It’s Time We Recognized Anti-blackness in the Arab World and in Arab Media

We are a platform that is dedicated to empowering creatives in the Middle East and helping them gain the recognition and support they deserve. When you first saw this title you might have thought that the topic is outside of our scope, but we believe that it is our duty to recognize injustices and both the negative and positive roles that creative industries can play in our societies. In order to empower Middle Eastern artists, we must recognize the conditions that exist in our region, come to terms with them and actively work to create a better environment for EVERYONE. Structural discrimination and anti-blackness are unfortunately still pervasive in the Middle East today. We hope that through this article we can start a dialogue and begin to understand how we might have been complicit in this very unjust system. 

(We have loved the artwork produced by Arab creatives in solidarity with the #BlackLivesMatter movement and have included some of our favourites in this article.)

Image via    @shirien.creates

Image via @shirien.creates

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past week, you have probably seen or heard of the video showing the murder of George Floyd, an African American man, by a police officer, who kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for close to 9 minute. The horrific video sparked protests against racially-motivated police brutality across the United States, which have had a ripple effect in other places around the world, with protests taking place in many European cities, as well as Canada, Mexico, Brazil and Australia.

Image via @nouriflayhan

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The events have forced many in the Arab world to confront our own internalized culture of racism and anti-blackness. From the “Kafala” system (basically a modern form of slavery) in Lebanon and the Gulf countries to the harassment of African refugees and the normalization of racial slurs, under the guise of “humour”, in Egypt, the pervasiveness of anti-blackness is embedded in many facets of modern day Arab culture. We have personally made it our mission to educate ourselves and the people around us about recognizing the privilege of being lighter skinned Arabs and

understanding the implications of anti-blackness in our communities. This is not to say that Arabs are not faced with discrimination, however we must collectively recognize that there are injustices that are exclusively experienced by anyone who is dark skinned and no one else. We recognize that there are many layers to racism in the Middle East, ranging from the explicit dehumanization of migrants and workers to the verbal and physical harassment of nationals. A lot of us have casually said the “n word,” while referring to a friend, thinking it is cool or while singing along to a song, not understanding the historically derogatory use of the word. We might have heard or seen an older family member refer to a black person negatively and stayed quiet. There are many forms of anti-blackness that we might have inadvertently taken part of, but it is our duty to educate ourselves and understand the implications of our actions or rather our silence. 

Image via    @aziz.asmar.3344    (Mural in Syria in support of protests in the US)

Image via @aziz.asmar.3344 (Mural in Syria in support of protests in the US)

The media and film industry play a huge role in normalizing discriminatory attitudes and have most definitely been complicit through the perpetuation of negative stereotypes of laziness, dirtiness, ugliness and many others of black characters; as well as, using racial slurs such as “‘Abd”, which means slave and “Zingy”, which is the Arabic equivalent of the “n word”, to refer to dark skinned characters in movies. Do not even get us started on the casual use of blackface to make fun of black characters for the sake of an unfunny joke. Blackface is a practice that features light skinned characters darkening their faces with makeup to caricature dark skinned individuals. We recently came across a video on Youtube that includes a compilation of snippets from various Arab media sources showing how movies and TV shows have reinforced the perception of dark skin as inferior. It is time for us to face the fact that a lot of our favourite movies are racist and have contributed to a culture that humiliates and belittles anyone with dark skin. We have included the video below. Watch and tell us what you think!