ali abaday
Aug 04 2019

The irresistible attraction of hidden racism

Ever since I watched Spiderman’s latest adventure, Spiderman: Far From Home, the same questions have been turning around in my mind. For example, if Peter Parker and his friends were a group of Middle Eastern students and not American, would they have had the same adventures in Europe? Would Palestinian Superhero Kahina Eskandari (the Iron Butterfly) and her friends have had similar adventures in the United States?

For those who haven’t watched the new Spiderman, let me give a quick, spoiler-free summary. Spiderman (Peter Parker) and his school friends go on a trip to Europe where all kinds of different things happen to them, but because they’re American, they don’t have any problems with visas at the border. With a wave of their hands, they can go freely to any European country they want.

If they had been from almost any other country besides the United States, they first would’ve had to jump through a lot of hoops to get a visa. They would have to get through a series of bureaucratic hassles like showing documents proving their families can support their travels, and they’d be likely to face some hidden racism along the way.

For anyone not from the United States or EU, it’s really difficult to get a Schengen visa. If you tell them you’re going on a tour, they might even ask them for the driver’s license of the bus driver who will take you from city to city.

According to a joint report from the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey and the Economic Development Foundation called “Visa Complaint Line,” people have even been asked to give information on their credit card spending, which goes against the protection of personal data.

In a comic book like Batman, if someone asked Bruce Wayne for this type of information, it would seem almost comical. Unfortunately, businesspeople from Turkey who want a Schengen visa are faced with these sorts of requests. Of course, people who refuse to give this information have their applications rejected, and there’s not really anything they can do about it.

To answer the question I posed in the beginning, the chances are very slim that a non-US or EU citizen superhero and his friends could have gone on adventures like Peter Parker and his friends did.

The answer to the second question is almost the same. Getting a U.S. visa under President Donald Trump has also become very difficult. After the State Department’s budget was slashed, the waiting period for a U.S. visa got even longer. That means it’s not really likely that Kahina Eskandari and her friends could have had such an adventure in the United States. On top of that, it’s unclear what would happen to them in certain red states, where there have been racist attacks in the past.

Of course, this kind of hidden or open racism isn’t limited to the United States and EU. These days in Turkey there is increasing enmity towards Syrians. The same kind of racism against Kurds, Armenians, and Jews is now happening to Syrians. The thing Syrian people experience the most is people telling them to go back to their own country. However, the people saying this generally support Turkey’s Syria foreign policy and don’t accept that what’s happening now is a result of these flawed policies.

When Syrian immigrants first began to arrive, the government discourse about Syrians being Turks’ Sunni brothers and sisters led people to embrace them, and they saw themselves as saving the Syrians from certain death. But within a few years, society’s feelings about Syrians began to change. When complaints from the AKP’s base started to increase, the government changed its tune. Just like in George Orwell’s 1984, yesterday’s friends became today’s enemies.

Going back to Spiderman, the national origins of people coming to Turkey are even more important. Recently, a group of nine tourists from Iraqi Kurdistan were visiting Trabzon, and when they opened a flag with the name of their country on it to take a photo, the locals attacked them. The tourists were all deported shortly after.

It could be claimed that this was specific to Kurdistan, but in the past, when people were boycotting Italy, Roman law books were burned. At that time, it was also possible to assume that people wearing t-shirts with “Italy” written on them could be easily assaulted. After the attack on the Mavi Marmara (a Turkish civilian ship that attempted to breach the Israeli blockade of Gaza to bring humanitarian aid), people wearing scarves with “Israel” written on them may have faced similar violence. During the crisis with Pastor Andrew Brunson, the people who smashed their iPhone’s and burned dollar bills to show their anger at the United States would probably even try to lynch Captain America if they saw him.

Racism qualifies as one of the worst sicknesses of our times, and especially now, it doesn’t seem like these increasing racist incidents are going to stop anytime soon. In classic form, people who hold racist opinions don’t consider themselves racist—they just claim that they’re dealing with a problem of our times. However, for a person just following the crowd, a word can quickly turn into action and change a regular person’s life.

Whenever I hear racist statements, Todd Strasser’s novel The Wave comes to mind. In this book, some students cannot understand how people in World War II Germany could remain silent during the Holocaust. Their teacher does a social experiment with the class to show them how easy it is for people to embrace fascist thinking. The students were quite surprised to learn that their behaviour during the weeks-long experiment was in fact the basis for Nazism.

The idea of being a member of a group that’s better than everyone else has an irresistible pull. Even today, secret racists believe deep down that they themselves are special; they don’t like the idea that the people they hate should have the same rights, and racists think they should live better lives than other groups do. What racists sometimes can’t even admit to themselves is the fact that this is how fascism begins to take hold.

Unfortunately, for these people today who say racist things but don’t consider themselves racist, it’s very difficult to explain that this is exactly the path the Nazis took. Because people don’t understand this, hidden racism, which coddles to people’s weaknesses and draws them out, will continue to spread with each passing day.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.