Life After Race
Imagine a world where you are not judged by the color of your skin; a world where you do not perceive the world through your cultures tumultuous history; a world where your interactions are free of the skepticism and paranoia that accompanies discrimination, whether overt or subtle.
I am not speaking of the future, or of a Utopia, but of place here and now in this crazy world. It was not until my sister came over to visit, from America, that I realized how much I have drifted in an area that used to be very central to my existence, race relations. Not long after getting off the plane, my sister was inquiring about the number of blacks in the country, or on the “black” behavior of young girls in the mall. Over the next few days, other racially tinted issues were raised, such as “did he treat me like that because I am black?” or “I wonder if anyone out here can do my hair?” All of this led me to an undeniable conclusion; we were living in two very different places in the world. My sister was coming the UNITED States of America, where racial tensions are an every day occurrence, and I was coming from a newly acquired mindset of living in Qatar, a very literal melting pot of cultures.
I can very confidently say that Qatar is not a racist place. Come to think about it, I have not really given much thought at all to my race since being here. The one exception to this was with my relationship with Inna. As a Russian-born, Canadian-raised women who would be considered “white” in most circles (and virtually all circles of America), my relationship to her did bring to mind some of those very-American concerns related to inter-racial dating. But beyond that, I can firmly say that for the past year, I have not lived life as a black man. I have simply lived life as a man. Most understand the difference, but just to make it clear: in the USA, everything from your diet, friends, religion, love life, education and culture has a direct tie to your racial background (not always, but most times. Because of this, outsiders and insiders tend to stereotype about racial groups, and the inevitable clustering of like-minded people begins. This all leads to the segregated nature of even modern America. Thus, minorities tend to define themselves by their culture/race just as often (or more frequently) as they judge themselves by sex or profession. So in America, I saw myself as a black man, and in Qatar that title no longer applies. I do hope your instinct is to applaud this shift, because it is a truly wonderful transformation.
So what it is it about Qatar that promotes such racial ambiguity? It could be the wealth that promotes equality. After all there is generally enough money that everyone here tends to be making a better living than they could elsewhere. It could be the history, or rather lack thereof. Not only does Qatar have a relatively simple history, but its history is riddled with international collaboration rather than exploitation. It could be the culture, which is dominated by the religion of Islam. It can’t be denied that the true teachings is Islam mandates acceptance and respect of all people. And if could be the demographics. There is no real majority/minority here when you consider the population and the dependency of each group (age, race, nationality, wealth, etc.) to another. It is probably a mix of all these things and more, but the result is a world where race has yet to come up as an issue. (NOTE: I would like to point out that my or anyone else’s race is only commented on in a negative way from my fellow Americans. The worse part is that there often seems to be a sense of pride in the practice).
Before you all pack up your bags and move to Qatar, I will tell you that human nature is a very creative force. Qatar may not be full of racist, but it is full of other things. You see, Qatar probably gets away with not judging people on race because the pigeonhole them by any number of other ways. In Qatar you are most likely to be judged first by your nationality (distinct from race): says a lot about why you are in the country, what you earn, what you can get away with and what you are interested in; then your religion: no one will come out and ask you what you are, but there is no denying that Muslims tend to live a different lifestyle in this Muslim country than those of different faiths; next would be income: in this materialistic and money drenched country, your purchasing power is usually advertised to the world by the sound of your exhaust pipe or the sparkly things adorning your body; and I mention this one last, but it might not be least, your sex: the Middle East and its Islamic persuasion is notorious for its controversial differences between women and men. I for one can say that Qatar appears to be a bright example for the rest of the Gulf and region concerning the treatment of women and the opportunities provided to them. It is certainly not perfect, but I want to give the country its due credit for its progressive policies.
So in the end, is it really that different than what I am used to? After all, I just gave a slew of things that are stereotyped in Qatar. Is it much better to just parcel out race as one? I emphatically say yes. I cannot speak to other countries or for other individuals, but the contrast between America and the Middle East (as a whole) has been wonderfully refreshing in the context of race relations. Maybe in time, I will grow just as offended at being boxed in as “American” as I once was at being “Black,” but so far I have been much more welcoming of my supposed love of fireworks, freedom and guns than I have been of my assumed love of basketball, watermelon and well… guns. We shall see.
One things for certain, my expectations have been raised and its going to be hard to settle for less.