Prejudice towards Blacks and other non-Europeans
By Shalizeh Nadjmi
April 9, 1999
Unlike the stereotypical slap-happy immigrant entering the Land of Opportunity
through Staten Island, gazing in awe at Lady Liberty, my family flew in
to the U.S. through the gates of the America's capital. It was here in
Washington DC that I first gazed in wonderment at the majestic white monuments
that marked the strength and foundation for the democratic ideals this
country stands for. It was also here that I was introduced to another concept;
a stark contrast that symbolizes the schizophrenia of America - racial
Boarding my first American subway in Northwest DC, I was warned by our
host - my mother's lovely cousin - to be wary of the Black Man. In fact,
my second cousin sternly objected to my mother and I sitting anywhere near
"them" for they were all armed and short tempered, and would
surely hurt us if we got too close.
Fourteen years later, under unforeseen circumstances, I find myself
back here in the great Western capital. Yet it seems that after all this
time, I have not heeded my cousin's warning. Indeed, like a good Persian
girl I did the very opposite: I tasted the forbidden fruit. In the twenty-two
years since leaving my mother's womb, I have experienced two significant
loves. Both of them have not only been Black, but they have been African,
with skin the color of midnight satin. And although both were born in the
U.S., each spent his life in his respective motherland, then migrated back
to North America.
Revisiting my relatives, I had naively and optimistically hoped that
in the course of fourteen years, my blood-kin would have learned acceptance
of all people regardless of race, color, or ethnicity. Sadly, I was wrong.
In this city of a thousand and one nationalities, I had mistakenly equated
diversity with understanding, tolerance with acceptance, integration with
brotherhood, and tokenism with equality.
The ebony almond eyes, gentle flat nose, and voluptuous red lips of
my boyfriend are unfamiliar and threatening to my great aunt and her family.
Full of Persian pride, I am drowned in a sea of shame when I try to speak
of him, and my tongue holds its silence. Dizzying thoughts of rebuttal
swim in my head, but I give into submission when confronted by my elders,
remembering that I must not disrespect them. My aunt's final comment on
the matter is "Do you want Black children?"
How do I respond to a statement that reveals the unfortunate mentality
of the great majority of Iranians. A statement that reflects the loss of
identity for the migrant, the colonized and the subjugated civilization.
I recall a mehmooni a few years back where my mother proudly informed her
friends that an "American" colleague had inquired whether she
In our struggle for success and respect on foreign soil, we have adapted
the segregationist mentality that plagues this country - a country that
has hailed the "equality" flag from its conception. Now Iranians
have become afflicted with this virus that spread across all minority groups.
We try our best to fit the European White mold, believing it to be the
highest form of existence. We boast about our history and poetry, about
our artists and mathematicians, yet we have abandoned the true nature of
our identity in order to gain social acceptance. In an attempt to act and
look "normal," we shun other races, viewing them as lower specimens.
Persians feel complemented when mistaken for French or Italian, but
show great aversion to being mistaken as Arab or Chicano. We deem ourselves
superior to all of Asia because of our "Aryan" ancestry and great Persian
Empire. Even among our own people, we praise the fair, light eyed, and
light haired over the siaah sookhtehs. We have accepted European superiority
and wish to elevate ourselves to their level by purposely disassociating
ourselves from other ethnic groups. But just as the White supremacist attitude
views other minorities as inferior, it also views Iranians and Middle Easterners
as inferior. We have not changed the perception of Iranians in their view,
we have simply supported their superiority over ourselves. Prejudices against
other minorities does not elevate the Iranian as a better people, rather
it divides and conquers group of people that have been historically oppressed.
By disuniting from our brothers and sisters, we have created a schism which
feeds into the hands of the conqueror.
We hail our "Aryan" ancestry, hoping this will gain us favor
among the White elite. Yet we are blind to the fact that the Asian Aryan
is not the European Aryan. The olive-skinned Iranian Aryan has forgotten
the deep culture and rich heritage of her ethnicity. Instead she strives
to fit neatly within the yuppie, mass consumer of the status quo. She tries
to defy her ethnic genes by mutating her body to fit the twiggy mold, hiding
behind blue contacts, and bleaching her raven black locks into straight
pigmentless yellow. The Esfahani boy gets a nose job, plucks his eyebrows,
and changes Babak to Bob so that his colleagues will think of him as one
of the guys. Exposure to ideas on racial equality at school are buried
under racist mentalities perpetuated at home by parents and aunts and uncles.
In self-defense, many of my Persian friends claim that they are not
prejudiced because they have an Arab/Latino/Black/East-Asian/Gay/Jewish
friend. A relationship with an individual representative of a group does
not equate acceptance of the group as a whole. Nor does it compensate for
the racial slurs, jokes, and remarks that slip from our tongues time and
time again. We have engraved prejudicial images into our inner beliefs.
Subconsciously we believe that Arabs are dirty, Jews are conniving, gays
are disgusting, and Blacks are ignorant.
Iranian Uncle Toms run amuck in American society, as well as the rest
of the world. Selling out to the powers that be, we promote racism and
European White supremacy, not realizing the inadvertent effect it has on
ourselves. Discriminating against any race promotes discrimination against
all minorities. As long as we as a group support prejudices, we will continue
to be discriminated against as well. We are in effect supporting the Eurocentric
ideology that European White is right. Diluting ourselves that we are a
part of this exclusive club has robbed us of our identity. How can we gain
recognition for ourselves as Iranians if we are constantly trying to assimilate
Unfortunately, we have missed the boat on what it is to be "American"
as well. Through advertising and mass media's visual bombardment, we have
embraced the European definition of "American" - white, blonde,
and blue eyed. Yet how many Americans actually fit this image? American
is a conglomerate of ethnicities. American is Afghani, Jewish, Swahili,
Indonesian, Ecuadorian, Hindu, Polish, Kuwaiti. It is not simply Tommy-Boy
I am always grateful to my parents for having provided me with the opportunity
to live in the U.S. I have been exposed to Western ideologies at school,
and Eastern ideology at home. I have learned to choose treasures from each
culture and place them in my own basket of values. Yet, I do not place
one above the other, and I am always conscience and expressive of where
I come from. And while my boyfriend is not Iranian, nor the piercing rod
in my tongue part of Iranian cultural practice, I am confident in who I
Three weeks ago I ventured to the Lincoln memorial where on one beautiful
summer August day just thirty-five years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr. had
delivered the "I Have a Dream" speech to over one million people
of all nationalities, of all denominations. As I stood across the water
where a somber Mr. Lincoln sat solemnly on his towering throne, I wondered
when that day would come. I was reminded of my grandfather standing erect
on top of Flagstaff mountain in Boulder, reciting Hafez over the moonlit
city. As the mad waters ran down my saturated skin, I felt the cleansing
power of hope. One day we will wash this unnatural hatred from our soul
and embrace our brothers and sisters as fellow humans.
The rumblings of discontent in Asia and Africa are expressions of
a quest for freedom and human dignity by people who have long been the
victims of colonialism and imperialism. So, in a real sense, the racial
crisis in America is a part of a the larger world crisis. -- Dr. Martin
Luther King, Jr.
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