Sunday, March 18, 2012

I wrote this a few months ago. I just found it now while I was unpacking.

I'll admit, my inner raging feminist cries out when we are segregated by gender for gym class.

"Different not wrong, different not wrong," I chant to myself, but I still cringe as the girls are arranged in a circle to pass around the soccer ball.  In the next field, I can see the boys are actually playing soccer.

I understand why we're doing it this way.  The boys are always playing sports: before school, after school, at lunch, in art class. It is obvious they are, as a whole, much better than the girls. It's not the decision to segregate the class that bothers me as much as the necessity to do so.

"Different not wrong" I remind myself as a girl goes inside crying after being hit by the ball.  Her reaction speaks to a lifetime of being taught that hers is the weaker, more delicate sex.  However, there is at least one girl who is, clearly, very talented at maneuvering the ball. There are no girl's soccer leagues here, so she hasn't received any formal training; but she kicks the ball up on top of her foot and to her knee where she tries to bounce it a few times. I wonder if she wishes she could actually play soccer. I wonder, without any female role models playing sports, if the idea even occurred to her.

"Different, not wrong"

But some things are wrong, and sometimes the line between different and wrong becomes hard to discern.  I've been faced with countless situations where I've wondered whether or not this line has been crossed.

"I would like to date an American boy" a girl my age said toward the beginning of my exchange.
"But not a black boy, I don't like black people."

"Oh?" is all I can manage is response
"Do you like black people?" she asks

I want to reply that I would never judge anyone based on there skin color

"I don't know" I reply, instead, looking down at my feet. What I mean is that I don't understand. I don't understand where this idea comes from. Why wouldn't you like a whole group of people based solely on the amount of pigment in there skin?

It seems here everyone has an opinion on "black people". There are girls in my class who say they would like to come to America specifically to date black people, that they don't like white boys.

I've wondered if, maybe, the "I don't like black people" comment meant simply that she didn't personally prefer the way dark skin looks. Like how some people might say they prefer brunettes to blondes or visa versa.

It's when I see how dark-skinned people are treated that I doubt this theory.

And it's when I walk down the aisle at a toy store and see only blonde haired blue-eyed dolls that I wonder what effect this difference is having on the next generation.

I've tried to imagine what it would be like growing up as an average Turkish girl; being told, whether overtly or subliminally that your skin color is ugly, and that you are weaker than the boys around you.  It would be different, but would it be wrong?

Below are my latest thoughts on this subject, written today. 

Over time, I've begun to suspect that this prejudice against darker skin is more nationalistic than racist.   Darker skinned people are, more likely than not, coming from out side of Turkey originally; even if "originally" is countless generations back in history. "Gypsies" and "Kurds" are two groups of people that, for whatever reason, it seems to quite socially acceptable to make broad disparaging comments about, and they both, generally, have darker skin than your average ethnically Turkish person.  Usually, Turkish children won't have friends in either of these groups. "Gypsies" are seen solely as beggars, tissue paper sellers, and garbage sweepers. Kurds are seen as strict, violent Muslim fundamentalists.

Really, this xenophobia isn't so much different than what we have here in America. I think the biggest difference is a lack of "Politically Correct" culture.  In Turkey, Rotarians and friends at school aren't shy to tell me what they think about "those people". In America, these conversations would be limited to close, like minded friends or anonymous internet boards.  The "political correctness" of America seems to baffle other countries, as I learned while talking to other exchange students on the bus.

"Is Eskimo a bad word is America like nigger?" I was asked by a boy from Germany

The girl sitting with me was of the opinion Eskimo wasn't bad at all.  As the resident Alaskan, I said that it would more polite to say "Native Alaskan"

"But it's not bad like nigger," I tried to explain, fully aware of how ridiculous I sounded "You should never say nigger, people say Eskimo all the time"

"But doesn't Eskimo mean 'raw meat eater'?" the boy continued. It was clear that the nuances of American political correctness didn't make any more sense to him then it did to me.

"Well, some native Alaskans call themselves Eskimos" I said remembering something my mom had told me from her experience as a nurse in bush Alaska; but of course I knew that some African Americans called themselves niggers. Both groups had come under persecution because of their race and both "nigger" and "Eskimo" have been used as insults, and now carry significant negative historical connotations.

"Just don't ever say nigger in America." I said, hoping to keep my friend from insulting anyone should his wandering take him to America.

I guess that really is the point of political correctness, not insulting anyone. In America, not making people feel bad is a much bigger deal than in Turkey. Conversely, there are plenty of other cultures where not insulting people is an even bigger deal than in America, and causing people to "lose face" is one of the worst things you can do.

To summarize, I've come to the conclusion, that Turkey really isn't more racist than America on average. Turks are just more honest about there feelings than most Americans.  Is it different, but not necessarily wrong.


  1. I hope you don't mind being criticized by people you don't know. And I also hope you understand what I'm saying, or I'll have to switch back to English.

    Her neyse, insanları bu şekilde genelleyemezsin. Irkçılık Türkiye'de de ABD'de olduğu kadar yanlış kabul edilir ve muhtemelen senin o arkadaşın da o sözü ırkçı bir anlamda söylememiştir. Eğer o sözü ırkçı bir anlamda kullandıysa bu sadece farklı değil, yanlıştır da. Sözün Türkiye'de söylenmiş olması yanlışlığını azaltmaz, ve Türkler de ırkçılığı onaylayan insanlar değildir.

    Beden eğitimi derslerindeki cinsiyet ayrımı konusunda kesinlikle seninle aynı fikirdeyim. Ama az önce dediğim gibi, bu durum Türkiye'de de yanlış. Bunun yanlış olduğunu biz de kabul ediyoruz. "Only different" değil, aynı zamanda "wrong", biliyoruz.

    Ayrıca kadın futbolu liglerimiz var, aşağıda verdiğim linkten görebilirsin.

    Bu mesajın anlamadığın bir kısmı varsa çevirebilirim.

  2. Thank you for your comment, Anıl. I hope you dont mind me replying in English. Since you are reading this blog I am assuming your ability to read my English is better than my ability to write in Turkish. Also, I think your comment was very important and good so I hope that my readers who dont speak Turkish can see what were talking about.

    Fırst of all, youre right that racism is always wrong. I definately could have made this clearer in my post. What I meant was that, I belıeve,as a whole, Turks know this just as much as Americans do. Some Americans and some Turks are both rascist, but of course, no one can speak of Turkey or America as a whole. Your courage to speak out against racısm on a strangers blog shows that there are indeed Turks who feel strongly about how wrong racism is.

    Secondly, I dont have anything to reply to your comments about segregation in sports, because we agree on this point, but I was wondering if you would like to translate your comment so readers in the U.S. can also see what you wrote? I would be happy to do this for you, but I am under the impression your English is quite good and perhaps your would rather say it in your own words?

    For any other readers who are wondering, the link Anıl shared at the bottom of his comment shows a link to a womens soccer leauge in Turkey

  3. As I said in my Turkish comment, the segregation in gym classes is just stupid and nothing else. The fact that it happens in Turkey does not make it "only different", it is also "wrong. We have quite successful women's basketball and volleyball teams, I dare to say, and I can't even understand how we manage to train good sports players with such a bad foundation to start with. And I can't keep myself from imagining how successful we would be if more Turkish women wanted to/could be a part of sports instead of being always afraid when a ball is around. Claiming women are not weak is sometimes even seen as an attack to women's rights here, while the goal has to be the absolute equality in every field.

    I'm enjoying your blog, though apparently you won't keep blogging for too long.