Western Media & Pop Culture’s Casual Racism Against Eurasian Peoples

Turkic peoples, people from the Caucasus and the Central Asian states in general are portrayed terribly in the media, when they get any screen time at all. Watching Scandal on Netflix really set me off recently.

Scandal: Mellie and Olivia sometimes discuss women in Central Asia.

Scandal: Mellie and Olivia sometimes discuss women in Central Asia.

There is a scene in which the fictional First Lady describes why she wants more for her daughters, and contrasts their American experience with young girls, living in a ‘fictional’ country that I could have sworn sounded exactly like Kyrgyzstan, being stuck in a yurt, herding goats and being kidnapped for marriage. Because obviously, living in yurts and goat herding is the worst fate that can be imagined. And since it’s a ‘stan’ – doesn’t matter which one, obviously all of them are alike, there will be bride kidnapping and zero political empowerment for women. Let’s ignore the fact that in Kyrgyzstan, the country this fictional country in Scandal sounds most like, they’ve had a female president, Roza Otunbayeva (CES was lucky enough to interview her in November 2012). Yes, women struggle here, but many women also fight every day against sexism and discrimination.

 

It’s too easy to come up with example after example of generalization and racism against Eurasia’s population.

Don’t even get me started on Borat.

No. Also this reads 'Bordt' in Cyrillic. As in I'm bordt of hearing your jokes about Kazakhstan based on this film.

No. Also this reads ‘Bordt’ in Cyrillic. As in I’m bordt of hearing your jokes about Kazakhstan based on this film.

I don’t care how ‘funny’ it was – it was tasteless, and it’s reviled in Kazakhstan. In an interview with a prominent Kazakh director, Ermek Shinarbaev, expressed his deep distaste and anger for the now-prevalent view in the Western world that Kazakhstan and Borat’s fatuous depiction are the same. This is not about being overly sensitive – when you’ve upset, saddened and tarnished an entire country, a line is crossed. In discussing how Borat affected Kazakhstan’s movie industry, Shinarbaev stated:

 Because of Borat, everybody involved with Kazakh cinema, even if you’re just a movie viewer, is extremely paranoid and uptight about perception of Kazakhstan in the world, and there is one scene [In the Kazakh film Kelin] that many Kazakhs took particular umbrage to because they thought it would represent Kazakhs in another horrible way, the way that Borat did.

 

When the Boston bombings occurred, Al-Jazeera opinion writer Sarah Kendzior zeroed in perfectly on the rampant descrimination against ‘the wrong kind of Caucasian:’

Dzhokhar & Tamerlan Tsarnaev

Dzhokhar & Tamerlan Tsarnaev

 

Later that Thursday, the FBI released photos of two young men wearing baseball caps – men who so resembled all-American frat boys that people joked they would be the target of ” racial bro-filing “. The men were Caucasian, so the speculation turned away from foreign terror and toward the excuses routinely made for white men who kill: mental illness, anti-government grudges, frustrations at home. The men were white and Caucasian – until the next day, when they became the wrong kind of Caucasian, and suddenly they were not so “white” after all.

 The most revealing image of Dzhokhar is not the one of him hugging an African-American friend at his high school graduation, but the one of him sitting at a kitchen table with his arm around a guy his age who appears to be of Central Asian descent,” she writes . “In front of them is a dish  plov , a Central Asian dish of rice and meat, and a bottle of Ranch dressing.” Again, it is difficult to imagine a journalist writing with such breathtaking arrogance – why is the Central Asian friend more “revealing” than the African-American one? What, exactly, are they “revealing”? – about the inner life of someone from a more familiar place.

 

Op-eds against racism are a dime a dozen and this one does not attempt to present a solution but rather has a simple request: humanize the people living in the Caucasus and Central Asia. Stop reducing them to ‘goat herders’ as though a nomadic and agricultural life is a terrible thing. Stop seeing ‘stan’ at the end of a country as a synonym for Islamist terrorism, and look up something about those countries. It’s the Persian New Year this week in Tajikistan – look up that holiday. See how families come together to celebrate, just the same as they do for holidays around the world. For some reason the media and general public seem to forget that there are people, with mothers, children, hopes and dreams trying to live happily just the same as everyone else.

So when I tell you I live in Tajikistan, don’t ask me ‘Ha is that a real country?’ or say incredulously ‘why would you go there?’ and don’t make cracks about being a victim of terrorism. Ask me about the amazing travel opportunities to see the severely underrated mountain ranges that cross the region, what a horse trek in Southern Kyrgyzstan is like, to tell you about the strange white-marble opulence of Ashgabat, what the political situations are like in each of these countries. Ask me about the incredible scenic beauty of the Northern Caucasus, and ask me about the different conflicts there, or how the crisis in Ukraine is affecting Eurasia. Ask me why I chose to make my career and my hobby studying and learning about Central Asia, because I’ve got a lot to talk to about.

A small sample of the natural beauty available to the adventurous - Mountains of Kyrgyzstan, via Reddit

A small sample of the natural beauty available to the adventurous – Mountains of Kyrgyzstan, via Reddit

5 comments

  1. n.a. emery · · Reply

    Gooorrgious pict! Hope you have the adventure of your life

  2. geof giles · · Reply

    Vordt- is how to pronounciate it

  3. […] Western Media & Pop Culture’s Casual Racism Against Eurasian Peoples […]

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