Let me preface this by saying that I am by no means making the statement that all Afghans are bigots or racist. Nor am I stating that all Afghan National Security Force personnel are bigots. That said, racism and bigotry are rampant in Afghanistan.
It is a shame that folks come to Afghanistan from all over the world to try to lend a hand and their efforts are repaid with racist attitudes. Bad enough that corruption has made it all but impossible to make real progress here. Measurable progress inn our endeavors in the Stan is extremely difficult to sustain. This is bad enough. When advisors are ignored simply because of the color of their skin or the shape of their eyes, this only makes the job more difficult.
I have served in mentor and advisory positions for roughly 5 years in Afghanistan. I’ve worked with the Afghan National Police in Herat, Farah, Ghor and Badghis as well as with the Afghan National Army in Kabul both with the Kabul Military Training Center and the Afghan Partnering Unit. In each of these locations, I have discovered that Afghans, who see themselves as “White,” have harsh and negative opinions of peoples of Asian and African descent.
If one has the appearance similar to Hazaras, one is automatically looked down upon. A mentor who looks Hazara is all but ignored. I have discovered the same attitudes shown towards African Americans and all other African peoples.
While I was in Herat, the ANP would make disparaging statements about Barack Obama during his candidacy openly mocking him because of his skin color. They started calling my African-American counterparts “Obama cousins.” They had this attitude towards anyone who looked remotely African American. This attitude carried forward in their mentor/advisory relationships with African-Americans as well as any Asian peoples.
Asian peoples would be called Hazari and thenceforth ignored being seen and treated as valueless. African Americans would be treated similarly.
I experimented with this a few times by having one of my team members discuss subjects with them and make suggestions about areas well within his expertise. None of the Afghans would take him seriously or attempt to put these suggestions into action going so far as to tell said team member that the suggestion would be impossible to implement or that it was a bad idea. Usually they would employ the favored Afghan tactic and say; “This is not in our culture.” I would make the same suggestions a week or so later. The Afghans would usually act on the suggestion within a week or so. Same suggestion, sold in much the same way. One Black person, one White person. Completely opposite reactions.
At my newest location, I discussed these racial attitudes with my interpreter. He replied that I may be correct. I have been able to step in here and get positive results in a much shorter time than my counterparts. I have noticed the relationships between my fellow advisors and the Afghans. From my vantage point after watching and listening for a month, there is no reason that more improvement could not have been made in a shorter time. However, two of the advisors with whom I work are Black. Both of them are experienced. Both of them retired military. They have the expertise to get the job done, to advise and to mentor. Both of them have been here in Afghanistan around 4 years as civilian advisors as well as having deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq while serving in the military.
Neither of them have made great strides in this position. Something toxic existed. That toxicity was, I surmised, the racism of the local Afghan officers.
Fast forward to a week ago, I told my interpreter that the reason that one of my counter-parts was having issues was the racism of his Afghan counterpart. My Interpreter gave me that “OKAY…” look and laughed it off. A couple of days later, this Afghan told me that he didn’t like “Africans.” His word for Black people. I looked at my Interpreter with raised eyebrow but said little. I’m not here to preach at anyone concerning moral issues. That said, I decided to put into action a plan to turn this Afghan Colonel towards the side of light and away from racism and prejudice. I’ll have to be subtle but anything is possible.
I’ve run into racism all over the world. For some odd reason, many Americans and especially the more naive people on the Left, believe that racism is “America’s special shame.” I don’t see it that way. Racism in America is mild as compared to that of Thailand, the Gulf and Central Asia. I’ve encountered racism, bigotry and prejudice the world over. It has hit me from all sides. I’ve been treated preferentially in places like Afghanistan and Cambodia because of my “bright skin.” I’ve also been treated as if I were less than human or automatically judged negatively due to the color of my skin and my national heritage. Being an American pays off well in most cases across the world. At times, though, being an American will be cause for instantaneous and harsh judgment. This is mostly the case with liberal Europeans who have a special hate for all things American.
I find it unfortunate and shameful that African Americans leave behind racism in America only to find racism on the opposite side of the planet. That same racism can be found all over, though. It is not unique to Afghanistan.
Myself, I’ve found it best to see people as they are. Through their actions and their interactions with humanity. Judging a person by the color of their skin or because of their place of birth or religion of birth is a wretched lens through which to see the world and interact with our fellow humans. I have met good people and evil people of all races, nationalities and religions. There is not special combination that magically informs me as to a persons goodness or lackthereof.
Judging on superficialities is the only sure way to close oneself off to the beauty that exists in the world. I have met wonderful people because I have refused to judge people based upon anything else but their individualism. We are each of us unique. No person should be judged based upon any subset or group. To look at another and instantly come to the conclusion that they are unworthy of me is in and of itself a shameful sin. To come to this conclusion simply because they have darker skin than I…that must be the greatest sin against humanity ever conceived by man.