Looking specifically at racial oppression in Iran against the Afghan community.
Racism is a system of oppression which works in the favour of the majority in society. Talks of racism in non-white countries are usually left out of the conversation, countries like Iran deal with immigrants from the neighboring countries in the same negative manner that the western countries do.
I grew up around extreme racism against people of Afghanistan who migrated to Iran, and it is heartbreaking hearing their stories about how they have been treated, as an immigrant, I can sympathise with them but as an Iranian, I also feel responsible. This racism still continues among people and there does not seem to be enough activism around the issue.
When I was in primary school, there was an Afghan girl in our class, and for the whole year, no one spoke to her. She was made to feel othered and ignored. Iranian culture has a problem with classism and pride, folks from a lower class and/or non modern/western countries are seen as unacceptable. Which was probably the reason that the girl was ignored in our class and no one wanted to be associated with her.
There is also a myth that people from Afghanistan bring crime and take all of the jobs. Sound familiar? A lot of anti-immigration views seem to be holding on to the same myths, the fear of the ‘other’ stealing something from us and bringing some sort of unknown danger. When in fact people who immigrate are just looking for safety and humanity, when their countries are at war and their lives are in danger.
A few years after being in the same class with that girl, I moved to the UK, and suddenly I became the girl who was the ‘other’, the girl who no one wanted to be friends with, except one Afghan girl. We were ‘othered’ together.
There is something powerful about suddenly experiencing racism when you’ve spent your whole life benefiting from systematic racism as the result of the privilege that you have held. It teaches you about the hurt that comes from oppression, but also the responsibility that comes with this privilege. As an Iranian who has lived with the privilege of being the majority in Iran, I had a responsibility to stand up for the people who didn’t have the privilege/right to stand up for their rights. Racism is not just a problem for those who suffer, but also a problem for those who benefit from it.
I should have learned to stand up for my classmate and not let the racism in that institution win. But I was too afraid of being othered myself, and later on, in my life I was put in her place. I don’t think I would have learnt this if it wasn’t for this life experience. I often think about how I could have been educated about issues surrounding race and also about how the British education system teaches children about race related issues. How does it stop them from becoming a part of it because racism is a learnt behaviour?
There has been a lot of talk about Hollywood not hiring people of colour in movies and roles that have been given to white folk instead of the appropriate ethnicity. For example, Emma Stone playing a Hawaiian character when she’s in fact caucasian. I have also noticed this thread in Iranian films.
The film Heiran-2009 is about a teenage girl who falls in love with an illegal Afghan worker in Iran. Heiran is the Afghan boy whose character is played by an Iranian actor who puts on a fake accent. It is interesting to make a link between this example and Hollywood’s trend of not hiring actors who are the minority and of the right ethnicity and background for the role.
Iran’s cinema also tends to use real foreign actors for comical roles, so they can be laughed at because of their different accents or for simply existing. This is also a trend that can be seen in the mainstream western film industries when characters who are people of colour or even Jewish only get visibility because of comical value.
These attempts can be so harmful to the lives of the minorities in society, because it creates a false representation of the people, but also because due to the lack of representation such ideas become the stereotypical view on those people.
It is important to always make links between casteism, colourism, and racism in nonwhite countries and western colonisation. The ideology of better race (the whiter the better) entered the eastern world through colonisation and the idea of capitalist power hunting and comparing economical power, has created harmful hierarchies within people of different ethnicities.
It is essential to use privilege to make changes for those who don’t have it, oppression is not just an issue for those who are oppressed but also the oppressors, no matter if you actively oppress a group or are benefiting from that system.
Although I imagine it would be very difficult to experience this as a white person, because whiteness is highly respected in non-white countries, therefore it’d be hardly treated in a negative way.
Some white folk use the excuse of , it’s not my fault, it happened a long time ago (in terms of colonization or slavery) but what I have learned is, if you imagine being in the place of the minority, and being oppressed wouldn’t you hope the majority cared for a change?