This Post is About Racism

by Tibra Ali

I had a wonderful time listening to classic bluesy songs at an international club in Gulshan the other night but it didn’t start off on the right foot…

I was waiting for friends in front of the club at the embassy row when I was told by a security guard not to linger and move on. I gave him a piece of my mind, saying that by law I had the right to stand on the sidewalk of this city as any other citizen. I also asked him if he would have asked me to move on if I were a white (i.e., non-brown) person waiting outside an international club. I think I managed to crush the spirit of this particular guard. 

It reminded me of the time when, a few years back, I was told by a volunteer at a literary festival that I couldn’t sit in a row of seats that were reserved for their ‘foreign delegates/dignitaries.’ I had asked the volunteer how he knew I wasn’t one (he hadn’t asked for an ID) and his confused face told me the answer I needed to know: I was too brown or deshi-looking to be a foreign delegate.

The other day, I was waiting for the elevator at the university I work for and the security guard shooed me away from the front of the elevator. A moment later I saw the white foreign admin guy walk out of the elevator and I knew exactly why the security guard had shooed me away. I had experienced exactly the same thing in the sister NGO of my university.

I am dating a western woman at the moment and the other day she was visiting me in Dhaka. She had booked a couples’ massage for the two of us at a spa run by a Korean woman as a romantic gesture. (Sorry for sharing such an intimate detail but there is a point.) She had been explicit when booking the massage that it was for a man and a woman. But the moment I stepped into the spa with her, I knew from the confused face of the woman running the place that she hadn’t expected a brown Bangladeshi-looking guy. A few minutes later, she came and asked me if I was Bengali and then proceeded to tell me in her really bad English, ‘No Bengali men.’ I was alone when she told me this, but when my girlfriend returned she told her instead ‘No men.’

I have lived in Western countries for more than two decades and I have faced racism. But in general I found most of their public spaces to be more or less devoid of such naked racism.

But the racism I find in Bangladesh is weird. It is sanctioned by society. The people and institutions of Bangladesh seem to have internalized colonialism and racism. And we seem to have created a bubble for foreigners where a lot of them seem to feel that it’s their birthright to be treated as superiors. 

The international clubs in Dhaka are understandably a haven for foreigners living in this country. But a lot of them implement racist policies regarding memberships. They want to keep Bangladeshis with foreign passports out and they have found a clever way to do this. A lot of them have a policy that if you have a foreign passport but you have a No Visa Required (NVR) sticker on your passport (as most dual-national Bangladeshis have) then you automatically disqualify. It’s a clever ploy to keep us brown-skinned duals from overrunning their safe havens.

When I lived among white people it was expected that I would face racism from time to time. But I hadn’t expected such pernicious racism against Bangladeshis in Bangladesh after 51 years of her freedom.

This post was originally published on wanderingwords.org

One thought on “This Post is About Racism

  1. Bangladesh is unique in the sense that racism is directed against its own people. I think it is more classism than racism.

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