Friday, March 16, 2007

A Brush with Racism

I spent much of yesterday wandering around Amsterdam, admiring the canals and the old crooked buildings and going in little shops. One of the stores I went into was a small dance music/CD/vinyl/etc place. It was an interesting place. I checked out some CDs and events flyers and also a bunch of nice T-shirts. I thought I might get a shirt for Doreen for her birthday which is coming up in a few weeks.

I struck up a conversation with the shopkeeper, who was pretty friendly and talkative. He asked where I was from and what I thought of Amsterdam, and so on. His accent didn't sound Dutch to me--perhaps Russian?--so I asked him where he was from. He said he was from Serbia and that he move to Amsterdam around 15 years ago because my country was dropping bombs on his country. We chuckled. He opened the store a few years ago.

I then asked him how he liked Amsterdam. He said he didn't like it so much. Why not, I asked. And here is where the conversation changed. He began by explaining that the reason things went wrong in Yugoslavia is that they let the Muslims live with them. It was ok when they were just 10%, but they multiplied like rabbits, because that's what they do best, and then it was a problem. And now they're here in Amsterdam and he doesn't like it.

Ug. I didn't see this coming. He continued.

He doesn't like the Turks, Moroccans, the Arabs, and "the Blacks". The Arabs come to his store to steal, where as "the Blacks" will just rob him directly. He explained that it's not that he has anything against Muslims, he just doesn't like to see them. The Muslims are always talking against "us." He went on in this vein for a little while. He was getting slightly agitated.

I was transfixed and didn't really know what to do. I was so amazed that he was speaking this way that I sort of wanted him to continue. I also wanted to turn around and leave. But for a reason I can't explain, I didn't want to be that rude. I also wasn't sure I should turn my back on someone who was getting agitated. But there was a counter between him and me, so there really wasn't any danger.

I thought briefly of telling him that I was Arab, or that my wife is from Turkey. (Neither of which are true.) Or that I'm Jewish. (Which is slightly true.) But I didn't. I eventually got him to change the subject by asking him about the music that he produces.

Needless to say, I didn't buy a t-shirt from him. I saw Doreen later in the day and told her that I almost got a birthday present for her. Why didn't you, she asked? Because the store I saw your potential gift at is owned by a vile racist, I explained. Oh, she said.


Anonymous said...

Or possibly te store was owned by someone who has had to deal with things you haven't?

Anonymous said...

or perhaps you are just another ignorant racist like the man who owned the store

Anonymous said...

I'm from India a predominantly Hindu nation. That "breed like rabbits" remark sounds all too familiar. We have a minority Muslim population and the more radical Hindu's love stating that we will be out-bred by the Muslims - funny coming from a +1 billion people.

Anonymous said...

I thought Yugoslavia disintegrated because the Serbs started to ethic genocide.

Amsterdam is racist BTW, people will say racist things and people will target non-white people in any way they can.