I can vividly remember sitting in the back seat of the car as my mother ran errands all over town, belting out my favorite song:
Jesus loves the little children!
All the little children of the world!
Red and yellow, black and white,
They are precious in His sight!
Jesus loves the little children of the world!
I thought the song was amazing for two reasons:
1) that there were all those different colors of children in the world; and
2) that Jesus knew and loved them ALL.
As I grew, I came to understand that the words to that song shaped my life:
- I wanted to know those children like Jesus did; and
- I too, wanted to love them.
Throughout my life, I have always been drawn to people who are different from me. I notice them everywhere I go – from the corner gas station to the far reaches of the earth, and always, I seek to know, understand, and love.
Within days of arriving in the UAE, I noticed the Brown People.
They stood out to me, overshadowing everything else I saw. Brown People were oversized, shrinking all other images that filled my senses. As we rode on buses along the Emirates Road in Sharjah and Dubai, we passed beautiful homes built of stone. The houses peeked over stone walls like a sheltered princess peering out between bars in her golden quarters. The grounds were void of Emirati life; but surrounded by lines of Brown People. They were walking, working, working, working. Brown People lined the roadside, lay scattered about under puny trees, and dotted the rooftops of these elaborate sandcastles. I searched their weary eyes, covered in dirty rags protecting them from the mid-day sun; I searched for a hint of their humanity. The eyes were blank. They went back to work and I moved on my way.
The social hierarchy in the UAE is blatant.
First, there are “normal” people. (White. Not white like me, more of an olive color, or perhaps a milky caramel color. Clearly, “color” is subjective, and “white” is just a word used to identify “normal”). These normal people are Emirati nationals. And this category is reigned by MEN.
Then there are “black” people. (African descendants who either immigrated as whole family groups generations ago, or the offspring of Emirati fathers and African mothers). These second rank people are also MEN.
After these two groups come the women. Normal holds a higher status than black in ranking women, just as with the men.
And then the human ranks begin to include the Brown People.
Brown People are at the bottom of society, ranked only by the kind of work they do, but ultimately, not differentiated. Brown People are all the immigrants from third world countries (India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Philippines, Sudan, to name the largest populations). The Brown People are the workers.
It is important to note that Brown People with money (first men, then women), are higher than the workers, and they are tolerated and treated kindly when necessary. But the majority of Brown People are servants of one form or another.
The normal people at the top of the social hierarchy are ranked by money and status. They are flanked by arrogance and inflated egos. They interact with the world around them with shocking displays of entitlement. This sense of self as better is what justifies their behaviors toward, and treatments of, all the Brown People. This is what I have witnessed. It is blatant, not shielded by any excuses or explanations. In fact, when I inquired, it was explained to me that “God made the hierarchy.”
Raised in the United States where “freedom and equality for all” was seeded into my DNA at conception and sealed into my consciousness through a Christian upbringing with stories like the Good Samaritan (he was a social outcast) and the Woman at the Well (she too, was a lowly nobody), I have always had eyes for those unseen, and a big heart for those on the periphery of society. Equality for all is a value I hold with deep passion.
It is no wonder then, that I ache when I see Brown People here in the UAE; there is no equality for all. Even though this is an American value, it is not limited to national borders. Equality for all has been taught and promoted by established religions since their beginnings. And yet, equality for all escapes our societies. All of them.
But today I am talking about this void in Emirati society.
I have gone through the whole spectrum of thought regarding the status and treatments of Brown People:
1) how we are the same because of our humanity: we share common interpretations of human experiences – kindness, anger, soft voices, harsh voices, smiles, grimaces, friendships, enemies, work stresses and work rewards, family interactions;
2) how we are the same because of our humanity: we share common emotions and a desire to express them – happiness, love, a desire to belong, hope, fear, anger, disappointment;
3) how we are the same because of our outsider status in this country: we all long for family, friends, familiar foods, familiar sounds, shared values;
4) how we are different because of the circumstances that have shaped our lives: my circumstances include electricity, central heat and air, hot water, clean water, educational opportunities; their circumstances do not;
5) how we are the same because of the current circumstances that form our experiences here in the UAE: we are all outsiders; we are all viewed with suspicion, we are seldom seen or heard or understood.
Through it all, I have no conclusion.
- I cannot change anyone’s situation.
- And I cannot change minds or perspectives.
- I cannot create equality.
- I cannot create justice.
- I cannot love away the pain.
- I cannot deliver enough kindness to heal broken souls.
Through it all, I simply observe.
Through it all, my broken heart beats hard and fast.