Hello! Fuck you!

Wow. Racism sucks. I have a really white face and hair that is red in the bright sun, so I stand out pretty much anywhere other than Northern Europe. Even in Germany most people assume I am Irish.

I’ve experienced people singling me out because of my skin colour before, so it doesn’t come as a big surprise to me. The most extreme example was Indonesia, where many people would assume I was a superstar, because their only frame of reference for white people was what they saw on TV.

People would take sneak photographs of me. At the ancient Buddhist temples of Borobudur I was the main attraction, along with my Swedish friend whom I’d met in Jakarta. After we agreed to let one person have their picture taken with us, everyone wanted to join in. Before long we had 30-40 people sitting with us in a mass photo session. There were still people chasing after us, pointing at their camera, after we decided to leave and practically run from the place.

This afternoon I walked out into Madaba, a small town just outside of Amman, Jordan, famous for it’s ancient Mosaic in the Church of St. George, which portrays the region as it was about two thousand years ago, when it was created. It’s also famous for being the Christian capital of Jordan, with Christians making up about 40% of the population.

The guy who my hotel sent to collect me at the airport was a Muslim. Sign posts on the way from the airport directing traffic to the Iraqi border reminded me of just how close I was to an international trouble spot. The news was filled with images of Gaza erupting.

My taxi driver, however, was bursting with pride at the fact that in his town of Madaba, people were extremely tolerant of each other. “Christian, Muslim, it doesn’t matter, we are all Jordanians. We would die for each other.” Along with all the friendliness of everyone I’d met so far, I was starting to warm to the place.

Then I left the hotel for my first walk into the city. Someone had already passed by in a car and honked their horn, most likely at me I guessed. I then passed a scruffy pair of teenagers. As soon as they were past me, I heard one of them shout back “Fuck you!”

It was angry too, not the sometimes misspoken line from a film, or a phrase where the speaker doesn’t understand the full meaning of it. I heard his friend say something, and it was hushed, and reprimanding, like he might have been telling him off. Jesus, did I feel now that I stood out like a sore thumb.

I felt very out of place, and very uncomfortable after that, and it was really a nothing event. I was the only Westerner around. People were looking at me. Cars honked their horns, and people shouted out to me.

In truth, I think it was all meant with good intentions. Everyone who spoke to me after that said the same thing “hello”, “hi”, “welcome”, “ahlan wa sahlan”. And when I replied, they smiled. Maybe the guy who shouted fuck you had also said hello, and I’d ignored him. I wasn’t expecting attention, nor looking at him, so it’s possible. It doesn’t excuse him, though.

It made me feel extremely self-conscious, and I much prefer to be anonymous about town. In a way it’s good to get a perspective of the effects of racism, because as a white person I never experience it. If the smallest negativity from another person based on my race, when I am a minority, makes me feel like that, I’d hate to have to put up with some real nastiness on a regular basis.

It could be worse. I was reading about a guy who was teaching in a town in Sudan near Darfur, whose white face was such a shock to people that he once almost caused a car crash, when someone saw him, dropped his shopping on the floor, and staggered back into the busy main road.

I’m not quite sure what your definition of racism is, but a single “Fuck you!” hardly counts. It seems that you’re bothered more by the combination of fascination of xenophobia and xenofascination than anything else. I used to live in the Sudan and Nigeria, and whitey was not very common at all. Everyone was generally polite, but there was no mistaking the fascination that a lot of the locals had because, well, hey, you’re not exactly common. Honestly, it’s just a few notches past being a black guy in New Hampshire (97% white or something ridiculous) or an Asian kid in Paulding County, Georgia.

A lot of people confuse racism with discomfort/unfamiliarity, and they’re really not the same thing – although a lot of people like to lump “acting stupid around the different person” as some kind of hate crime.

When I visited Seoul I tended to go far off the beaten track (because the beaten track for Americans seems to be sleazy bars and cheap clothing stores in Itaewon, and I can already get sleazy beer and cheap clothes in the US) and wherever I went, I was without a doubt the tallest, fattest, and whitest human being within a 5 square mile radius. Add to that that I spoke 5 words of Korean and the alphabet was a complete mystery, and you have culture shock on steroids. Thankfully the culture worked in my favor; Korea is very Confucian in many ways and the way Koreans react to strangers is to politely ignore them until they go away or stop being strange.

I highly recommend it. It definitely is an eye-opening experience and will hopefully cure people of insisting that the entire world speak English and watch Baywatch reruns. Different is gooder!

Oh, and the only exception was when I visited a museum overrun with grade schoolers. To them I was the most interesting attraction in the place.

I didn’t want to start a political discussion, but if someone said “fuck you” to a black guy, simply because he was black, I’d call that racism. They were responding to the colour of my skin, because I certainly don’t dress all that differently to many people here, who are as up to date with the latest American and European fashions as most people in Europe.

Racism is “[d]iscrimination or prejudice based on race.” Discrimination is treating someone differently because of a quality or trait they possess, such as racial discrimination. I once saw a guy in Leicester walking alongside an asian guy shouting “Paki! Paki! Paki!” in his ear. Another spat on one in Southampton. Was that not racism?

I wouldn’t bother to define people reacting to my skin colour in a neutral or positive was as “racism”, but when they say “fuck you”, it definitely enters that realm.

Well, if racism includes any generalization made on the basis of skin color, than I’d say it was racism…all the events. However, only one seems negative, so I’m not sure what the big deal is.

I guess I disagree with your idea that all racism has to be negative feelings, BTG.

Maybe he just knew you developed murder simulators.

Just kidding.

But this was nothing. The petty ignorance of strangers doesn’t hold a candle to racial stupidity/hatred from coworkers and acquaintences.

Maybe his friend cut him off before he could finish his sentence. Like maybe he was saying “Fuck you for scrapping CO-OP” or something.

I’m slightly confused as to how you know this.

I differentiate between ignorance and racism. Racism has negative connotations, ignorance is just, well, ignorance. If you met someone from another culture that you had ZERO experience with, and you committed all kinds of transgressions and basically just acted awkward without knowing it, would you consider yourself racist?

The reality is that a lot of WASPs don’t have much experience with other cultures – including other American cultures – and often don’t know how to act or simply have incorrect stereotypes in their heads (due to media representations and the like) and have no ill intent with their behaviour, they just don’t know better.

Racism, to me, is a lot more vile than someone that is merely uninformed. It’s willful ignorance and a general active dislike and intolerance based on faulty knowledge. It’s the difference between not knowing how to act around a Hispanic worker compared to not giving him a job because you “know” he’s probably not a hard worker.

Hehe. I’d love co-op too, personally.

I can’t know with 100% certainty, but I would think that it was almost impossible it was a reaction to anything else. Unless he just happens to blurt out random swear words, in English rather than Arabic, then he must have spoken to me, in English, because he guessed that from the colour of my skin. It may have been a reaction to something else, and he just spoke in English because I was white, but I have no idea what I could have been doing that might provoke someone to curse at me, as I was just walking down the street minding my own business.

But just the fact that I felt he saying “fuck you” to me because I was white was enough to make me feel very uncomfortable walking around town for the next few hours. And my reaction to that in itself was interesting enough for me. I wouldn’t have thought such a minor thing would have an effect on me, until I experienced it for myself.

Did you ever think that maybe he had bilingual Tourette’s Syndrome, you INSENSITIVE JERK?

Maybe that was the only piece of English he knew. Maybe he was taught English by these guys:


Not meaning to hijack this thread at all, it’s just in my situation, I think it is sometimes the same, i.e., “sexism” (although that’s not an accurate word).

I am transgender, and it all comes down to “judging on looks”, rather than on character, right? Black is bad, white is bad, queer is bad, it all depends on what is the “normal” type of people in that environment, right?

Of course, I “choose” to be transgender (!), so you may not think this a 1 to1 relationship, but, to me, it is all the same. Bottom line is that people come in all different sizes, shaped, colors, genders, etc., and that although I am of a class that is often discriminated against, I do the same thing! It’s just a part of being human, IMO. Not a good part necessarily, but…

I don’t know the answer, I really don’t think there is an answer.

This came up on another forum recently, and I’ve been thinking about it, and I vehemently disagree with this notion. Who else agrees with this? If you do, maybe you can explain it in intelligent terms (that other forum is kind of… dumb).

Hobbes does a pretty good job of answering your question, Extarbags.

Why would anyone be surprised over anti-Western sentiments in any part of the Middle-East? Your skin tone just made you an obvious target. If you were a dark skinned guy wearing and American flag T-shirt, I imagine people would have been likely to give you a nice “Fuck you” too.

Really? White skin tone? Among Arabs the epitome of beauty in guys or girls is white, blue-eyed, and blonde, despite the fact that there aren’t that many of that complexion among Arabs.

Anyway, I’ve never been to Jordan, but I’ve been to Gulf countries as well as Egypt and I’ve never seen anyone shout out catcalls at non-Arabs, be they European, Asian, African, etc. Stereotypes obviously exist, but not in this in-your-face manner. If anything, Arabs are known to be more accomodating of foreigners than their own people, to the extent that in Egypt it’s common to say “if only we treated each other like we treat foreigners” whenever there are disputes among common folk.

While I usually stay out of any thread CindySue posts in, I think she has a point here – at least on one level. It is human nature to stereotype, in the sense of organizing people into different categories (black, white, asian, nerdy, athletic, male, female, tall, short, etc.). It’s part of how our brains work – we naturally organize things so that we can better understand them. Where this gets ugly is when the “better understand them” includes assigning negative characteristics (all of group X is ugly, or all of group Y is stupid, or all of group Z are criminals).

Maybe that’s not what CindySue was referring to – I’ll let her explain her own words – but that’s what I took from her post, and I think it’s pretty common and it is human nature (although not something that you can’t overcome if you put some work into it).