Travel, Teach, Live in Europe and Middle East

Racism in The Emirates, 2014
By:Sarah Ali <info@sarahali.us>

I thought I would share a strange experience in my class today. I teach a group of Emirati men who are about 19-26 years in age. Last year, I was discussing the cultural hierarchies with another teacher and she mentioned a lot more is going on that meets the eye.

The Emirates as with the other Gulf States has an odd preoccupation with tribal names and ethnicities. It is an old system where you are treated according to your family status. It may affect what job you have, what opportunities are afforded to you and how people in society treat you.

I have been noticing some of my students hitting each other in class. I naturally tell them to stop it, even if it is slightly playful. In UAE if you have Indian descent it is frowned upon. Also, if you are Sudanese. In Arabic people often say, “Lazy Sudani” or say, “You are Indian” as an insult. One of my students is of Indian descent, most likely has an Indian mother and Emirati father.

He is one of the smartest guys in class. However, the students say things to him like, “Ya Booni” which means, “Hey Brownie”. This is considered quite derogatory in Arabic. Anyways, today I noticed that the Indian student said that another student was the “leader”. “The leader told me to leave the classroom,” he said. The Indian guy left the classroom then returned later. I heard the students snicker in Arabic saying, “He is crying.”

One other student was explaining to me about the Indian guy that he is, “from behind, he is the last one”. I was not understanding what he meant. So he goes up to the board and draws a hierarchy of numbers one through seven. Each number for someone in the classroom. The leader was number 1 and everyone else had a corresponding number with the Indian guy as last.

I was horrified to say the least. I knew of this system but to see it blatantly in the open and to watch how these dynamics played out in my class. I ended the lesson with all the students learning what the word racist and racism is and let everyone know that there is no place for racism in my classroom.






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