What happened after the Russian invasion of Ukraine is as sad as the war itself. The display of racism in some media coverage and in the treatment of people of colour fleeing the war has just confirmed the fact that people like me, who are not white, blue-eyed and blonde-haired, are still treated like second-class citizens.
Since I was born and raised in Turkey, a country that is connected to Europe on one side and Asia on the other, I think I am the right person to write this article.
In a video shared on social media, a CBS News journalist described the war as follows: “This isn’t a place, with all due respect, you know like Iraq or Afghanistan … this is a relatively civilized, relatively European … city.”
“These are not obviously refugees trying to get away from areas in the Middle East … or North Africa,” said an Al-Jazeera reporter in another video circulating on Twitter.
In yet another clip that can be found online, a Ukrainian official interviewed by BBC said he was “emotional” because he saw “European people with blue eyes and blonde hair being killed.”
We are human beings too
What’s the difference between people in Iraq or Afghanistan and blue-eyed Europeans?
Who was responsible for the bombs that exploded in Iraq in 2003? Was it a Middle Eastern coalition that entered with warplanes and tortured civilians saying, “We will bring democracy to Iraq”? Democracy did not come, but Iraq is practically a failed state…
It wasn’t the Middle East that looted Afghanistan and had its soldiers roam Afghan lands for years!
In Syria, a war has been waged by a dictator against his people for 12 years. But it was Europeans who watched Syrians die on the escape routes and said to Turkey, “You take care of the refugees and we’ll pay money for it.”
We are human beings too! Death, hunger, war, prison, exile are not routine for us. All this is as foreign and frightening to us as it is to Europeans (even though it can be hard to believe or understand for some racists).
Living in the Middle East, we don’t wake up to the sound of shelling and sit at the breakfast table saying, “Oh, it’s not a big deal, it’s just a bomb”!
We never get used to it, we do not accept it. Even if we hear it every day, every time it feels scary and wild, just like the first time.
Hunger and poverty in many countries in Africa are not routine for the people living there. It is an everyday fight for survival.
While genocide was being committed against Yezidis in Iraq, it was not routine either. It was as barbaric as the war started by Putin, and it was a crime against humanity.
Racism at the border
In recent months, at least 19 migrants died at the Polish border with Belarus. Some drowned and some froze to death. Most migrants attempting to cross were from Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. Poland’s border is now wide open for the Ukrainians fleeing the war, but non-Europeans have to go to the back of the line.
We understand the Ukrainians; we have seen all those roads, deaths, bombs, absence. We don’t just understand them, we feel for them. As we follow the events, we remember what we went through and the treatment we got here.
But while we empathize with a nation in the middle of a war, we are forced to watch Africans being pushed off trains and listen to TV broadcasts saying “this is not the Middle East.”
Discrimination against people of colour at the border, when whites can pass freely, is not something we should be witnessing these days!
White Europeans can travel to many places without a visa just because of where they were born. When we want to travel, we need to tell your consuls and visa processing clerks everything about our families, jobs, salary and title deeds.
The EU, America, Canada and many other countries are making us experience the same things that happened on the Polish border: the whites can come, but others must get off the train.
Another video showing Africans being forcibly removed from the train they were boarding to leave Ukraine pic.twitter.com/vhKaeXqTwV
— özlem (@zlm_brv_alkym) February 28, 2022
When our parents and family apply for a visa, they hear, “I am not satisfied that you will leave Canada at the end of your stay.” This is an opinion used to justify rejection, and opinion is not evidence.
Were permissions obtained from the Indigenous Peoples when white people came to these lands?
Why do we have to wait for years for someone to process our paperwork so we can see our own children, while whites are granted entry and residence permits as a matter of priority?
Why are we always pushed off the train?
We have senses like you.
We have memories.
We don’t have blonde hair and blue eyes, but we have a heart and a soul!
We love colours as you do. It’s not the colour of the skin, but the colour of the sky, which makes us dream of equality, eternity, freedom and justice.
And we always know the sound of the hope train. We live in the dream that one day all people will be taken on that train.
Arzu Yildiz graduated from Istanbul Bilgi University in TV Journalism Department and has worked as a journalist, editor and senior reporter. She has written critical pieces of investigative journalism about unresolved murder cases in the Southeast against Kurdish businessmen and illegal weapons supply to Syria. She has four books published and writes for New Canadian Media.