Monday, 8 May 2017

Why I'm A Racist... And You Are Too

Ok, so you might be asking yourself what the hell me, and you, being racist could have to do with photography, and no doubt you've already counted all your "foreign" friends on your fingers to prove you definitely can't be racist. And of course your second cousin married that Asian girl who you really get along with and even once went shopping with, so you DEFINITELY....ONE  MILLION PERCENT can't be racist. But I'm about to fuck with your whole understanding, or lack of understanding, of race in humanity in this one little blog.

Hear me out....

First up, let me make my background perfectly clear. I was born in London 35 years ago to a Spanish mother and an Egyptian father. So I wouldn't class myself as "White", I'd class myself more as an Olive-y skinned Spanish looking sorta dude or "Other" on most application forms. I think I look much more Spanish than Egyptian and definitely relate more to my Spanish side than the Egyptian or even English for that matter, but the point is, I'm not White White and I've always classed myself as a Londoner rather than English (but let's leave Brexit out of this shall we?).

Think back to those early days of primary school, around years 4, 5 and 6. The teacher asks the barely listening class, "Who's heard of Africa?". As you continue to pick your nose and wipe it on your chair leg, the teacher projects a photo onto the wall of malnourished young African child with a pot belly and his modesty covered only by a torn rag. Shoe-less and dusty the boy stands by a filthy puddle in the middle of the desert holding a plastic container you're told he uses to carry home water from that very same filthy puddle.

"What do you know about India?" she asks.
A young girl across the room raises her hand as high as she can and proudly shouts "My family is from India!". The teacher smiles at her and says "AHH! Fantastic! Have you ever been to India to visit your family?".


The teacher turns to the wall, presses her magical gizmo and... "Here... This is India" she announces.
But the young girl across the room looks saddened and confused by what she sees,  because the image on the wall both looks exactly like her, yet nothing like her at all. The girl on the wall stares back at her but she's sad. Again she's wearing rags and stands amongst other unkempt girls her age, washing her face in a river being urinated in by cattle. The image screams poverty and desperation and you can almost smell the sewage as you can't help but count the flies on the little girls face.

"Who knows how far India is from London?" She asks scanning the room of blank faces. "India is over FOUR THOUSAND miles away!".
"Four thousand" your little 5 year old mind thinks. Wow, that's like the same as a million billion isn't it?

She spins the plastic globe and her finger lands far far away on a shape you've never seen before. A land you know nothing about. People you just can't see anything you relate to.

"Omar Shaker... You are half Egyptian, have you ever been to Egypt?"

My eyes bulge with anticipation and a smile takes control of my face because no, I had never been to Egypt but I knew I was about to find out what it was like. Half of me. Half of my soul.

"This is Egypt!" she says as she points her bony finger to the wall. Instant confusion runs through my mind because everything I'd been told about Egypt so far, must have been a lie.
I was told of structures that brought you wonder and amazement, and a city filled with riches. I was told that civilization began there and it was home to the most incredible works the human hand have ever been known to create. I was told some of the smartest people to ever have lived were from there, and I should be proud it's a part of my history. But all I see projected on the wall is a man in a funny long shirt and funny little hat, stood in the middle of the desert pulling along his Camel. Not my skin colour, not dressed like me and looks nothing like the people in the photos my father showed me. No riches. No amazement. Nothing to be proud of. Nothing to relate to.

So today I sit in front of my TV and yet again another small village in Africa cries out for help. The boy on the screen wearing those same faithful rags, dusty and shoe-less, carrying that same old bucket on his never-ending hike for dirty water, I wonder why it's so easy for me to flick the TV to another channel? I wonder why when BBC News shows a Syrian neighborhood bombed to rubble with that man holding his dead child as he screams in a language that means nothing to me, I can sip my coffee and glance up to the clock to see how long before my favorite program starts. I remember those days I was shown that these people were nothing like me and told they lived in a totally different world. A "third world". Not my world.

So yes I have loved ones from all different nations, colours and creeds. And yes I tell myself I see everyone as equal and love sees no colour, but...
If you've become as desensitised to the pains and realities of the world as I have, by images you've seen a million billion times, and you can flick that channel instead of realising we are all one, should be treating each other as one and every single living soul deserves a decent life, then I'm sorry to say it, but You are just... As racist... As me.

Much Love

Omar Shaker

All images were taken from Google and are copyright of their rightful owners.

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