Friday, June 16, 2006

(Sorry) (Sir) You CAN'T COME IN!

Woke's a clever bunny. Spot the difference between the pic on the Gulf News racist doorman story

and his version on his post 'The First Strike' in the UAE Community Blog.

And since it's the weekend, here are my complete ramblings in response thereto! (Compressed version in Woke's comments.)

Racism is endemic here and just because almost any nationality is allowed in doesn't mean that everyone is valued equally. I am not taking a shot at the UAE, either: racism is a world-wide phenomenon, one of the darker elements of human nature. The deep-rooted ignorance and prejudice Woke ascribes to corporations unfortunately begins with individuals, and attitudes we absorb or develop without thinking. I'm as guilty as anyone else, and have to accept that my genuine desire to be open and fair comes from this self-knowledge. Oh dear.

Our sense of self naturally includes our membership of particular groups who have shared habits, traditions and attitudes - some more inclusive than others; I call it a comfort blanket of what defines 'us'. However, it must also define those with different habits, traditions and attitudes as 'them'.

I don't think this is a bad thing. How can everyone be the same? Why should we be? Let's hear it for individualism, cultural diversity and tolerance, for goodness' sake! Less of the suspicion, anxiety, and secret (or not so secret) desire to get other people to do it our way! (Thinking about governments as well as groups and individuals).

Most multi-cultural societies start out with clusters of enclaves, barrios, ghettos, quarters - so many terms for the same phenomenon! We could also call them halfway houses, perched between the old country and the new. With time, the edges blur as succeeding generations qualify for passports from their parents' adopted country, mix at school, at work, sometimes in marriage, and forge more inclusive identities, as Italian-Americans, Anglo-Asians, etc. And as one community comes of age, and moves on and up, the next wave arrives. Easier said than done, of course.

Even so, racism - the dark side of the comfort blanket - is difficult to eradicate; which is why most countries are eventually obliged to legislate against racist behaviour, and be seen to enforce their anti-racism laws.

The UAE is a special case, because the 85% foreign population is a transient labour force, not encouraged to remain after our working life is over, and national policy, quite naturally, is to encourage nationals to marry nationals.

Even so, many of our children grow up in schools and neighbourhoods which bring them friends of many nationalities and cultures: Emirati, Scottish, Indian, Tasmanian, Iranian, Croatian, South African, English, Serbian, Australian. (I'm running through the friends Habibi had in eleven years here.)

Some of these friendships last, some don't, but in these expat children we have a group of people who cannot, in conscience, make blanket assumptions about Emiratis, Scots, Indians, etc. etc. ETC!!!! because experience has shown them individuals - with various similarities and differences, and perhaps as importantly, they have seen themselves and their own culture through the eyes of individuals from other cultures. It may not always be easy, but it has to be a good thing!

Even if the 'melting pot' doesn't exist; even if the kids who go to single nationality schools and live in single nationality neighbourhoods never mix with other nationalities; and the housemaid phenomenon means that some categorise certain races as servant class, and others as Sir or Madame -on balance, the expat experience Dubai offers is a gift for the future to wherever Dubai's Emirati and expatriate children live their adult lives.

Returning to the present (and without wishing to criticise the specific hotel in the newspaper story) it is all very well for the General Manager to protest (quite sincerely, I’m sure) that they can't be racist when they employ forty three nationalities; but there are many who make a distinction between those they will employ and those with whom they will socialise.

In addition, racist attitudes and/or practices among employers seriously limit the spending power of some nationalities; meanwhile others have considerable spending power, and a drinking culture that keeps bar tills busy. I for one believe this is a factor in the unwritten but well-established door policies of some clubs, which makes entire sections of the expatriate population the victims of double discrimination.

It's a sign of the progress here that racist door policy - or behaviour - is being reported. 'Members Only' door policies have been applied in Dubai clubs for years, as Deepak testifies (but I can't find the thread - If you read this Deepak, where did you post about arriving here?). What has changed is that people now feel able to protest to authorities, and that the authorities act.

Of course, doormen can have prejudices and policies of their own.


Deepak Morris said...

I deleted that comment because I thought it was unfair of me to use your soapbox for my rants :)

However, in response to your statement that issues being discussed point to a growing openness, I must point out that such discussions were being held in newspapers even while I was there. Nothing much came of them.


Woke said...

This time an action was taken by the hotel. I hope this will prompt others to follow suit.

MamaDuck said...

Hi Guys, Deepak, I think there's a difference now. Time was when newspaper discussion was all there was: there's a new militancy among construction workers; a new readiness to act in the Ministry of Labour; a new readiness to complain among the better off; and an array of newspapers which now report stories that would previously have been considered unprintable, invite comment, and present their contact numbers on several pages.

This must reflect changing attitudes at the top, from 'No bad news here.' to 'We are going for our place on the world stage, so we'd better deal with the issues that might impede our progress.'

I would imagine that such change must involve a change of personnel: a conservative civil service doesn't yield just like that. We don't have a free press, but we have a freer press, and we might be surprised to discover who's reading it, and smiling quietly.