
Lean on friends and family
Having a network of people to talk to for support, advice, and comfort can help people cope with racial discrimination. It can encourage a sense of security and identity and reduce negative thoughts and feelings. 8
Living together, peacefully, is possible.