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Being Black In Turkey

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I'm so tired of turkish people starring at me. Seriously, they will stop what they are doing, some even point. I am not one to look at people, but even when I dont want to see anything, all it takes is one glimpse and I catch someone all acting weird, like they cant believe what they are seeing. I'm part black so I have dark skin, so are these people racist? Have they never seen black people before? Why cant they just mind their own business?

I've been turkey before last year and this year nothing is different. These people really make me feel like I dont want to be seen. My fiance keeps telling me its because im so beautiful. I have never felt this akward anywhere else in the world. I have been fortunate to travel and see the world at a young age but turkey is a beautiful country sadly some people ruin it for me.

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Being black in Turkey = No Big Deal...did it for 2 years & all I felt was love. (lived in probably the most popular area in Izmir other than the Kordon - Gul Sokak in Alsancak) Went everywhere &

Mash'allah, Philip - gorgeous baby, love the photos!

Great story Philip, and a very goodlooking child --- you certainly got it right ! Are you still living in Izmir, or gone back ?

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I totally sympathise, Noora, it must make you feel terrible. I have often wondered what it is that makes some people behave like that. Lack of manners, lack of awareness or consideration for other people's feeling, ignorance, rudeness, downright stupidity. It is hard to understand from people who are usually reasonably polite in their day to day behaviour. There are a number of students from Africa at the university, and I have even seen some (but not many) university students do what you describe, which is inexcusable.

But I'm not sure I would use the term racist to describe the behaviour. Those of us brought up and educated in UK or US have been part of a massive effort to stop people from being racist (and to be honest the effort has not been very successful in some respects), and we have a strong awareness of what it is and what the consequences of racism are, with reference to things like Hitler, World War 2, slavery, Martin Luther King, Apartheid etc. These things barely feature in education in Turkey, so I do not think we can expect people who have not had the same experiences to see racism in the way we do.

That apart, though, I wish I could help you with some advice to keep your cool and enjoy yourself in spite of those negative experiences. I am sure I would get terribly upset if someone I was with experienced what you are experiencing, because it is so visible. I would say that the people who are making you uncomfortable are not doing it on purpose to annoy you, and it is thoughtlessness rather than malice at work. And I am sure that they are in a small minority, and you are not the only one who feels uncomfortable at the rudeness. I really hope you enjoy your time in Turkey, please don't let these people put you off.

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Noora, black people seem to be rare in Turkey (in fact almost non-existent), and children seem generally not to be taught that staring is impolite, and so they grow up. People will stare not only at blacks but at anyone who looks "different" in any way. I'm sure they don't intend to be rude, they just aren't used to seeing them. This is just a reason for this behaviour, but certainly not an excuse.

I say go along with your boyfriend -- they are staring at you because you are so breathtakingly beautiful ! :harika:

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Noora It can be hard in Turkey if you look different, whether it is the colour of your skin, the clothes you wear or even the way you talk. Turks by nature tend to be more than over curious. I live in an area where there are few foreigners and constantly stared at but now I just blank it out. I have all sort of different experiences a kid pointing saying to their father what the matter with that womans face in a very loud voice, just because I have got freckles, the father was embarrassed and whisked him away, having a meal and kids and adults just staring at me and making comments in a loud voice and I'm white with blonde hair.

Turks aren't aware that they are being rude and might be considered as being racist. I've been to the bank several times and watched as people are doing their business and there are always people behind them trying to listen in on the conversation and see what is being written down. i have been asked many times by in some cases by totally strangers if I'm at a gathering of the family how much money I have, how much do I weigh, when I pointed out to them that they were being very rude to ask me such personal questions they were genuinely upset that they had offended me and apologised straight away.

I think you just have to put it down to the cultural differences between us.

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I agree, I don't think it is racist behaviour because there is no judgement attached to the stare just curiosity. And the notion of private life is alien to Turkey where the community primes over the individual. We got stared at at the beginning as the weird foreigners who :- go out with wet hair- don't wear 3 layers of clothing when the temperatures drop to 24

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Noora, I'm really sorry to hear of your unpleasant experiences. I really would attribute the negative behavior to a lack of awareness. As for the staring I agree that most of it is either curiosity or admiration. One of the phrases I've heard most often in Turkey is "hepimiz insanız" meaning "we're all human" and I think that most people here actually follow that motto. I think Turkey is in fact one of the least racist countries I've been to. You may get stared at here a lot, but the thoughts behind the stare are for the most part benevolent. In some other countries I'm afraid it's often the opposite.

I've come across this subject somewhere before and it made me curious. So when I do see Africans or people of African heritage in Ankara I try to observe how people react - and what do I observe when such a person walks down the street in Ankara ? For the most part - Nothing. No-one seems to even notice or to act any differently than if anyone else had walked by. They will stare however at the (white) male tourists walking around downtown Ankara in shorts and tube socks in 50 degree Celsius weather. Which, to be honest, I would do too.

Another scene from the bank. At the next teller a student was inquiring (in Turkish) about a money-wire from her family in Kenya. The teller was very friendly and was taking extra care to speak clearly so the young lady could follow her. (The teller also complemented her on her lovely Turkish.)Why are Ankarans this way ? Perhaps because they are accustomed to it. There are quite a few African students in Ankara. There are also the embassies and the business travelers. Although there are tourists that come to here, the number is nowhere near what the coast receives. I suppose that most Ankarans thus assume that anyone from overseas who is out and about in Ankara is here for a purpose. They either work here, go to school here, are on business or have married or settled here. The tourists that do come are often on a specific program as well. i.e. they all somehow belong here.

I recently came across some friends having the following conversation (in Turkish) concerning a black soccer player whose skills they were admiring/discussing. (These were just normal working folks by the way, not professors)Friend one: You know you really shouldn't say "zenci"(negro) it's not polite.

Friend two: Really ? "Zenci" is rude ? I had no idea.

Friend one: Yes, it's rude.

Friend two: Uh-oh ! What should I say then ?

Friend one: "Siyah"(black). It just describes the color without being judgmental, "zenci" has negative connotations. Friend two: I'll have to be more careful.

It sort of blew me over that they were even having such a conversation and was pleased by what I heard.

So please don't let the staring bother you or dent your confidence. We all get stared at here at some time or another. Even Turks get stared at when they're passing through a town where they're obviously not from. I really would attribute the staring to admiration and curiosity.

I really hope that we've been able to reassure you a bit and that your time in Turkey will be a happy one!

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I agree with the others that it's curiosity rather than anything else. When I lived in Izmir 20 years ago there were not so many foreigners then and I too got stared at, not just because I had blond hair but also because I dressed differently.

Many years ago in the UK, when my son was about three or four I had invited a Ghanain exchange student to the house and my son was fascinated by his hair and asked if he could touch it, which he agreed to gladly.

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my son was fascinated by his hair and asked if he could touch it, which he agreed to gladly.

When I was a child in the UK we lived in a middle-class small town and we were all excited when a Jamaican family came to live. We kids all stared and the adults tried not to. One of their kids was in infant school with my sister who befriended him and kept stroking the poor boy's head while singing "Mary had a little lamb". (My mother was mortified but his parents laughed it off.)But although we can all find rational explanations about the reactions of people in Turkey I can understand that it must be a very uncomfortable situation for you. I was once invited to a wedding of a Senegalese friend and I was the only white person there - I have never felt to conspicuously white in my life! I hope you will be able to ride it out and let people get used to you and that you can properly enjoy your time in Turkey.
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I want to thank you all for taking your time to reply to me. I feel better after reading all the responses. As some of you have said maybe this is just the culture difference and I just need to get use to it. But its not easy being stared at with wide eyed gazes. It instantly brings me down and I get annoyed. I dont even know any turkish so I cant tell them to get lost lol either.

Sometimes I feel like everyone is staring at me, I seriously mean everyone. Women, Men, Children. I live in instanbul, and this is suppose to be a more open welcoming city, and I havent seen any of that.

I havent been out on my own yet, If I go anywhere I go with my fiance. I'm not use to this I use to be a free person, go wherever I want, travel without worry. Now I dont even feel confident enough to go out on my own. I just dont want to be in an awkward situation on my own. This is all so new to me, I have never experienced such stares anywhere else in the world, this is why I dont know how to deal with it.

I want to thank you all, each and everyone of you from my heart. I wish you all Happiness:)

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Noora, I just have to say, I have just returned to İzmir from a 4 day trip to Istanbul and if you were to go out on those streets on your own you are very brave!! I got lost and I was in a car being driven around by a family member haha.

But back to the main point of your post, I am a white british female with very bright blue eyes. I never noticed my eye colour before I moved here and people started to comment and stare at me if I was in a shop or something. In Istanbul this week in a resturant a waiter came over and asked if he can take a photo of my eyes as he had never seen eyes this colour before. But before he came over him and other workers in the resturant were all staring at the table myself and my husband were sitting at and you could see them talking behind their hands. Which to me is very rude but I am used to it now here in Turkey. I have also been asked by a turkish man if he could buy me for my eyes ... I didnt know if he was serious or not but I thought it was a bit odd haha.xxx

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Sam it's not a really a problem walking around Istanbul I have done it a few times. The thing is if you are in any strange place is to look confident and not make eye contact with anyone. Be aware of your surrounding at all times and if you think someone is following you just duck into a shop or walk very closely behind a group of people they will soon get bored. I have only been bothered once and he tried to make conversation with me so I told him I was married to a Turk and was on my way to met up with some of his family. he apologised and went on his way.

One place I wouldn't recommend walking around on your own is Bangkok, now that was scarey.

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Sorry, yes it is a big place. I always carry a street map with me but will have worked out my route before hand before going out. However, if your driving somewhere that can be a different matter. When my husband used to drive me around Istanbul he was always getting lost.

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in our area there are black locals presumably from some distant/ possible? slave period here in the Mulga region. I havent a clue and forgot anything i was told about where these families came from but they exist and people dont treat them differently but younger children do stare as they are a small minority of the local population. I admit to finding these locals facinating as they are turkish but black. I would like to find out more about minorities in Turkey. Needless to say they alone are not a curiosity to some there are also ginger haired blue eyed men in our area who stand out and i always find them facinating as i reside here fulltime and didnt expect to see such fair skined/red haired blue eyes turks and freckles ;-) I havent come across racism other than towards 'the East' just for apparently living different lifestyles nothing to do with looking differently...well i dont know but i think seeing as the 1st question most turks ask anyone is ''where are you from''...i think the curiosity comes from living in such a huge country with such huge variations in lifestyle/customs let alone appearance as well as considering those who are just visiting or are not of Turkish origin. all very facinating and last week while being given some political garb from a local independant politician he managed to go off track and say 'you are wearing lenses are you not'...we were speaking Turkish and i said no they are my natural colour and then i spoke English and he said oh right and took the handout/flyer back from my hand and walked off!! post citizenship i know who not to vote for :-) couldnt work out if it was a compliment or an observation ( which was incorrect as i never wear lenses!!) just to add its no suprise to me that mixed race/ nationality couples often produce the most stunningly interesting babies..i think its gods way of showing different is beautiful :-)))

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  • 5 weeks later...

I feel better after reading all the responses. As some of you have said maybe this is just the culture difference and I just need to get use to it.

Noora, good for you. When I first arrived in Stamboul 11 years ago I noticed almost immediately the lack of African faces in the crowd. I was fresh off the plane from Florida, which is full of many coloured citizens from pink white to very black. When we left two years ago, I noticed a big increase in the African faces on Istanbul streets. A lot of Africans have come to Turkey for many different reasons, just as they are migrating to Europe. An African-American friend of mine who lived in Istanbul until last year remarked that he was often stopped by the police for "routine" checks. As soon as they saw his USA passport they relaxed and even chatted him up. It seems that some of the recent African immigrants are involved in the drug trade and some of them are in the country illegally. I lived in Istanbul over 7 years and was never stopped for a "routine" check. The outward and obvious curiosity of Turkish people has always amazed me. Yet, I never met a Turkish person exhibiting the racism of some of the white "crackers" I met in the USA who plan to carry their bigoted feelings to the grave. Zenci, by the way, does not necessarily have negative connotations to many Turkish people. Lighten up, be glad you aren't in rural Mississippi...
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Good points hobbit. A few random recollections have come into my mind re stop and search. It must be so annoying to be targeted like that. The current Archbishop of York reported to a UK parliamentary committee that he had been stopped and searched eight times in recent years in the UK. And in my podcast collection that I use in classes I have one on travel in US where a black British person describes the sudden change from negative to positive attitude by police on seeing his passport.

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A few years ago when Mr Sunny had grown a beard he was walking along carrying a holdall and I was following behind with my 2 yorkies. The police stopped him and asked to see in the bag by which time I'd caught up and asked why they wanted to see in my bag. They immediately waved us on! :)When my mother was 80 I brought her back to Turkey with me via Heathrow. She was stopped twice in the airport and had her bag checked (other than the normal security) so I told her that I wasn't going to travel with such a suspicious looking character again. :DI can understand why Rowan Williams gets stopped, he looks a right hippy! :D

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Opps my mistake, no I automatically thought of Canterbury!

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I agree with all above posts - people are curıous the world over ıf you don,t look lıke The Norm from that partıcular area.

When I was ın Bangkok Thaıland and also ın Chına - I kept gettıng my arms pınched by passers by. I could not understand ıt untıl someone explaıned to me that as I had so many freckles on my arms - they were tryıng to Catch them all for themselves as they were unusual !! Luckıly I stıll have my freckles and blonde haır and have grown used to lookıng Dıfferent here ın Turkey too - I do draw the lıne when they try and look ın my bags at what shoppıng I have purchased though. And how much I have paıd for my apt here. Even my own famıly ın UK don,t know that! But thıs ıs Turkey and here they do all ask one another these types of very personal questıons. Black people are very unusual ın Turkey and Yes you wıll get stared at - but be proud of what you are and hold your head up and smıle. A smıle gets you a long way ın Turkey at least.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Yes they stare and sometimes point. When in the East being a natural light blond and very pale people stop stare and sometimes walk backwards. My second visit to Adiyaman we were chased down the street by Adiyaman television so they could interview the (yellow woman). We had just artrived after a car journey of 14 hours over mountains etc six hours of which my husband ( i dont need tablets) had been sick and in the mıddle of the night no chemist etc. So judge how İ felt not improved by my husband gleefully stating this goes to all Kurdish stations world wide. At this point İ needed a divorce lawyer more than an interview. But really although its a pain they are really just curious and interested in you. You are exotic and different try to enjoy.

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  • 3 months later...

I used to live in Kizkalesi with my son and my Turkish husband. Being the only white (almost transparent, lol!), blue eyed, blonde haired English people in the area my son and myself were always being stared at.

It bothered me so much first of all as I could not see what the problem was especially when we'd be walking through the streets in other places like Antalya, Adana, Silifke and people would literally stop and stare at us or on the beach at home and I'd look round and see groups of (mainly) women blatantly staring at me. I'd purposely make eye contact in the hope they'd look away but they didn't, just stared right back, lol!

It was at this stage that I just thought "Sod them!", I can't help my skin/hair/eye colour and once I started to view it as a compliment rather than an insult it never bothered me again.

I do sympathise with you about not wanting to go out alone. I to was like this, I wouldn't go anywhere without my husband but once I developed my "Up yours" attitude to the staring I felt more confident about venturing out alone.

I'm returning to Kizkalesi in 3 weeks time after an absense of 7 years, I wonder what the reaction will be now, lol!

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I'm so tired of turkish people starring at me. Seriously, they will stop what they are doing, some even point. I am not one to look at people, but even when I dont want to see anything, all it takes is one glimpse and I catch someone all acting weird, like they cant believe what they are seeing. I'm part black so I have dark skin, so are these people racist? Have they never seen black people before? Why cant they just mind their own business? I've been turkey before last year and this year nothing is different. These people really make me feel like I dont want to be seen. My fiance keeps telling me its because im so beautiful. I have never felt this akward anywhere else in the world. I have been fortunate to travel and see the world at a young age but turkey is a beautiful country sadly some people ruin it for me.

I came once with my Somali boyfriend and it was an awful experience.
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