Friday, May 20, 2011

Racism... i don't really get it?

I have never really encountered racism before. I grew up in a predominantly white town in central NSW in Australia. No black kids, no latino kids, five asian kids (I counted them). I didn’t think racism was something that still existed.

We have Christmas, the occasional bush dance and the town show, but being from such a bland cultural beginning I craved ritual and tradition and all things foreign. At university I lived in the dorm for foreign kids. I loved the difference. But we were a pretty tight crew living in a university town, not a lot of racism.

Once on a train in Berlin a guy with huge black boots and white laces yelled at me to get out of his country if I couldn’t speak Germany and in the UK doing pub work I got told to go back to my own country and stop stealing English jobs but that isn’t exactly the same as racism.

It wasn’t until I came to Nepal that I actually saw racism. Its ugly. When someone is filled with so much hate over something so insignificant their face is changed. It hurts to look at. You can almost feel the black cloudhanging over them.

There are three types of racism here in Nepal. The first type I face a lot, the “you are foreign and therefore you must an easy woman with plenty of money”. Mostly I get this from men in stores who are simultaneously trying to charge me three times the local price and touch my arse. This kind of racism is just uneducated, as more foreigners choose Nepal as their home the view will change. And I worked in English and Aussie bars, I know how to handle ignorant men, so this form doesn’t bother me that much.

The second type is “Indian Hating”. This is like a sport in Nepal. It is completely acceptable in most circles to announce your hatred for Indians and all things Indian (usually while cheering for the Indian cricket team). I don’t understand Indian Hating at all. Many Nepalese head to India to work, we all have family there, everyone loves the movies and the food, what is the problem exactly? Is it because they have more money?

The last type is “Nepalese hating Nepalese”. I find this the most distressing. I have friends, an English-Nepali couple. When they visited last they could not get a hotel room in Thamel because of the growing ‘No Nepalese’ policy. They searched for an hour and where told in many places either there was no rooms or blatantly that there were no Nepalese allowed.

We had this happen to us when I was looking for hotels for my parents to stay in. Everything was booked out until we mentioned the room was actually for two white people not the mixed race couple standing at the desk suddenly they just happened to have rooms.

People justify the “No Nepalese” policy in their hotels with the most ridiculous logic. 

“It is fine not to allow Nepalese in hotel because they can stay in their own homes” – If this was an option they probably wouldn’t be looking for a hotel?

“Nepalese are too dirty to stay in hotels” – ummmm have you seen some of the dirty hippies getting around Thamel? Why not just have a sign saying no dirty people?

“Foreigners don’t want to stay in the same hotels as Nepalese” – if this was a problem then why would foreigners come to Nepal?

Whatever the reason it is still ugly and unjustified. I don’t understand how people can be so horrible.


  1. Totally agree on all points, though I think the last point has to do with the fact that they think that sometimes, Nepali people can't pay the hotel tab so therefore they don't want to risk letting them spend the night. Or there might be illegal drug exchanges/ prostitution happening in the hotel--so the owners/saff want to keep it on the down low. Haven't heard of this happening with the upper scale hotels though.

    Ugh, the hating on India thing gets on my nerves. I'm a Canadian of Nepali origin, my fiance is Indian--I've had to deal with some very unpleasant people regarding this issue.

  2. Yeah the Nepalese hating Nepalese is ugly...I encountered it in Thamel, Pokhora, and even while trekking (being rejected after 14 hours of walking up a mountain is not fun!!).
    On the other hand, in less-frequented places, old inn-running ladies would say things like, "I can't accept money a Nepali..." (Really? Great!). So maybe it's more obvious in touristy areas where Nepali money is competing with dollars... though there are all types of racism/castism going on in Nepal.

  3. I see where you are coming from, but think you are being a little unfair here. It won't be unreasonable to say that some form of racism exists everywhere. Unlike in the US, some parts of Europe, or for that matter, Australia, racism one sees in Nepal is generally harmless and moderate.

    I am, I must say, not defending racism in Nepal. But name me one country that is less racist than Nepal?

  4. @ I like trees: You raise some good pints. I agree racism is everywhere but i don't think it is ever harmless. Sure no one ever busted into our hotel room in the middle of the night dressed in white sheets and dragged my husband away to jail for having a white wife but it was still hurtful to have to justify our relationship and to have to beg people to let you stay in their hotel.

    I don't think many of the Indians living here would think it was harmless. I didn't feel like it was harmless when men followed me in the street calling me a seto prostitute and assuming i couldn't speak Nepali.

    In fact i would go to as far to say the only people who think it is harmless are people who have never been targeted or seen their loved ones targeted. No one is going to die from it sure but it is still horrible.

    Ok five countries less racist than Nepal. I will give you 8. Norway, Sweden, Finland, New Zealand, Iceland, Canada, Denmark, Netherlands. I haven't traveled in South America so i don't know much about racism there.

  5. I agree the instances you mentioned are horrible and should have never happened in the first place. For lack of a better word or giving into laziness, I chose "harmless". Some of the incidents you encountered are because of greedy/idiot businessmen who think they are doing their business good by catering exclusively to foreigners.

    But I still think Nepalese, in general, lie towards the far left side of the racist spectrum with the furthest right being the most racist. They will call you "gora" or "kuire". But it is generally with good intentions, almost childish, but definitely not with hatred. I might be moderately biased here, but believe me, I am not being profoundly biased.

    And, please don't give me those Scandinavian countries. They are homogeneous societies and want to keep it that way, keeping immigrants and even tourists at bay. My American friend who studies in Denmark says the Danes (especially college students) just don't like Indians. New Zealand and, to some extent, Canada are the only reasonable choices in your list.

  6. Like you growing up in Australia I had no experience of racism other writing about it in essays @ uni. It wasnt until I traveled to Sth Asia that I experienced it first hand and it was very confronting, I couldnt believe the assumptions nepalis (Im not singleing Nepalis out it just happens to be where I traveled)were making about me. But it was definately a small minority.
    On the subject of nepali's hateing Nepali's weve never experienced any problems with hotels, other than the price sky rocketing when I show my face. I find nepali's can be quite racist about those of a different caste/ethnicity, it seems to be socially acceptable to make overt racist statements about others attributing personality traits to newars, gurungs, bhauns ect.
    On the other side it was equally confronting to witness racism in Australia through the eyes & experience of my nepali partner. It never ceases to amaze me how incredibly racist Australians can be.
    I love trees you couldnt be more wrong, it is simply not possible to describe racism as moderate & harmless, there is no scale of racism, its either racist or it not. I also disagree with you attributing amanda's experience in Nepal to a few unscrupulous businessmen. One example from my life that comes to mind is a Nepali man, with a PHD, living in australia, a guest in my home telling me that it was unecesary to learn to speak nepali because it was another form of communicating with me that intrested my husband.

  7. @ I love trees: First thank you for the thoughtful comments. I seriously enjoy a good debate...

    "They are homogeneous societies and want to keep it that way, keeping immigrants and even tourists at bay." Well this is just not true. It is very easy to visit the Scandinavian countries as they are part of the EU. Actually For many people it is easier for to visit there than it is to visit Nepal or India. I got a longer visa for Europe than i did for Nepal or India.

    Actually Sweden is said to have the easiest immigration policy in the world. They have a policy where certain individuals (African mostly) can turn up illegally, without papers and are still allowed to stay.

    Or what about Spain? 11% of the population are immigrants?

    Your friend says Danes just don't like Indians? Did he take a survey?

    I guess we have to come up with some kind of country racism scale. Are we talking levels of immigration, immigrant satisfaction, instance of racial violence?

    I want to be very clear. I love Nepal and I agree most people are not overtly racist or hate filled. I think Nepali people are wonderful and yes i am completely biased. The post was just a comment on something i observed. It wasn't just the overt racism, it is things like whitening face cream and telling daughters not to go in the sun cos they will look to black. It just made me uncomfortable.

    I still love you Nepal. Just to be clear.

  8. I am a citizen from the EU and I don't think we have great immigration policies. Actually it is probably every European country's weak spot and it arises great tension between for an example France and Italy. I wouldn't give Spain as an example, there are lots of illegal people living in bad circumstances. I wouldn't call that great immigration policies.

    By the way, a racism scale exists. I know I saw something like that in one of my classes. If I remember correctly how more to the north of Europe, how less racism. How more to the south (Portugal, France, Spain, Italy, Greece), more racism. I think their position nearby the Sea and nearby the African continent explains that partially.

    By the way, I think it's 'normal' in a historical way that Nepal would be more racist than Europe. My own country has been ruled by almost every neigbourhood country through history. It created a mix of European cultures in our country. Later on, my country had colonies, which created again a mix with the African culture. And in 1960-1970 we were desperate for work forces and lots of Turkish and Maroccan people came over here. So that created a mix with the Arab culture. For the younger generation it is normal that there is an African looking person or an Arab looking person walking on the streets. We are a very heterogenous society who was forced to open their vision and enough time passed by for a part of us to accept that.

    The historical situation of Nepal is totally different. It is not long ago that most people were farmers living in the villages. They did not come in contact with other cultures or even with Nepalese from the other part of the country. The immigration of lots of Nepalese to Kathmandu, Pokhara,... or to other countries is forcing them to open their vision, only I don't think enough time or generations passed by yet.

    Oh yeah, I am not saying there is not racism in Europe. The previous economic crisis proved that even when behaviour changes, mindsets do sometimes not.

    Sorry for the long post but it was so temptious to write.

  9. Ok I looked up the racism scale but it doesn't seem to be applied to all countries. I can't find a list or anything and really it wasn't my intention when writing this post to get into a pissing match about who's country is the worst... Australia is the worst on paper, I can handle the shame.

    I did find a study that looked at people's perceived racism and if they themselves thought they were racist. And while almost 50% of French, Belgiums and Aussies stated they were a bit racist, only 4% of Spanish felt this way.

    I guess it depends are we talking Immigration policies, Feelings of people living there, immigrant satisfaction, violence? Because we are all comparing different variables to prove our points and not really proving anything other than we all know a little bit about not very much.

    I do agree with your reasons stated above which explain the racism in Nepal. I don't think it is reasonable to conclude it is ok for Nepalese to be racist because they have not have time to open their vision. Time does explain the situation but it does not excuse it.

  10. I agree with you. I was not finding any excuses for nepal's racism, just an explaination.

    By the way, I also don't want to get in a competition about which country is more racist. I just wanted to state that also in Europe people are racist (maybe more latent) and that we are not 'one of the best' examples for immigration policies. 'Europeans' would refer to Australia for that :-) Maybe the grass is always greener at the other side.

    Further, about that scale. It is not really a racism scale but more a scale of having trust into immigrants. But I agree lot's of aspects influence that like economic situation, location, history,...

    Sorry, if you got irritated by my long post, that was not my intention.

  11. Noooooo I wasn't irritated by any of the comments. I am loving this discussion. I need to work on my tone in my writing. I'm sorry if i sounded like a twat.

    I think we all actually agree with each other. Racism is bad. Nepal, while having some racism is a pretty awesome place. Europe and Australia need to lift there game in regards to racism. Australians are horrible :)

    **Please everybody reading this note I am having terrible visa difficulties and haven't seen my husband for a week so i am having trouble behaving like a rational person. I am very sorry for my shitty mood.**

  12. No problem! Good luck with the visa procedure, I hope you both will be able to see each other soon.

  13. I hope your visa stuff gets sorted out. I definitely understand the pain points there having lived in the USA under a student visa and a work visa for a long time.
    All countries/places have their own set of problems as far as discrimination goes. I think Nepal is pretty bad when it comes to sexism (among other things) and I think your experiences resonate more with that. In general, Nepalese have a high regard for "kuires" in my opinion. It surprises me how most of the people in Nepal will choose a "kuire" over "Nepali" with similar background and education. My dad used to tell me a story about how he took my grandmother to a health camp in tundikhel (probably around 40+ years ago) and she would rather see a "kuire" doctor than a Nepali counterpart. This theory is of course in accord with your story of hotels being ok with "kuire" guests.
    Anyhow, I do have to agree with the "Indian hating" theory, but I'm sure most of the Indians (talking about the ones that actually know a thing or two about Nepal) don't have a high regard for their tiny neighbors to the north either.
    Lastly, it's pretty cool that you understand/speak Nepali. How difficult was it for you to learn if I may ask?

  14. I agree with you Prayash. The preference of 'Kuires' over Nepalese is just as bad. I hate it, even though it is the only reason i can get work in Nepal.

    I don't speak Nepali. I can say enough to get around the city. I can understand about half of what is being said to me. Usually I remember words people shout at me and then go home and ask someone what it means. If they won't tell me i know it is bad.

    Also people think it is funny to teach foreigners bad words so i have a colorful vocabulary.

  15. I was in Nepal in March, visiting friends and meeting some Nepali colleagues.

    I encountered this 'Nepalese hating Nepalese' frequently, most especially when I was escorted around Kathmandu by a male friend.

    We went to a cafe, where my friend was completely ignored in favor of me. Bills were placed in front of me automatically. In Bhaktapur Durbar Square I was approached by several young men, who brushing past my friend (who was clearly with me), asked if I needed a guide. I told them pointedly that I was with my friend who was showing me around, but that didn't have any effect. They wouldn't acknowledge him at all. I finally had to walk away from them, although they followed us for a short distance.

    The treatment he received was so rude, and I felt so bad for my friend - he didn't seem bothered, but then he's very good at poker-face.

    I started to feel a bit 'icky' about the whole thing, if that makes sense.

  16. Makes sense to me... this kind of 'icky' behaviour is exactly why i wrote the post. It makes me feel horrible to have my husband totally disregarded.

  17. Interesting discussion. As an Indian married to a "Kuire" and having lived in several countries, I find US, where I currently reside and have been for the past dozen years, the best. Not because racism doesn't exist but because, I believe, it has the fastest mechanism (and evidence) of "progressive self-improvement" for society as a whole. Who could have imagined even 20 years ago that we would have someone from African-American ancestry as President? I know that probably does not prove anything at the grassroots level but overall it does send a powerful message.

    @Prayash: "...I'm sure most of the Indians (talking about the ones that actually know a thing or two about Nepal) don't have a high regard for their tiny neighbors to the north either."

    I don't think that's true. Except for a subset of those that are totally illiterate and/or mentally deficient to some degree, almost everyone in India knows about Nepal. And I can attest (not based on a survey but personal opinion shaped by experience and views of countless numbers of friends in India) that almost everyone has a positive opinion of Nepal. In fact if they were asked to rank Nepal in comparison to its other neighbors, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and China, I am sure Nepal would be at the top of the list by a wide margin.

  18. @DyslexicHippo - Well, I do agree that many Indians know about Nepal. But, I am not sure whether everyone in India knows about Nepal correctly. For some Indians, its a part of colonial India, for others, its just another state of India and for many Nepal as a separate country. Nonetheless, some of my Indian colleagues do have good knowledge about Nepal, but some are so ignorant about the Nepal. I don't know how to react at them. Anyway, I do have great friendship with my Indian friends and colleagues, but sometimes their lack of knowledge or distorted knowledge about Nepal really get into my nerves.
    Once we were talking about the heritages of one's country At that point, one of my African friend asked, where the Mount Everest is. You know what my friend promptly replied. For her, Mt Everest was in India. When I clarify it to be in Nepal situated in Nepal, she told me she had always thought Mt Everest is in India.

  19. It was my Indian friend who answered that Mount Everest is in Nepal. We, Nepali don't have much problem with Indian people. We adore the Indian cricket, Bollywood movies and many other Indian things, but we do have bitterness towards the South block, the bunch of bureaucrats from Indian government handling the Nepal situation and their stand on Nepal. Well, Amanda, if you interact with other South Asian neighbors of India, its not only Nepali who have a feeling of being discriminated by India. My South Asian friends from Bangladesh and Srilanka also have similar opinion about the government of India.

  20. Hi, I have gone through the above discussion and found it pretty interesting. First of all I'm Nepali and my opinion is based on me being a Nepali.

    Racism in Nepal : I think there is racism here but also in other parts of the world no doubt.And I agree that foreigners coming to Nepal face lots of them. But me working here in a multicultural environment face it daily as I work with "WHITE PEOPLE" They think that everything they do is right and a Nepali don't know anything. And just because they are here for a week or a year they regard themselves as Expert in Nepal and try to teach Nepali the Nepali way!!!!!!!!!!!! I don't know not respecting the identity and ideas of a fellow human being is being racists or not!!!!! But for me it is racism, treating people just because the country they belong to is SO CALLED poor and SO CALLED underdeveloped. The name itself is given by THE SO CALLED developed countries on the basis of the SO CALLED INDEXES they generate. I met an expat who told me, a Nepali, that she don't want to go to places where Nepali people go to for socializing or concerts. My only answer to her was : If you are in Nepal and don't want to go near Nepali then the only option for you is to leave Nepal and never come back here again.Infact for the last one and half year I have met many who say that and they are from the countries mentioned in the previous comments not be racists, which amazed me and forced me to comment in this post!!!!!!

    HATRED TOWARDS INDIANS : of course there is a lot of that. And I totally disagree with you that Indian think highly of Nepal. My only suggestion is to come out of that illusion.
    And Nepali people do hate Indians and everyone in the region does not because they have money but because of their policies which is trying to ruin every other nation in this region. And if you think they think highly of Nepali you might want to watch Hindi movies and read the White TIger by Aarvind AAdiga where he portrays every Nepali men as security guards and Nepali women as prostitute which won the man booker prize in 2008.

    I am amazed how people can link everything with money???????????????

    India is putting question on our sovereignty and I don't think no nation and its citizen would like to have that situation. I don't know if you can call that racism. You might know that too because the people coming from so called NORTH and the developed countries have all the answers.

    I'm so fed up with this hegemony and the WHITE SKIN SYNDROME

  21. @ Anonymous: We have established that racism all over the world is horrible, It is in all countries to some extent. I am not saying Nepal is better or worse I am say racism anywhere is terrible. I just happened to have encountered it most closely in Nepal. This is not because it happens more in Nepal but because in my town in Australia we have no multiculturalism and therefore i have never seen racism.

    Yes some people who visit Nepal from foreign countries are dickheads. I avoid mixing with tourists because on the majority they are idiots. Some of them I wonder why they came to Nepal if they don't want to meet the locals..but then why do some Nepalis move to foreign countries and choose only to socialise with other Nepalis. We can not say why some people do stupid things. I am a "WHITE PERSON" and i do not think everything i do is right. My Nepali husband does many many things which are right. I fact i always say even though i have been to university and he did not he is much smarter and has much more skills than i do.

    I am not sure how we can debate if Nepal is developed or undeveloped. I am not sure how we could make an argument which states it is developed but if you have one i'd love to hear it. I think you have to agree Nepal has a standard of living that most people (even those in Nepali) would like to improve.

    I have a problem with people who justify their own hatred of people by saying oh they hated us first. Sure an Indian guy may have written a book which said bad thing about Nepal. And some Indian people might think badly of Nepal. You cannot control the way other people think and act and it is rather childish to say "oh they started it". You are an adult take responsibility for your own emotions and actions. Hating a whole country because of the actions of a few is ignorant. You can dislike the things Aarvind AAdiga wrote but to hate him without meeting him is uninformed and to hate his whole country would be as ignorant as believing all Nepali women are prostitutes after reading his book. I don't believe that after reading it so why do you feel justifed in your hatred?

    Do you control what the Nepali government does? Do you take responsibility for every decision the Nepali government makes? Then how can you hate Indian people for the bad decisions the Indian government makes? The government and the people are two separate things. The average person in the street can not control the politicians of his country. My country does lots of stupid things and we have a horrible immigration policy but that doesn't mean i agree with it or approve of it.

    I hate the white skin syndrome too. I think skin whiten cream is offensive and I don't think white people have the answers. I know i don't have any. BUT I think Nepali are often happy to sit back and let goras spend their money to fix your country.

    You complain about "white people"coming thinking they have the answers but at least they are trying to make a difference. But do you complain when a new hospital is built or roads are fixed? And what have you done to fix your country lately? I hear a lots of complaints but where is the action?