She sees herself as a citizen of the world. She was born and raised in Turkey, studied in the United States and currently lives in Berlin. Others see something quite different when they look at her.
In Berlin, I spend most of my time with the liberal expat or expat-friendly community–the kind of people you wouldn’t expect to be judgmental towards other cultures. But even so, when someone asks me where I’m from, I feel an awkward hesitation. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not ashamed of where I was born, not at all. I find Turkish culture very beautiful. The reason for my hesitation is fear of what the answer “Turkey” triggers as a response.
Sometimes the response is a sudden loss of interest. Those young hipster boys who want to get inside my pants when they think I’m a western girl, suddenly feel mortified to have been attracted to a girl who shares the same nationality as those ugly and vulgar Turks from the spätkauf or döner imbiss. The conversation arrives at an awkward stop, the flirtatious hipster whose penis deserves the most Arian of vaginas leaves and doesn’t look back.
Sometimes I receive white supremacist racism posing as a compliment. “Oh, you don’t look Turkish at all. You’re very pretty. I was sure you were Italian.” How kind of you to say that, young man. This is the nicest thing anyone could ever have said to me. I look European, now that’s a promotion! I’m very flattered, my existence finally makes sense. I should blow you right here, right now to show my gratitude!
Every so often, I’m held accountable for Germany’s immigration and integration problems. “Ha, a Turk in Panorama Bar! Turks[WITH HATEFUL TONE] are everywhere in Berlin!” Turks are not everywhere in Berlin. But perhaps their dark skin contrasting with the beautiful white snow renders them a bothersome visibility. They are everywhere in Kreuzberg though, because that used to be their neighborhood, “Little Istanbul”, before all the gentrifiers came.
All the dark scary Turks you see in Kreuzberg, in other words “everywhere in Berlin”, came to Germany during the 1960s as guest-workers together with other Mediterranean immigrants (from Italy, Spain and Greece) because, the sudden decrease in population in Post-war Germany was in urgent need of workers. As the Turkish guest/workers were not expected to stay longer than 2 years, no steps were taken for their integration. Turks didn’t see the need to approach Germans as they were only there to make some money for a better life when they’re back in their home country. Similarly, Germans did not see the necessity in teaching the German language and allowed Turks to form their own communities in the districts they gathered in. However, these guests ended up wanting to stay for many reasons including needing more money to start new businesses in Turkey, the worry that they wouldn’t be able to find jobs when they’re back, having children born and attending school in Germany, having brought their children in the course of family reunification who now had their lives in Germany, wanting to benefit from the German healthcare system after having worked for many years for the German economy and so on. On the other hand, it was more profitable for the German economy to keep the trained and experienced workers instead of employing new ones who would need to be trained. But, of course, I don’t have time to give a history lesson while the music of Panorama Bar fills my ears, silencing the voice that accused me of Turkish intrusion.
Sometimes as a Turkish woman, my body and sexuality is further objectified than the usual female. “Oh Turkey, huh? I knew you were exotic since I first saw you.” or “I love belly-dancers.” Yes, every Turkish female is born with the ability to belly dance. Also, we love and excel at anal sex because that’s what we do to save our vaginal virginity for marriage. Honor killings, you know! And yes I’m exotic like a camel or the Hagia Sophia.
Then, there are those people, who ask me the most dreaded question of all Turks: “So how do you feel about Turkey’s EU membership?” Baby, please, I have nothing against you and I honestly appreciate your interest in world politics, (no sarcasm here– I really do appreciate it) but you don’t wanna get me started on that!
At times when I say I’m Turkish, I arouse suspicion because I have some good qualities that no Turk can possibly posses. “Oh, but you weren’t brought up in Turkey, right? You study in America? Are your parents there too?” No, they are not. And they are just as progressive and “European” as your parents. And no, I don’t owe my progressive politics or my knowledge of art and culture to the western education I received in a western country. Muslim countries occasionally make mistakes and create intellectuals instead of the usual kebab-eating, wife-beating immigrants.
And then there are those people who forget that I’m Turkish and include me in their “us” category versus the category of “them”, fucking Turks! One Friday night at Görlitzer Bahnhof, the iPhone of a white expat friend of my white expat boyfriend’s was stolen by a young man with brown eyes and brown hair who’s skin was darker than a “native” German’s. The thief with the thick dark eyebrows grasped the iPhone from the white girl’s hands as she was showing a video to her friends. He ran away and handed the iPhone to a brown-skinned, brown-haired friend of his who caught the arriving U-Bahn and disappeared. The original thief, when confronted, spoke in German and acted like he didn’t know what was going on. We, “the whites” (or should I say the “whitish”?), were scared for our lives and didn’t push the dangerous brown criminal any further. The formerly iPhone possessing white girl was devastated, crying. Trying to be strong, she said “That Turkish fuck can have my iPhone and do whatever he wants with it. Fucking Turks!”
The incident happened all too quickly. There was no time for the poor white girl to learn the name of the thief, check his passport to see where he was born, see the names of his parents to determine their and therefore his country of origin or ask the thief what languages he speaks other than German. One could think there was no way of knowing whether the thief was Turkish, Spanish, Greek, Arabic, Portuguese etc. Fortunately, racial stereotypes came to the rescue of the white victim. She could clearly see that the thief satisfied plenty of the properties of Turkishness: brown hair (check!), brown eyes (check!), thick dark eyebrows (check!), having been spotted at Kreuzberg (check!), barbarity (CHECK!), criminality (CHECK!). Come on, a tanned somebody who steals an iPhone in Kreuzberg had to be Turkish! Thanks to the way I dress, my whitish skin and my white boyfriend I was spared of the guilt and not included in the shameful set of “fucking Turks”.
I don’t mean to paint a frightful picture of my treatment as a Turk in Berlin. I’ve encountered many people who show sincere and unbiased interest in Turkish culture and ask me insightful and polite questions. I’ve seen some beautiful individuals whose eyes lit up when I say “Turkey” and they start explaining to me that they dream about visiting Istanbul or that they’ve been to Turkey and absolutely adored the culture. There are some wonderful Berliners–German and expats–who utter some sweet words in Turkish to me or start talking about Turkish tea, baklava or their Turkish best friend while growing up. Many people, like me, don’t really care where you’re from. There are also people who have a negative opinion of Turkey but still ask for and listen to my answers to their criticisms. And to be honest, Turkey has had some policies which are hard not to criticize. (Yes, you got it, the Ottoman Empire and the Armenians, a.k.a the second most dreaded conversation topic for Turks. Let’s not go there. I have a word-limit.)
There is a difference between educated criticism on the policies or practices of a country and an ignorant and unjustifiable contempt for people from a foreign culture. There is a difference between my white journalist friend who, after traveling in Turkey, disapproves strongly of the treatment of women, with good reason; and the Obama-loving white artist who accuses Turkish gravel workers of stupidity and being less than human “because they barked in Turkish all night”, through a sarcastic Facebook update. (See the irony? Campaigns rigorously for a president who’s a member of the black minority in the US but blatantly insults workers belonging to the Turkish minority in Germany). The difference is prejudice.
There is nothing wrong, shameful, criminal or animal like about being a Turk. Turks are in no way inferior to Europeans or white people. (We are all equal, get over it!) There is nothing about having darker features and coming from a Muslim country that makes you a thief, rapist, homophobe, wife beater, honor killer, or stupid. What can turn people into these things, regardless of their nationality or culture, is lack of knowledge and awareness– which sadly the highly rigid and discriminating German education system can lead to. The same thing, lack of knowledge and awareness, is also what can make someone a racist, xenophobic, anti-muslim, white-supremacist little pislik! Pislik is a Turkish insult which means “piece of dirt.” Yes, I’m imposing my culture on you, invading and infiltrating your perfect Western civilization. Sorry, but that’s just what us Turks do.