Freitag, 22. September 2017

Everyday Racism: ‘Where Are You Really From?’

Humans interact with each other in strange ways, especially when they first meet: instead of exploring each other’s individuality, they face each other through the lenses of their society’s conditioned biases.

Subsequently, when two strangers meet, questions such as, “What do you do?” pop up. A question dreaded by many who, at a first encounter, don’t want to discuss a part of themselves that may have little to do with their passion, desires, or interests; or because of the value we place as a society on various lines of work; or because work is generally what we do to pay our bills, not who we are. Another first encounter question that pops up repeatedly is the focus of this post: “Where are you from?”

“Where are you from?” is a question that is asked across countries and cultures. Proponents of this question argue that it is only a means to start-up a conversation between strangers—a way to connect with each other in a light-hearted way. Most of us are so accustomed to it that we neither question the lack of literal logic, nor the everyday racism embedded in the question.

What Defines Where Someone Is From? —The Literal Challenges

Let us first explore the lack of literal logic. Has anyone ever identified what determines where someone is from? Is it supposed to be the location where someone was born, lived the longest, most recently, or identifies herself with?

Even though there is no definition of what determines where someone is from, there is a preconceived idea that everyone somehow knows what the answer is.

The question is based on the assumption that humans somehow are from fixed, easily identifiable locations, which can make anyone outside of this standard feel as if they are some sort of an outsider—somewhat “odd.” Many military children struggle with this question, as they tend to move around often and, subsequently, don’t know how to answer it. However, they are not the only ones.

Covert Racism: Where Are You Really From?

For racial and ethnic minorities, “Where are you from?” offers an additional layer of challenge. It is one of the most powerful reminders of everyday racism. Here is how the interaction often plays itself out:

When minorities tell the inquirer where they are from, the inquirer is not always satisfied with the answer, as in the case of an “Asian looking” woman who “claims” to be from San Diego. In those cases, the inquirer finds it appropriate to probe further by asking follow-up questions such as: “I mean, where are you really from?” or, “Where are you originally from?” or worse, “Where are your parents from?”—keep in mind, we are talking about strangers who just met.

Do these questions sound like a light-hearted, striking up of an innocent conversation with a stranger? Regardless of what the answer may be, there is more.

When minorities return the question to the inquirer—to the one who apparently sees him- or herself as native to the United States—they have no problem with answering, “Pittsburgh,” or “Austin.” Why the double standard? Why would someone who is allegedly from Pittsburgh be unable to accept that someone else is from a similar location? No one is from Pittsburgh unless they are Native Americans from Pittsburgh.

If we are going to play a game of where someone is from, we could even question that Native Americans too came from somewhere, some time. However, we are not going to play this game because it is ridiculous.

Minorities Also Participate in the Othering Game

It must be noted here that the inquirers are not always persons of the dominant culture. Minorities, themselves, engage in this type of interaction, as well. This makes sense because the power of racism lies in the fact that minorities buy into the narrative as much as the dominant culture does.

People who never witnessed the awkward situation that many minorities are way too familiar with may not understand just how disturbing these interactions can be. Because the awkward conversations generally do not end at this point, either, especially if the person asked—God forbid—volunteers the national origin or ethnic background information.

Then, the inquirer usually gives a sermon about how wonderful people from x, y, z country (not racist at all) are, how they have a friend from that country, or tell all about his or her recent vacation to that country. Such follow-ups clearly reflect something very crucial: the denial of the other person’s individuality. They show how the inquirer is grouping and boxing the person in front of them. What does one person “from” Spain has to do with another person from Spain? Just as much or as little as over 300 million Americans have in common with each other—or not.

Romanticizing Diversity—Narrative, Little to Do With Reality

Minorities, however, often also stress that the “Where are you from?” question is appropriate to ask, because they are proud, and want to discuss their national origin, their heritage, or what have you. They claim that those factors make up their identity.

Identifiers such as ethnicity, culture, or national origin, however, are all arbitrarily determined constructs, just like race. Contrary to wide-spread beliefs, where someone “is from” has little to do with who the person is. We are not the spices we eat. Who we are is also not determined by arbitrarily drawn political borders or by whether we drink our tea in the morning or the afternoon.

Here in the U.S., we especially tend to romanticize ethnicity and culture—traits that we conveniently mistake for diversity. “Conveniently,” because true diversity is based on a high level of individuality and requires much more effort than having an annual diversity festival at a street corner. Diversity in complex societies, such as ours, is a serious challenge—a challenge, the level of which we hardly appreciate.

Everyone has to decide for themselves how they feel about “Where are you from?” The purpose of this post is to make us question how we interact with each other on a daily basis, the questions we ask, and the answers we give.

The purpose of this post is also to make us think, if, and to what degree, we want to help others deny our individuality and humanity.

This article was originally published in The Globe Post:

Donnerstag, 23. März 2017

The Armenian Genocide—Time for Acknowledgement and Healing

"As April 24, the anniversary of the Armenian Genocide is nearing, many countries are going to take the opportunity, again, and prove their moral superiority by judging Turkey. The morally superior even include countries such as Germany that was involved in more than one genocide in the beginning of the last century. As perpetrators of the first genocide of the 20th century against the Herero in Namibia, Germany may have also had a role, the extent of which is still unclear, in the deportation of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. Often praised for her dealings with the Holocaust, it took Germany over 100 years to finally acknowledge the genocide against the Herero in 2015. Countries such as France, Switzerland, Slovakia, Cyprus, and Greece have so far shown their moral superiority by suppressing speech and making it a crime not to acknowledge the [Armenian] genocide while very comfortably judging Turkey for her shortcomings on freedom and democracy..."

For full article, please visit: Tikkun Daily Blog

Montag, 6. März 2017

There’s only one solution to Turkey’s ‘Kurdish problem’

The foundation of Turkey’s difficult relationship with its Kurdish minority was laid after World War I, when the Ottoman Empire was partitioned into various nation-states. The area where the Kurds, a nomadic tribe, used toroam freely was divided into what is today known as Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq. There has been friction with the Kurdish minority in all four countries since.

Deconstructing myths

In Turkey, the frictions are mainly based on two factors. First is that Kurds feel betrayed. They claim that the Treaty of Sèvres promised them an independent Kurdish state. However, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey, allegedly “tricked” them into fighting against the allies, either by promising Kurds their own territory or a common state. Since neither materialized, proponents to date feel that they have a right to create an independent or autonomous Kurdish state within Turkey’s borders.

The allegations against the Turkish state, however, are not entirely true. Even though the treaty included a provision for a Kurdish state, according to Article 64, the provision had many conditions, one of which would have required Turkey’s consent for a Kurdish state to materialize. Moreover, such a Kurdish state would have been put under British control. A majority of Kurds rejected this due to religious concerns. When the Turkish Nationalist Movement decided to fight the allies and the conditions of the Treaty of Sèvres, the majority of Kurds chose to fight alongside Atatürk. Three years later, the Treaty of Lausanne was signed and Turkey’s current borders were legally established.

Since the Republic of Turkey was legally established, any form of Kurdish state in Turkey — independent or otherwise — is obviously less than feasible. Yet, proponents of a Kurdish state incorrectly refer to the Treaty of Sèvres to make their case. This brings us to the second challenge: the lack of human rights in Turkey.

No one can change history. What can be changed is how minorities are treated — regardless of who they are, when people are treated with respect and dignity, and are granted full-fledged human rights, concerns about ethnicity or race become secondary, or may even vanish. After all, the purpose of constructs such as race or ethnicity is unequal treatment.

In this regard, Turkey has failed miserably — however, not only her minorities but her entire population. A constant crack-down on free speech has been on the political agenda since the establishment of the country and only continues to intensify with the increasingly autocratic direction of the current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s regime.

Erdoğan’s opening

After President Turgut Özal, who suddenly became ill and died in 1993, Erdoğan became in 2005 the first Turkish president to show interest in dealing with the Kurdish problem more openly. However, any signs of progress were short-lived. Although the ban on broadcasting in Kurdish was lifted in 2009 and Kurdish was finally allowed to be taught in public schools in 2012, even the attempts to grant Kurds the most basic rights have been inconsistent, as the recent crack-down on Kurdish schools and news outlets illustrates...

For full text, please visit Original article published in The Hill:

Samstag, 11. Februar 2017

Religious Diversity And The Alevi Struggle For Equality In Turkey

For full article, please visit:

[...] Alevi is a religious group in Turkey, not to be confused with Alewites in Syria. They are followers of Ali, the brother-in-law of Prophet Muhammed. Alevi is a mystical belief that is rooted in Islam and Sufism with some traditions of Christianity and Shamanism. It is a religion that is based on humanistic ideals of love and tolerance expressed in mystical poems instead of strict rules, passed on through oral tradition. Alevis have been discriminated against and persecuted in Turkey, based on dehumanizing allegations that Alevi rituals include incestual sexual orgies (“mum söndürmek”). [...]

Samstag, 4. Februar 2017

Alevi cem evi—Turkey’s neverending struggle with its diversity

The government’s refusal to-date to recognize cem evis as the legitimate place of worship of Alevis is only one of many aspects of Turkey’s continuous struggle with diversity.  Valuable energies are wasted on efforts to suppress diversity, the differences in people that make any nation great, the reason why many people flock to countries such as the United States of America and claim their unwavering allegiance. Turkey’s ruling party continues its anti-diversity efforts, as if through oppression and denial, diversity will vanish one day and Turkey will finally become some sort of a homogeneous state, and national unity will be guaranteed; as if diversity, and not the constant attempt to suppress, has been the real threat to Turkey’s unity all along.

One Religion, One Place of Worship?
After centuries of denying that the Alevis even existed, Turkey now seems stuck with the inability to admit the obvious, that cem evis are the place of worship of the Alevis, displaying just how difficult it apparently is for some to accept and respect differences. The status-quo further demonstrates that the ruling party’s Alevi opening effort was only intended to gain Alevi support, to be followed by efforts to assimilate the community.

However, nothing demonstrates the ruling party’s disregard for diversity better than Mr. Erdogan’s one religion, one place of worship claim. In spite of the religious and practical differences between Sunnis and Alevis, President Erdogan insists that Alevis and Sunnis worship together in a mosque; an utmost inappropriate suggestion, the very least, for anyone who can appreciate the difference between Alevi and Sunni worship for what they are: differences—not good, not bad, just differences.  

Fighting the inevitable: equal rights for Alevis
The handling of the Alevi question reflects Turkey’s inability to acknowledge and appreciate her diversity and her last attempts to fight the inevitable, creating only more animosity in the meantime. However, change is coming and no one, not even the ruling party, will be able to stop it, because in the 21st century, the majority of Turks are too well-informed and enlightened to buy into dehumanizing and disrespectful narratives about homogeneity. They already decided that such ideals are neither realistic nor welcome any longer.

It is only a matter of time that cem evis will be recognized as a place of worship and Alevis will have access to the rights that they are entitled to. What a shame that they have to wait so long for something so basic such as equal treatment under the law.

Alev Dudek is a German-American researcher, analyst, and author of Turkish descent. As an established scholar in diversity, she served on the executive board of the International Society for Diversity Management, in Berlin, as well as the City of Kalamazoo Community Relations Board. Ms. Dudek received The National Security Education Program (NSEP) award in 2014.

Montag, 9. Januar 2017

Turkey: Paving the path for Erdogan’s autocratic rule

For full article, please visit:


Ensuring National Unity Through Crack-Down On Minorities?

Besides her struggles with free speech and secularization versus freedom of religion conflict, Turkey also has historically had issues with dealing with its minorities. The default course of action has traditionally been to limit the rights of minorities or deny their existence altogether. As if diversity would vanish through oppression and denial, so that Turkey can finally become some sort of a homogenous state and national unity would be guaranteed; as if diversity, and not the constant attempt to oppress, was the real threat to Turkey’s unity.

Mr. Erdogan initially signaled the much needed positive changes in regard to dealing with minorities, particularly affecting the two major groups, the Alevis and the Kurds. He led an Alevi opening and extended rights of Kurds to speak and broadcast in their language. However, his reforms were short-lived as his administration continues to deny equal rights to Alevis and cracks-down on Kurdish media.

Mittwoch, 4. Januar 2017

Sexism in the USA: How will women fare under Trump?

Original Link to the Article Published in The Hill:

We Americans like to think of ourselves as better than most nations. In many ways we are. However, as demonstrated in Donald Trump’s sexist rhetoric during the presidential campaign and his subsequent victory, we are far away from gender equality.

Women in the workforce?

As the most powerful nation in the world, the United States in the global gender gap index ranks 28th place, behind Estonia, Bolivia, Barbados, and Mozambique. And although it’s sixth in economic participation and opportunity, the U.S. ranks only 64th in health and survival and 72nd in political empowerment.

Women represent only approximately 19 percent of the members of the U.S. Congress, which puts us behind countries such as Iraq, Namibia, Mozambique and Afghanistan. Subsequently, in our more than 200 years of history, we have not had a female leader yet, which leaves us behind many countries including Turkey, India, Pakistan, Germany, Malawi, Kosovo — the list goes on.

Similar trends are seen in economic empowerment.

Even though approximately 57.4 percent of students receiving a bachelor’s degree and 62.6 percent of students receiving a master’s degree are women, and they participate in the total U.S. workforce relatively evenly to their proportion in the population, they only make 78.3 cents to every dollar made by men. The top three jobs for women in the United States to date are secretaries/administrative assistants, elementary and middle school teachers and registered nurses.

Women are under-represented in traditional male roles. Among the new hires in the federal government, males account for 80 percent of information technology, 83 percent of engineering, and 92 percent of police officer occupations.

Moreover, women occupy only 4.4 percent of CEO positions at Fortune 500 companies. Barriers for women exist overall in other senior and executive level positions. Subsequently, women over the age of 65 are twice as likely to live in poverty as men of the same age.

Obsessively legislating women’s bodies

While our legislators do little to empower women, they do quite a bit to control them. In the last few years alone, out-of-control legislators have made countless efforts to regulate women’s bodies while they have done little to regulate anything else. God must have told them to do so.

In 2012, the Virginia House of Delegates passed a law that in its original version would have required many women to undergo transvaginal ultrasounds; it was revised due to the outrage that it has sparked. Only then did legislators in Pennsylvania, Alabama and Idaho back down with their own transvaginal requirements.

Prior to that, Republican Rep. Glenn Grothman of Wisconsin, then a state senator, had introduced a bill that declared non-marital parenthood as a contributing factor to child abuse and neglect. In 2013, Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona introduced a national bill that would ban abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy without regard to rape, incest or health of the mother. South Dakota state Rep. Phil Jensen, now a state senator, tried to make killing abortion providers a justifiable homicide. In Alabama, a law was passed to allow the state to represent fetuses.

It must be noted that concern for unborn life is a noble cause. However, the obsession with fetuses in the United States has little to do with respecting life. Otherwise, the same legislators would work to protect those lives after they are born too.

Moving forward: Respecting one another

Donald Trump only brought to surface how we really feel about women in this country, but he also displays what it allegedly means to be a man. This is very important because the key to understanding sexism is, among other things, understanding the stereotypes that we have of men: individuals who are perfectly fine with touching a woman without her consent, objectifying them, lacking respect for their partners, and laughing off degrading comments as locker room talk.

Our society will always be as good as the level of respect we have for one another, regardless of gender, sexual identity, race, and other superficial traits. With a president-elect who has little regard for women as well as for men, we have to make sure that in the next four years of his term, we don’t turn back the clock on progress.

Alev Dudek is a German-American author. As an established scholar in diversity, she served on the executive board of the International Society for Diversity Management in Berlin as well as the City of Kalamazoo (MI) Community Relations Board. She received The National Security Education Program (NSEP) award in 2014.