Today, we will examine a historical topic in Saudi society: the tribes culture and Saudi society. I will go back to more basic topics in future posts. However, I just felt like delving deep at this time.
It won’t be too complicated or difficult to understand, as I myself am not an expert in the subject. All I know is, that while growing up and attending school in Saudi, I had negative experiences because of this social aspect of Saudi society. Allow me to explain…
As a child, I learned about social classism at a very young age. I became highly familiar with the concept of discrimination from my school days. As a little girl attending private school in my city in Saudi, some teachers didn’t give me much attention or praise my skills, simply because I didn’t belong to a big family or tribe. Sad, I know.
At first, you don’t really understand why you’re being discriminated against. I was a good student (more like the class nerd), I always got straight A’s, I was even the first on my class for many consecutive years. Until I moved to another school which didn’t have a similar grading system. So, there wasn’t any first or second or third of the class.
But the point is, that I couldn’t find any reason for my teachers to “not like me”, or give me much attention and appraisal.
As I grew older, and began to notice the themes, and understand the ways these things worked, I came to the realization that all I was missing was a tribal – equating to important – family name.
My family and I are not Bedouins, we don’t belong to any tribe. We are simply modern Saudis. In Arabic, we call it: Hathar. It’s the opposite end of the Bedouins, who have deep family roots in the desert.
As a modern Saudi, others from Bedouin roots would like down on me as a second class citizen. I faced this inferior attitude from some school students as well. They would have this extreme pride and enlarged personality just because of the families that they belong to. They feel superior to others and treat them with less respect.
This discrimination was very strong in the first private school that I attended. The teachers treated the students who came from big tribal families differently. They were extra nice to them and they tried to get close to them. As such, they always gave them more attention than they truly deserved!
In the second private school that I attended, the teacher discrimination had a different basis. Since the school owner was American, and therefore the school attracted a slightly different social group of the Saudi society, students from tribal families weren’t that many. But, many of the students’ fathers were big businessmen and well-known families in the business world. The majority had family businesses and they were trading in big industries, such as consumer products or construction or architecture.
That’s why, some teachers would favor those students over the ones from the hard-working class or the ones with an average social status.
It was more like a silent rule that no one dared to discuss or speak openly about. I always felt that all those meaningless experiences badly affected my self-esteem. But somehow, there was no one there to talk to. No one who I could open my heart to and explain how I felt and that I didn’t think the discrimination was fair or had any good reasoning.
I truly believe that going through those discriminatory experiences has played a significant role in shaping my character and the person who I am today. I’m aware that although they might have built my character into a strong and mature person, they also have taken away from my self-esteem, confidence and self-respect.
Wedding ceremonies is another great example of this social stigma. I once had a lady (mother of a potential husband) ask me which family I belonged to. At that age, I wasn’t even thinking of marriage or paying much thought to the concept. Despite that, her question and her interest to learn my family name to judge me and my character surprised me.
I never knew that the true value of a person with all their traits (good and bad), their skills, their achievements, their goals, their dreams, their failures, was based solely on their last name and their family roots.
I believe that we are individuals – with all our experiences and all our characteristics. We are human beings firstly and most importantly. We are souls – who feel and breathe and go through many ups and downs.
I refuse to be valued by a priceless and trivial concept; that of the tribal society and the historic family roots.
Let us all rise together above all of these age-old notions, that sadly still exist in this day and time. And promote the strong values of individuality and respect to one another, regardless of our backgrounds or family roots.
This is by far my favorite from the series. I love the honesty and the profoundness of this post.
Having read this, I realized that my decision to not raise my child in this region is right. I think within the expat community – there is also a social stigma of comparing what parents do and where they work etc. etc. I even overheard kids comparing what kind of airplanes their pilot fathers are in – if it’s A380 then your father is better. I refuse to instill that thought in my child – that what your parents do and where they work defines your social status.
Thanks for the comment Noemi. I’m glad that you liked the idea behind this post. It truly is a phenomenon in this region. There’s always this constant pressure for you to be better. Whether it comes from our parents, from school or our peers! this makes you feel less worthy and inferior all the time! I’m tired!
Another interesting and insightful post. Thank you for your honesty Nada. I found this blog both sad because of the discrimination but also uplifting. Despite everything you have developed into an independent and talented writer. I really appreciate how you help me to understand the Arabic and specifically Saudi culture. Thank you.
I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed reading this post. I think sometimes, these negative experiences are crucial for our growth and self-development. Without those experiences, I wouldn’t have made the decision to leave the country or to work hard towards my goals. These incidents empower me to work harder and act as catalysts to help me reach my goals and improve my life situation. Thank you for the support and I look forward to hearing more of your comments on future posts 🙂