Racial and religious relations in Turkey…via Istanbul


So I have been in Istanbul for almost a week. In my time here I’ve had the chance to make some social observations about the handling of race and religion in this beautiful city.

Let’s start off with race. It should come as no surprise to anybody that I stick out in Turkey – even within the cosmopolitan hustle and bustle of Istanbul. Though there are many foreign ex-pats and visitors in the country, I would say the city can definitely be categorized as homogeneously Turkish. That being said, as a 5’9 Somali girl, I stick out. The minute I step out my house, I get stares. Walking down the street. Waiting for the bus. Buying groceries. It seems that a pair of Turkish eyes are always on me. Interestingly enough, the stares aren’t what I’d call rude. Sure, they’re a little invasive – but stares always are. I feel that it more-so stems from curiosity. At worst, all the stares do is remind me that I’m foreign to this country…a fact that I already know, thus having a zero-sum effect.

Yesterday I went to Sultanahmet and Beyazit with a large group of exchange students. It was here, with my first venturing out of my geographical area, that the issue of race was forcibly thrust in my face. Essentially, I got the following comments from street vendors throughout the day: “Hey, Janet Jackson, how are you?” “Hi Lady Obama” “Hey black girl very nice”. Ahem, as Jerome Jarre so eloquently put, “Awkward”. Now, not only do I get harassed with constant reminders of the color of my skin, I’m forced to acknowledge the comments in a joking-manner because this shit always goes down around exchange kids who aren’t black. The aforementioned group had the following comments in response to the street vendors: “That’s so racist” “Oh my god, that’s so not OK”. Thus, in order to ease their minds, I am basically forced to say, “It’s really not a big deal” “Whattya gonna do? “I find this hilarious”. It’s not that I don’t believe that its not a big deal – I do; it’s more-so the irony that I’m the one comforting them instead of vice-versa. The exchange kids are sweet though, as one of them tried to explain to another member of the group, he said, “Well, she does stick out a bit.” At which point I retorted, “You mean a lot…I do have a mirror at home guys”. It’s sweet that they want to side-step acknowledgement of the fact that I am indeed black (and proud might I add) and thus will always stick out in Turkiye.

Moving on to religion. Now, although Turkey is a Muslim country, the Turkish people I’ve met so far do not engage in actual practice of the faith. Many Turks smoke, drink, have sex, etc. What has been MORE of an impediment to me is the issue of alcohol consumption. Presently, almost all the social events I’ve attended are centred around alcohol. Meet-ups at bars. Pre-drinking events at various cribs. Shitty parties where alcohol serves as the only distraction. Beer pong tournaments (thanks Bogazici). Even on my upcoming trip to Cappadocia, people are already talking about getting shit-faced on the bus. *Sigh* I mean, come on y’all. We are grown-ass people. Isn’t there more to life than just getting schwasted in Istanbul? My point here being that I’ve been bored at many of the social events since I’ve gotten here. I suspect it will get better once we venture outside of the area around school, and instead head down to the clubs in Taksim. Cause I’m tryna dance y’all.


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