Discrimination is not funny

Published: September 24, 2012
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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.