Sunday, 25 February 2007

My "racist" views, An Arabic woman whinge...

I’ve been working in this country for the past two and a half years and before that I worked in Syria for roughly the same period so is it strange that now I have a preference to working with British co-workers or have I been completely brain washed during my stay here?

The whole question came when an Arab colleague wondered by my desk on Friday and decided to check out my blackberry! So without too much introduction he picks it up and starts flipping through the various menu options until he gets to my inbox! Now he must have realised by my slightly stressed tone that I was a bit annoyed but did that stop him at any point? No! And he handed me back my phone with a sly note that he hasn’t seen anything!

Now how do I know that no English colleague would ever do this in a million years? Well maybe because one of my closest friends at work, who admired my previous XDA-Exec and was planning to buy one has actually asked me out for dinner in order that I show his the ins and outs of the device at my leisure and during the whole time never went from one feature to the other without asking for my permission first? Maybe because my boss once noticed my phone flashing with a new e-mail has turned it face down so not to allow anyone including himself to even glance at it!

During my time working in this country I have come across a mix of Arab and non Arab workers. The pattern that I noticed every time, with all the people that I have worked with is the respect that I get from all except my “Arabic speaking group”! With me being one of the few Arabic woman working in this environment, it was staggering, to outsiders as well as to me, to see the patronising behaviour towards me and towards any Arabic female arround. the reaction was the same whether it was the one who was raised in this country since he was a child or the one who is here for a short time. Nationality differences among that group accounted for one exception; Algerians were the most civilized by miles while the rest were unbelievably … what’s the word! Arab!

I was talking to another friend and when I told him, I prefer to work with British and he was astonished with my note. I realised after saying that that I was more “racist” than the majority of the people I work with but maybe my judgment is clouded by my personal experience.

Maybe this is a horrible view that I’m adopting, maybe it is not the same for other places and with other people, maybe I irritate them with my freedom and they consider me as someone who has sold out her origins to merge into the British society. And to be honest, the majority of my friends here are British; I enjoy the fact that I can chose how close or how far I want to be with people without a long winded explanation of why I want that. I enjoy the freedom of expressing my thoughts and ideas without judgment of other or society. I don’t have to conform to be part of the group, I go out with my colleagues after work for a quick drink down the pub but they all know that I get high on my tomato juice and after the first time they offered out of courtesy they don’t need to ask or insist anymore. I can talk to my Brazilian friend for hours about everything and anything and so can she without worrying about how she’ll look at me the following days.

A lot of people think that to live in a foreign country and keep your identity you have to keep your society within you! I read a post some time ago objecting to the racism of the locals in that country, well why do all Arabs, and sorry to generalise and please jump in and tell me not all are like that, think that the whole world has to accept them as they are? Why do we not tolerate other people’s view and expect them to tolerate ours?

British people are considered one of the least accepting among other nations yet London is the most diverse! Why? Because their britishness include allowing for individuality, that is the sacred pack that they all share. Be what you want to be because you want to, respect other’s freedom and they will respect yours. Prove your worth in what you do, and they will respect you even if they hate your guts! It is strange that I feel more liberated to display my Arabic, Islamic me in London than in Damascus! Here, I’m not written out as a hardliner extremist who should tend to her religious education and seek the happiness and obedience of marital bless just because I ware a scarf! Compared to the reaction that I had in Syria when I took that step with people suddenly talking to me about marriage and commitment rather than career and education!

And maybe that is why my Arabic “friends” feel the urge to prove their role as guardians of the weaker less capable female countrywoman. They still carry their society within them; they still see that I disgrace them when I go with the guys for a drink or travel on my own to another city to attend an English league football match! They probably shake their heads and think with a sorry expression how my parents are allowing me so much freedom or maybe they worry that I’m too much of a rebel and can undermine their traditional protective role that they’re so used to.

The funny part in all of this is that I never used to feel that while I was working back home! It’s as if you somehow get used to the notion that you will be treated differently because you’re from the gentler sex, and the shook only kicks in when you’re here being expected to put as much as anyone else, and using the “I’m to gentle to do this” is the worst career move you can ever do! I sometimes worry how to readjust when I return to Syria, if and when I return, to this lucid reality of gender differentiation. To be back at a work place where all are like my “Arab colleagues” and non are like my British ones! Where respect is related to calling all as Mr x or Mrs y and nothing more, where you have to wait outside the door for a paper to be signed by the manager rather than jock with them about last night’s TV! What a scary notion that is!

Tell me, have I lost my identity because I feel like this? Have I sold out to this new country that I’m living in now? I don’t know and I’m not sure that there is one right answer for this. Whether there is a right answer to begin with or is it something each one us wonderers who live in two world, love two world and belong to two world has to figure out on our own!


Anonymous said...

Hi there,
I completely agree with you. You are on the money the backwardness of one type of people is not related to race itself, it is related to the history and to the interaction of people togather. The Middle Eastern societies are still way far from being inteacted internally or externally opposite to the western societies since they have discovered the world and dealt with it

Syrian in London said...

it's more that we accuse people of being racist and forget ourselves. and point the fingure at anyone who's different and not accepting that change is part of who we are and is not walking away from who we belong to!

The Syrian Brit said...

My dear Syrian in London, what you are describing is the sudden realization that, in this green and pleasent land, you are seen as you are.. respected for what you do.. judged on your achievements..
Having been in this country for longer than I care to remember, I have worked with both British and Arab colleagues.. and I know, in no uncertain terms, who I would rather work with. British colleagues are, on the whole, straightforword, honest, respectful and open.. with no 'hidden agendas'.. Arab colleagues, on the other hand, are often complex and convoluted, two-faced, and conspiring.. Not all of them, I hasten to add.. When it comes to friends, though, I choose them carefully.. and both my Arab and British friends have attitudes and values that are similar to mine.. So no problems there..
At the risk of sounding 'patronising', I'd say to you what I have always said to my two daughters (and son, of course): 'Good on you, mate.. Push ahead with your independence and your individuality.. Show the World that you are your own person.. not someone shackled by misperceptions and prejudices.. Let your roots and heritage be your guiding light, not your blindfolds'...
God bless you, and good luck in your career, whatever and wherever you choose to pursue..

Syrian in London said...

Dear Syrian Brit, happy to have you at my blog. I had the same line from my dad when I decided to come over here. I think that i was one of the lucky few to be raised like this in Syria!
Thanks to hear that I’m not that odd! Regards

BuJ said...

interesting blog! first time here.. so ur syrian.. muslim.. a woman.. wears hijab and works in london yet prefers working with brits :)

sounds good to me.

i'm an arab but working in the UK for 5 yrs now and i don't wanna go back home just because i cannot stand working with arabs.. yuk.. they put ARABNESS above professionalism.. which is where it all fails..

the brits always try to be professional and i love that and respect it about them.. they are not the best when u need a friend but they are reliable and less tempremental.

i would just kick the guy who checks my inbox! i cannot believe someone has the gall to check ur inbox.. not on screen but on a blackberry.. so rude.. 3eib, esp from an arab to an arab woman.

anyway.. indeed london is lovely coz it's so liberal.. it's a city of the world.. it's not english at all.. but it has lovely english heritage, that's if you can be bothered to go look for it.

the brits are not accepting, but they have conquered the world, and as thus they have an understanding of others.. and an appreciation too..

nice blog btw.

fatima said...

Hi Syrian in London

Im Algerian ,woman , No hijab (yet) in Britain , but on the contrary i prefer to have arabs around me , i dont know why. Am I racist ? may be and i did not know it :) the brits are ok but they dont anything for me. they leave me cold , once i have arabs around me , i feel alive . Have a good day .

Louai said...

Hi Syrian London ~!!!

first i am sorry that you had poor experiences with arrogant Arab men.

i hope you will come across men who will treat you with respect instead of how those Arabs have treated you in London.

i am coming from the same society from my love Damascus to work and live in London ,, and frankly i get good Arab$British friends so don't let some people change your mind about Arabs ,,
hey, we all humans and we sometimes have some mistakes ,so don't worry about these people who represent them self rather than Arabs in general ,which i and you are some examples of them !!!

Cyburn said...

Well Im Half Egyptian Half English and I prefer to be around British people, that's probably because I went to a mostly ethnic secondary school.