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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

The discriminating job advert got me thinking

There is a slippery slope between good-natured curiosity and racial bias

There are so many different cultures in the UAE you can’t help but graduate from here with a deeper knowledge of the world Pawan Singh / The National 
There are so many different cultures in the UAE you can’t help but graduate from here with a deeper knowledge of the world Pawan Singh / The National 

Moving abroad is not just about changing your postal address, it’s about your personal identity, too. I have grappled with mine a lot in the seven years that I have lived in Abu Dhabi.

Not a day goes by when I am not asked where I come from, what languages I speak, what religion I follow, and what’s the deal with my repetitive name.

They’re are all good-natured inquires, of course, and all part and parcel of being an international citizen in a diverse population. Living in the UAE is sort of like being a college student. People from all corners of the globe are here but only for a set period of time. I have found that, as fertile as the experience is, you can’t help but graduate with a deeper knowledge of the world and how you fit into it.

Like most things in life, though, when things are taken to the extreme, problems can arise. I have come to see that when it comes to identity, the line between curiosity and discrimination can sometimes become blurred.

Take this week’s online job advertisement posted by an Al Ain Nursery, which called for “fair-skinned” applicants only. People reacted and the management was forced to defend its position. It stated that the request was made in response to frequent inquiries by parents about the ethnic background of its team, so it thought to employ what was largely acceptable to the masses.

While I disagree with the wording of this particular job advertisement for obvious reasons, I can sympathise with the nursery. I guess deep down, it is becoming a slave to the community and its preferences. What I have found heartwarming, though, is the far-reaching conversation that has ensued and the strong government response to this case.

But it’s worth remembering that not all biased behaviour can be tackled by way of legislation. The burden must also be carried by us, and we should continually examine the way we address and view each other.

I have been reflecting on this myself and would be lying to you if I said race didn’t play a part in my interactions here every day.

I find that the English language is a relatively worthless currency when shopping at Madinat Zayed Shopping Centre, instead I find that when interacting with vendors and other consumers from the region, my fluency in Arabic helps me bag some real bargains, especially when it comes to top-notch kanduras. From a career point of view, I have also found that Arabic mixed with my Eritrean roots has been particularly helpful when it comes to interactions with elderly Arabs, allowing me great interviews in a safe and comfortable manner.

That being said, I have also seen and experienced what happens when people make assumptions. I do it and know I still have some work to do when it comes to tackling my own biases. You’d think I should have already learnt this by now, because I have also been on the receiving end when travelling across the Gulf and the wider Levant.

These experiences range from the relatively benign, such as being the occasional recipient of praise for “my good English”, to the more serious, like when I’m at passport control and asked where “my father comes from” (when I divulge my African heritage the mood often changes).

I have recently remedied this by opting to speak my very best English when travelling.

When it comes to the job market, I have seen how my friends from Sudan and Somalia have handled looking for jobs in the Gulf. They told me they never stated their ethnicity on their CVs and only answer the question when asked during an interview.

I believe that this way of thinking needs to be eradicated from the UAE and the Gulf in order to reap the benefits of its cosmopolitan population.

I am fortunate that my profession doesn’t focus so much on race – in reality, when it comes to journalism, our work speaks for itself and we’re compensated accordingly.

I’d say it’s this principle that needs to be the backbone for all UAE organisations and employees, and hopefully, we can all get to a stage where we can ask an organisation how competent their employees are as opposed to focusing on where they come from

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Read more from Saeed:

Halal dumplings? Elusive in London or Sydney, but easy to find in Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi is a calm place to de-stress from the bustle of daily life

What I learnt on Hajj: it’s no picnic, but then it was never meant to be

A ‘majaal’ moment as the buffer zone came to an end

Domestic workers who take care of our families and homes are 'silent heroes'

Part-time work in the UAE: What working at a video store when I was 15 taught me about life

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