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Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Why When We Say 'Racism' Do We Think of White Racism?

Dubai Marina

Some time ago I found an interesting post in a blog by an Indian in London.

The post, now removed, was entitled "Dubai - Still Racist?", and said:
Dubai (and the UAE) then and now is arguably one amongst the more institutionally racist places in the world with a strict hierarchy of privilege. Arabs are at the top of the heap, followed closely by Western Europeans and US (called the Whites in Dubai), Eastern Europeans, Philipinos and finally Indians and Pakistanis. The different communities were completely isolated from each other in terms of housing, schools, social clubs – it was like two different worlds – a glittering world inhabited by the Whites and the Arabs, and a more dreary one by us lot…

Advertisements for jobs explicitly state – "No Asians Please". Salary differentials based on nationality abound…

What is really interesting is that most of the younger Whites who live in Dubai often come from pluralistic, tolerant societies and are as embarrassed about the obvious racism as we are.
I find it so interesting that, when people think of racism, they almost invariably think of white racism against other ethnic groups or cultures, whereas in fact white racism is a minuscule phenomenon in comparison with the racism you find among other peoples.

Since then, I encountered many other online sources of information on racism in Dubai, from which I picked up a few lines.

From Dubai: wretched hive of racism and bigotry:
Israelis are not allowed in.
Dubai is a racist state.
From Silent discrimination – a fact of life in Dubai:
[D]iscriminatory job ads, racist door policies in bars and restaurants and stereotypical expectations are still everyday occurrences that – and I’m not condoning this at all – often slip by with barely a raised eyebrow.

While job ads these days don’t tend to mention physical attributes, photos are always required with the application, and it’s still common and accepted for employers to specify “Westerners only”, “Filipinas required” or “Indian national wanted”. Furthermore, there’s an unspoken understanding that the salary offered will depend on the nationality of the applicant. An Indian passport-holder, for example, will be paid less for the same job than a similarly qualified man of Indian origin holding a British passport.

(Interestingly, housemaids, when placing ads seeking work, are also guilty of this: Many request a job with a “white” or “Western” family, the implication being that the terms will be better and the salary higher than from any other type of employer.)

On a daily basis, this “silent” racism translates as a European sometimes getting served ahead of an Indian in a queue; a taxi driver picking up a Westerner rather than the Filipino he saw first; a European biting her tongue when an Emirati pushes in front at the till. While perhaps not agreeing with it, over time, many expats become desensitised to it, which is presumably how the China Times ad – which would have been inconceivable in the West –slipped through the net.
From Ten things I hate about Dubai :
Would it be racist of me to say that the Arabs are kind of racist towards us South Asian folks?

They have their nose in the air and most of the times don’t prefer to interact with South Asians. There is no such thing as labourer rights too, by the way. Most of the labourers are Pathans from Pakistan.

My brother and his South Asian friends are often stopped by the police and told to carry all his identification documents at all times.
From U.A.E Racism Against Immigrant !!!:
I believe U.A.E is one of the worst countries in the world when it comes to justice,fareness [sic] and human rights.
From Racial Discrimination In Dubai:
Those arabs are very racist, the first day I arrived in dubai airport, the immigration officer was speaking english to the rest of the white guys and when it got to my turn he became deaf and dumb and was behaving funny to me, I had to ask him what his problem was and why he was not treating the rest in the same manner he treated me.
From Racism in Dubai:
the emirati arabs are the most racist people i have ever come across. i am a well educated british/pakistani that has had to put up with subhuman treatment. ive been sworn at, gotten into fights and spat on in the street by [expletive] arab knobends.the arabs seem to be very proud of themselves but they dont have much to be proud of, they are just a group of bedouin morons. they are arrogant and are always rude to asians. it is strange to think that i left the uk because of some racist people i was unfortunate to work with, but in dubai it is even worse. i hope the usa decides to bomb the uae next, because these people make me sick!
From Why I left Dubai and won’t come back:
The UAE is a racist country, sometimes playing it subtle and some other times being too awkwardly open about it. This is not the UAE’s fault by the way. It is the collective prejudice of all the different cultures that get mixed up in Dubai.

Ever since I started dating someone from a different race, I noticed this differentiation way more than before. So much that sometimes, eating at a restaurant, after my Indian partner pays the bill, I have heard staff saying things such as “Thank you M’am. Please come again M’am”. As if ‘Sir’ was invisible.

Work discrimination based on country of origin is ridiculously common. Where else in the world would you read job ads that include sentences such as:
“Only UK/Australians”
“Seeking maid. Filipino only”
“Indians please abstain”
“Job position for Arabs only”.

With work discrimination comes salary discrimination. There is an unofficial rule that the job market in Dubai seems to follow: a person should get double the salary that he/she would earn in their country of origin. This should be enough to justify someone to move but… how does this make sense when everyone living in the same city would have the same level in expenses?

This ad leads me to think that an [sic] European hairdresser makes more money than many Asians in higher positions

This changes it all from here onwards. Depending on your race and country of origin, you will be more inclined to live in certain parts of the city that you can afford according to your job category. You will eat at certain places, you will use certain means of transportation. And you will feel outraged and, not so unlikely, be racist yourself, not by discriminating others directly, but by developing prejudices that will end up serving as fundament to racist and ethnocentric behavior.

If you ever have trouble with a local, it will probably be your fault. You don’t want to be in a car accident that involves an Emirati, even if he/she was the person colliding with you. In many cases, the law will tend to help the local person, in detriment of the other, no matter who’s fault the event was to begin with. Depending on your nationality and race, you might be better off. If you are white (specially US American or British) you will probably do fine. If you are from Southern Asia… good luck to you. For everyone else: it’s 50/50.

Photo by Fabio Achilli (Creative Commons CC BY 2.0).


  1. Your post focusses on the UAE, but it's actually quite common across the Arab world. Lebanon springs to mind too. Most of the wonderful Arabs only got around to abolishing slavery in the latter half of the 20th century.

    1. Anon. '' Most of the wonderful Arabs only got around to abolishing slavery in the latter half of the 20th century '' Are you joking? There are estimated 750,000 black African slaves owned by Arabs in Mauritania alone beside other muslim / arab countries .s s .k

  2. I lived in the UAE for a better part of my childhood and I can confirm that this is true. Indians and Pakis are the underclass, they get the worst possible jobs, including construction work on all those lavish buildings in Dubai under the hot sun that can get over 45 degrees Celsius.

    The local Emiraties receive special privileges, are a protected class and are very snooty, exceptions not withholding.

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