I discovered a hidden subtle racist in me
Writing this is making me uncomfortable. My mental projection of myself is one of global love and harmony. Very Miss Universe. Standing in the front row of the Micheal Jackson video holding a candle and singing heal the world, loving cultural integration etc etc.
Ya right. The truth isn’t all that rosy, nor is it all that bleak. Discovering the hidden shades of grey however, was by itself disturbing.
We were looking for an nanny to look after our daughter as I was commencing work. We live in the Middle East, help is available and commonly used. The area we lived in was swarming with nannies and kids every evening. Nannies ranged from 4 main countries — Indians, Sri Lankans, Nepalese and the top of the line Filipinos.
The salaries for a nanny vary depending on the country they come from and the stack ranks is
- Filiphino’s — Leading the race by leaps and bounds
- Indians — A far second
- Nepalese/Sri Lankans — a neck to neck race to the 3d spot.
Interestingly, this isn’t seen as racist but as economics. Or no-one really utters the “R” word against this nation based stack ranking. It is conveniently called market dynamics, and then justified.
The Fliphino’s are coveted because they are cleaner, professional and English speaking.
The Indians, can usually cook a larger range of food and the SriLankas/Nepalese are neck to neck for being their trust worthiness and easy going nature.
Anyway, that isn’t racist. For a moment, lets say I agree. The interesting part of this comes later.
I needed a nanny, who spoke English. That is the common language at home and the Filiphino’s were the ones that fit the bill. Turns out that they did not like working for Indian households, as the fear was they would not be treated right. Fair enough.
I posted an ad on a facebook page dedicated to employers meeting employees. People wanting nannies and nannies wanting work. So far all easy. My ad had 1 line — nationality no bar.
Ad posted, I sat in a friends car and drove off for a sleepover. My phone rang. The voice at the other end, spoke crystal clear English and introduced herself. She did not sound like any of the 3 nationalities listed above. She was Irene from Kenya.
Hmm .. Kenya. Hmmm
My head. Paused. I had just not even contemplated the idea of Kenyan’s or Ugandan’s. It had just not crossed my mind.
I spoke with her. Told her I shall call her back. Messaged my husband to understand what he thought of it, and he was fine with anyone as long as they were nice people.
Then came the interesting part. Not one family in and around my hood, had employed Africans. There was no reference or experience to dip into.
Would they be clean?? asked a concerned neighbour. Are you sure? asked another, an uncertain doubt written large on their faces.
I knew at that moment. That the “pause” between me taking Irene’s call and asking to come and meet me; reflected a level of hesitation. A subtle racist streak, where my apprehensions had nothing whatsoever to do with her, but only to do with where she was from.
It shook me. And I was appalled at me.
Over the next 3 hours, my phone rang and rang. I spoke with lovely ladies from Kenya, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Tanzania. Each of the ladies showed up for an interview — as promised.
Each of them had similar stories to share. They were educated. One was even holding a BSC in Computers. They had been here anywhere between 1–3 months and had marched up and down the city looking for work. They spoke impeccable English, were smart, had great experiences (often back home) and were not able to get a break.
They spoke of the number of times, where a phone interview would go great: till they disclosed where they were from. The next moment, the person would mumble an excuse and go.
They were so great! Crisp articulate communication. Warm personalities, winning smiles. Similar tales of not cracking the job market. One could say, the market was tough, and there were not too many jobs to be found. Maybe true. Maybe there is something deeper.
The uncomfortable truth is this. The middle east is made of expats. It is overwhelmingly comprising of Indians -71% and this would point the finger right back at us being the racist ones. And we are!
A friend, in Bangalore created a photoessay, documenting the racism African students faced in India when they came in for college education.
This is neither a rant against Indians, nor am I stating that this is what takes place across the Middle East. I have met Africans in management jobs, in non management jobs and across a range of places. They do get placed. Yet- it is a tad harder. It is a little more convincing that needs to be done. A little more of trust that needs to be built.
Atleast in the spectrum of a household.
As I watch my child giggle with our new nanny from Uganda, I hope that she does not even for a minute, pause when picking up a conversation with anyone from any corner of the world.
For me. I learning to understand that the pause existed. To apologise for it to whom I don’t know and make amends.