A number of Arab celebrities have posted darkened images of themselves on social media with most ignoring complaints about racial insensitivity.
A number of Arab celebrities are expressing their solidarity with the global Black Lives Matter movement by donning black face, a practice with deep-rooted racist connotations.
Critics say the trend demonstrates just how out of touch and oblivious many in the Arab world are to the issue of racism in their societies.
Instead of taking the criticism on board, however, many of the most prominent offenders have doubled down, with some insisting that racism is a western phenomena that is non-existent in the Arab world.
Algerian singer Souhila Ben Lachhab posted a picture of herself with one side darkened to look black and a caption that read: “Just because we are black on the outside, doesn’t mean that we are black on the inside. Racist people are the true black heart ones. They are black on the inside, though they do not know it.”
Ben Lachhad did not explain why it would be bad to be “black on the inside” and was criticised for the racist undertones of her message.
One commenter under her post on instagram wrote: “What the f*** is this? This is truly disrespectful, you're doing BLACKFACE.”
The singer did not address the criticism unlike Moroccan ‘influencer’ Maryam Hussein, who when confronted about the historical connotations of her blackface image, said: “I don’t like stories or history. I’m a person who lives in present time. Past is Past.” She followed up with a seemingly cryptic barb at her critics that read: “I hate psychological knot.”
Hussein later argued in a series of video posts that “This is only a thing in America. We Arabs don’t experience racism.”
Dear Arab “influencers” this is not like every other trend you blindly jump on for the sole purpose of attention only. This is a fight against racism that black people face, so before you put on a blackface ask urself, how desperate are you to go that low pic.twitter.com/p4EUv0SqCe— Abood Hamadneh (@Hamadneh901) June 4, 2020
Blackface was commonly used in the US by white actors, to either portray black people who had been excluded from the entertainment industry or as a method of pointing fun at stereotyped caricatures of black people.
According to the US National Museum for African American History and Culture, the method was used as a way of solidifying the white identity in opposition to the black ‘other’.
While primarily a US and European phenomenon, the method has been used to mock black people across the world since, including in the Arab world. In 2018, a Kuwaiti show caused uproar after featuring ‘blacked up’ actors portraying Sudanese people as lazy and oafish.
WHAT THE HELL IS THIS? Trying to show solidarity by doing blackface? How dumb do you have to be? When are we speaking about the vast anti blackness in Asian and Arab demographics? Because I’ve been doing it for years on my channel. The absolute level of stupidity is abysmal. https://t.co/XQCZifY1N6— Murad Merali (@MuradMerali) June 1, 2020
Racism in the Arab world
Racism in the Arab world is far from an alien concept but is wrapped with a complexity that distinguishes it from European-centric racism to some degree.
Islam categorically denounces racist ideas and the Prophet Muhammad is recorded to have said: “Neither is the white superior over the black, nor is the black superior over the white, except by piety.”
Nevertheless racism is commonplace in Arab countries.
Words, such as ‘abeed’ which usually mean ‘slave’ have turned into pejoratives flung at black people.
Black minorities, such as those living in Tunisia for example, often complain that they are not granted the same opportunities as other citizens. Some new arrivals to the country have complained that they are taunted with slurs, such as ‘monkey’, and have trouble getting jobs or apartments.
The Tunisian government is tackling the issue by criminalising racist slurs with penalties of up to a year in prison and fines of around 300 euros.
Tunisia is not alone with many Arab countries having to deal with the issue of racism at both the societal and governmental levels.
A paper by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada highlights how black nationals of Saudi Arabia also suffer from discrimination despite laws forbidding racism. Researchers found that black Saudis were more likely to be subjected to mistreatment by the royal family and be excluded from prestigious jobs, such as in government or visible roles in the media.
The Arab community needs to step up after years & years of humiliating us, exploiting our cultures, using blackface on their TV for comedy, continuously using the word “3abeed”, meaning slaves, to refer to us & the apparent racism present in their countries. pic.twitter.com/yeWxbnxeYr— شهد | Shahd (@shudanesei) May 30, 2020
Black-specific racism happens alongside and within wider racist structures, such as the kafala system, which places expatriate workers under the ‘sponsorship’ of a national.
The system, which is in place in the Gulf as well as countries like Jordan and Lebanon, can leave people subject to the whims of their employers, and can often lead to abuses such as the withholding of salaries, seizure of passports, travel bans, and long work hours.
In Lebanon, poor treatment has led to the deaths of dozens of domestic workers through suicide.
A notable incident came to light in March, when Ghanaian national Faustina Tay, issued a desperate plea to God to help her shortly before falling to her death in Beirut.
According to the report on the incident, Tay had sent repeated messages to her family back in Ghana that she was being physically abused by the Lebanese family she was working for.
In one, she wrote: "Please, help me. Help me to go back to my country for treatment. Please, I don't want to die here.”
The fact you knew what a black face was and you still did it WOW , americans did the blackface but it was all around the world and being arab doesn’t make you any less racist pic.twitter.com/i1q0vPMgcU— not found (@itsmisxal) June 2, 2020