Discrimination is not funny

Published: September 24, 2012

It is sad that we live in a world where we have to defend our identity (be it race, ethnicity, religion or nationality).

This past year has been a year of travelling. I have been to three countries in Europe, two in the Middle East and two in Asia. The hardest part about travelling? It is not getting accustomed to different kinds of foods or customs that are so alien to my own.

In fact, it has nothing to do with getting to know other cultures. The hardest part about travelling is seeing how people view my own race, culture and nationality.

I am sure many Pakistanis can relate to this. In fact, on all my trips this year, I travelled with Pakistani friends. And, I have heard all kinds of discriminatory statements against them.

Your friend is really lucky to live in Turkey, because I heard Pakistan is really dangerous.

Or,

Oh! Pakistan! What a scary country!

Or,

Are not the women all oppressed in Pakistan?

I am sure many of my Pakistani readers have a repertoire of narrow-minded statements they themselves have heard while being abroad.

Having lived in Pakistan for more than a year, I know that Pakistan is not a dangerous country; that its people are nothing but kind, and that females there do have rights even though they are not necessarily easily understood by many in the West.

Before travelling with my Pakistani friends, I never realised how much these discriminatory statements can hurt. Travelling with them, though, I saw firsthand how such stereotypes can hurt one’s confidence and self-esteem. I saw how it can break a person.

But, I also saw how some of my friends were able to take that hurt and anger and channel it towards something productive, like my friends at LiteratY Pakistan. They are working hours each day on a magazine, website and movement that will show others around the world another side of Pakistan─the side so rarely shown in media. Or, my friends abroad who would strategically wear their beautiful shalwar kameez in order to spark a conversation with their female non-Pakistani friends─a conversation that would always end with the friends saying,

Oh, wow! Such beautiful and cheap clothes! I absolutely must go to Pakistan one day for shopping!

All these are admirable attempts to defend Pakistan against the wave of discriminatory statements made about the country and its people.

It is sad that we live in a world where we have to defend our identity (be it race, ethnicity, religion or nationality). It is unfair that my friends have to work so hard and counter such silly stereotypes (for surely, not all 180 million people in Pakistan are alike or have the same life experiences). It is sickening that they have to hear discriminatory statements about themselves.

So, I think my Pakistani friends can understand how difficult it was for me, a Chinese American, to hear the following phrases when I travel:

I hate people with Chinese eyes.

Or,

Oh, you are from China? So, do you make toys, too? Because all my nephew’s toys are from China.

I am sure they can understand how hurtful it was for me to see Hum Desi Radio post on their Facebook page, a copy of Robert Downey Jr’s (fake) Twitter statement that implied that all Chinese people look alike. And, of course, the comments implying that such a Twitter post is “funny” were quite hurtful, too.

Surely, just as not all 180 million people in Pakistan are tall or short or extremists, not all 1.3 billion people in China look alike. I am a little tired of travelling abroad. In my home country, I can walk down the streets without hearing shouts of “Konichiwa!” (which is a Japanese greeting and not a Chinese one) or “Ni hao!”.

So, I decided to learn from my Pakistani friends. Instead of letting such stereotypes break me, I am taking my frustration and writing an article to let people know:

No, discrimination is not “funny”. At least, it is not funny to the people being made fun of.

Do you think Pakistanis exhibit the same amount of racism that they are subjected to?

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Elisa.Dun

Elisa Dun

A recent graduate from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service who is currently living in Lahore, Pakistan.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Nandita.

    ELISA DUN –
    Everyone is going to have an opinion about what the chinese are like or what the pakistanis are like. Indians are stereotyped as well and so are the citizens of the most powerful nation – The United States Of America.
    Off late, I’ve come to believe that the man who invented the word IGNORE must have been a bloody genius.He probably was stereotyped as well and came up with this word when he realised the best way to deal with unsavoury comments.Recommend

  • Balal

    Nice post Elisa. Hope you are doing great.Recommend

  • http://lonepkliberal.wordpress.com Loneliberal PK

    Pakistanis are not accustomed to cultural, religious or even racial diversity. We’ve had fewer opportunities to learn about people who are not of Indian descent, so naturally our progress has been slow.

    Bear in mind that these people, despite their statements coming out as grossly ignorant or even racist, probably don’t mean to insult you. They’re not very familiar with the etiquettes of dealing with people who are not like them (you should hear some of the stereotypes we have about pathans!), and unintentionally end up saying things that sound awfully offensive.

    We’re truly sorry for such behavior, but please be patient! The people will learn eventually, and this blog is a great start.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Liked what you wrote. Read it twice to properly appreciate it.Recommend

  • Zalim Singh

    Anyways Pakistanis travel so much less.Recommend

  • aheelam

    Great post Elisa.
    You just mirrored my views cos stereotyping is the worst thing one can undergo.Recommend

  • Hala

    i never understood how mocking the “other” constitutes as humor
    loved your blog
    hope people learn Recommend

  • Chinese Looking Paki

    I am belong from Baltistan and seriously I hate it when people say I look Chinese or I have Chinese features so I know how bad it feels =[ Recommend

  • Ahmad Mirza

    I really appreciate the efforts and i think that it should never be a problem to anyone because what we have always been taught is ” Brave men always Forgive ” … so it is all about forgivenessRecommend

  • Pir Bulle Shah

    Elisa Dun, why are you criticizing Pakistanis? Don’t you know even Indians stereotype?Recommend

  • MonsieurCritique

    I always greet Chinese people with nin hao, didn’t know that they don’t like it. I will stop now.

    that females there do have rights even
    though they are not necessarily easily
    understood by many in the West.

    What mysterious rights are you talking about, O wise one?Recommend

  • nitish

    OO…. CHINKI !!!! Recommend

  • Sok Kwu Wan

    Discrimination and racism are not funny, but a bit of mild japing here and there about cultural stereotypes can be very entertaining. I do it all the time with my friends. As long as the intention is not to upset people, I think it can be a good way to break down barriers and actually talk about what makes people different.

    Not all comments that in some way touch upon someone’s race or nationality are racist, or bigoted. The man who said outright that he “hated Chinese eyes”, was clearly racist, but the children who yelled “konichiwa” might not have been. Perhaps they were just curious about seeing someone who looked different and honestly thought that that was the right thing to say. Unless the calls were taunting, or threatening, I wouldn’t take any offence at them. People often behave strangely around people that they are not accustomed to. In many cases it is nothing more than ignorance. When I was a child, I could not go to the supermarket without having my hair constantly stroked by strangers, or someone wanting to take a picture with me. The reason? I was blond and living in China. Recommend

  • BlackJack

    There is a difference between stereotyping and discrimination – most stereotyping is harmless categorization of a very complex world into buckets that are easier to comprehend, although reality could be quite different on an individual basis. Discrimination is behaving differently with one or more of these groups due to existing bias.

    Stereotype: Women can’t drive
    Discrimination: If there is an accident involving a woman, then the woman is at faultRecommend

  • http://rorolia.wordpress.com/2012/03/28/bcb-blames-zaid-hamids-deceptive-propaganda-for-asia-cup-loss/ Xain Gardezi

    Do not get hurt over jokes. Its internet and all kind of people use it. Get over it.Recommend

  • Pakistani traveller

    Good job Elisa, you mentioned some of the problems that many people face… I myself face same discrimination when I am outside Pakistan. after meeting new people, 2nd or 3rd question they ask is “So will you going back to Pakistan after your studies?” and I just always say in frustration “yes” and then the long debates starts on “why”. I just hate it…Recommend

  • Maryam

    The two most annoying comments I hear:

    You don’t look Pakistani! You’re not very dark!

    and

    Your’e Pakistani?… but you can speak English!Recommend

  • Elisa Dun

    Thanks for the supportive comments!

    For those who are interested in learning more about Literaty Pakistan, please see:
    http://literatypakistan.com/Recommend

  • http://www.tailor-software.com Tailor Software

    Your aritcle is full of useful information. keep it up. “Discrimination is not funny” – interesting title Elisa. Very valuable information Elisa.Recommend

  • Nishant

    it is common to see on pak tv channels where comedians often pass remark over as person physical appearance

    the famous “AZIZI” made remarks that Obama has ears like a monkey Recommend