You Don’t Look Like a Turkish
You’re traditionally submissive
I was so excited to come here — a beautiful city, a magnificent country, a rhythmic language, which was my main reason to undertake many hardships: financial, social, familial, environmental. I thought it would have been worth it until I heard the teacher, who was supposed to teach me a foreign language in her country, saying that “well, you’re Turkish… Does not domesticity run over your blood?” Excuse me?
That moment, for which I can’t find adjectives to describe, was continued with several discussions, conversations with authorities and rector. I got nothing but a “we’re sorry” email.
I think they wouldn’t even have bothered themselves with the “sorry” email if their institution wasn’t trying to be the best one that teaches its national language to foreigners. Maybe they should have edited their policy and written that “well, you know — we’re teaching only for foreigners. But we do discriminations. We despise them for their past experiences. Double-standards.”
Over time, I tried to forget that day, that lesson, that educational institution making racial judgements about its students. I simply ignored it.
It was my fault that I decided to pursue my academic career in the same country, just a different city. “But this time it should be different,” I thought. Because this university aims to be the top in Europe in terms of attracting international students and making themselves feel home. Let’s be honest — I’ve never felt that far from home.
While writing about these experiences, right now, right here, I’m asking myself. If I already experienced a racial judgement, why did I choose to come here again? The answer was simple — because it wasn’t my only and first experience here. Because I’ve learned how not to create stereotypical generalizations. Because I’ve myself experienced how brutal they could be for identity, humanity and equality.
So, I always thought about my positive experiences here. My friends who shared their time with me. Their families who shared their dinner tables with me. Their mothers who hugged me when I missed my mom. Their sincerity when they were curious about my culture, my people and my food. They probably saw how enthusiastic I became when they wanted to know something about us.
I was so internalized with stereotypical judgements of the West towards my country that I started despising my own culture. I didn’t even remember when. It felt like always, it felt so abnormal, I had a heavy lump in my throat.
You don’t look like a Turkish
Anyway. I decided to go to the university for my postgraduate degree. I found a new house and new friends. I was homesick, as usual. I was trying to get used to. One day, one of my roommates’ parents came to visit us. His mother cooked for us and his father was waiting for the food. The mother was so excited about making dinner for his son and his friends. She told me she would cook a special dish, spaghetti alle vongole. She served the dishes and everyone helped her except for the father and the dinner was followed up with this discourse:
Father: But, what the hell!? You put A LOT of clams in the plate! How am I supposed to use the fork?
Mother: Oh, I’m sorry, so sorry. You’re right.
Oh, shit. Is there a family like that on earth? And do they call us patriarchal or traditionally submissive? Of course, it wasn’t my right to say something. I started eating my spaghetti. And I succeeded. I used the fork as an able-bodied person.
It wasn’t until fifteen minutes later that the father wanted to know me. The next thing he asked after my name: so, what’s going on in Turkey with Erdogan?
Obviously, the politics of my country was more important than the real me. It was normal enough for him to ask about something artificial right after learning my name. Okay, I know her name. What’s next? Ah, Erdogan. Then I understood, they never wanted to learn about me.
I was so fed up with the bullshits of toxic politicians all around the world that I avoided getting involved in political discourse. Since I didn’t want to be the rude one at the table, I just said everything is fine. I wanted to shout him though, are you aware of what you just did to your wife, the woman you loved? Respect, patience. I reminded myself.
It was two months later, we were again at the dinner table because my other roommate’s parents came to visit her. They also wanted to cook for us. The mother asked my name and my country when we met. After some talking, she also wanted to know me. She asked me where I was from specifically in Turkey. I told her, Istanbul. Then it arrived. The special question.
Well, you don’t look like a Turkish?
I never judged a person’s compatibility with her/his nationality by looking at their physical appearance. Since I never uttered a word, she should have judged me so.
+ In what sense I don’t look like a Turkish?
- Well, aren’t Turkish people dark-skinned?
I have fair skin with light-brown hair and hazel eyes. Then, I thought a little bit about the question. I tried to figure out what she was asking. I thought about my closest friend, with fair skin and dark hair. Another blonde friend with blue eyes. My father, fair skin, dark hair & dark eyes. My brother, same. My boyfriend, same. My mother, all blonde. Then my brain stopped functioning. I looked at the table. I looked at those eight persons and realized they had darker skins than all the people I just thought. My mind was confused. She was waiting for an answer. Again, I didn’t want to be the rude one. So, the answer was “it depends on the region.” But I was curious about her impression. So, I asked:
Then you’ve been to Turkey? Since you know what we look like…
Oh no, I’ve never left my country because I have a fear of flying.
I didn’t say a word that night, just thanked her for cooking. I appreciated it. But I wanted to be warned for next time not to feel full of words before food.
I ignored these memories as well.
Here I am. Now. The present. I’m excited about going to the lesson I pass by the main building of the university. There’s a small window located on the wall. I glance inside. I see the name of my country. I get more excited. Are they doing something about my country? Am I visible and respected again? I continue at a trot with a big smile on my face. I stop. I’m slapped in the face. A rude awakening. A huge banner on which it’s written #BoycottTurkey #StopErasmus.
I feel as if everyone is looking at me scoldingly. I feel like the word “Turkish” has left a mark on my forehead. I know I have to move. I take my steps backwards. I leave the building immediately. I feel under attack. I feel having no identity nor a place in this world.
Claps, you’ve made me dehumanized.
Somewhere in my subconscious, I accepted that marginalization, that alienation and that discrimination. Sad, but I got used to it. But it was too much. My friend said that don’t get overemotional.
I couldn’t talk, but I cried — longer than I had expected. Of course, I got overemotional. I have to. Someone has to. There is a total exclusion of myself and the people sharing the same nationality as me because of a political situation related to my country.
I’ve never supported violent acts towards anyone. I’m still not supporting what the hell my country is doing and I wish, I wish so hard to make all things stop. I desire only but only equality and peace all around the world. But there’s a banner against me on the building of my school? The school that was supposed to nurture me and make myself feel home. Claps, you’ve made me dehumanized.
It’s been same. Though I expect something different for each experience, it’ll always be same. After a brutal attack of which I’m never a supporter, people will consider me a terrorist when they see the word that defines my religion.
After a political interest which I hate, people will despise and dehumanize me. They will see my nationality, my religion, my political ideology, my physical appearance, my dress, even my body before hearing my thoughts. The thoughts that have been expecting for so long to be heard. They will never see me as an individual.
Like my previous realization, they succeeded once and they will be successful again. They will make me ignore my culture, despise it, even hate it.
Special thanks to all the lands that aren’t able to make a place for me and that alienate me from my country to the extent that I have no sense of home or whatsoever.
And my university,
“When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game.” — Toni Morrison, Source