The Arab slave trade is a fact of history, and anti-black racism in the region is something that must be addressed. In response to an essay I wrote recently regarding the essential blackness of the Palestinian struggle, I received this reaction, among others: What about Arab anti-black racism? Or the Arab slave trade? The Arab slave trade is a fact of history and anti-black racism is a fact of current reality, a shameful thing that must be confronted in Arab societies. Though I claim no expertise on the subject, I think that applying notions of racism as it exists in the US will preclude a real understanding of the subject in the Arab world. I spent much of much of my youth in the Arab world and I do not recall having a race consciousness until I came to the United States at the age of 13. My knowledge of Arab anti-black racism comes predominantly from Arab Americans. Like other immigrant communities, they adopt the prevailing racist sentiments of the power structure in the US, which decidedly holds African-Americans in contempt. This attitude is also becoming more prevalent in Arab countries for various reasons, but mostly because Arab governments, particularly those that import foreign labour from Africa and Southeast Asia, have failed to implement or enforce anti-discrimination and anti-exploitation laws. In many Arab nations, including Kuwait where I was born, workers are lured into menial jobs where their passports are confiscated upon arrival and they are forced into humiliating and often inhuman working conditions. They have little to no protection under the law and are particularly vulnerable to exploitation, including extraordinarily long working hours, withholding of salaries, sexual, mental, and physical abuse, and denial of travel. The recent case of Alem Dechesa brought to light the horrors faced by migrant workers in Lebanon. Dechesa, a domestic worker from Ethiopia, committed suicide after suffering terrible mental and physical abuse at the hands of her Lebanese employers, whose savage beating of her in front of the Ethiopian Consulate went viral last year. Defining beauty An extension to Arab anti-black racism is an aspiration to all that our former – and current – colonisers possess. Individuals aspire to what is powerful and rich, and the images of that power and wealth have light skin, straight hair, small noses, ruddy cheeks and tall, skinny bodies. That image rejects melanin-rich skin, coiled hair, broad or pointy noses, short stature, broad hips and big legs. So we, too, reject these features, despising them in others and in ourselves as symbols of inferiority, laziness, and poverty. That s why the anglicising industries of skin bleaching and hair straightening are so profitable. And yet, when Palestine went to the UN for recognition of statehood, the vast majority of nations who voted yes were southern nations. The same is true when Palestine asked for admission to UNESCO. In fact, when the US cut off funding to UNESCO in response to its members democratic vote to admit Palestine, it was the African nation of Gabon that immediately stepped up with a $2m donation to UNESCO to help offset the loss of income. It was not Saudi Arabia, or Kuwait, or Qatar, or Lebanon, or Sweden, or France. It was Gabon. How many Palestinians know that, much less expressed gratitude for it? So concerned are Palestinians with what the European Union and the United States think of us. So engrossed are we in grovelling for their favour and handouts as they support a system of Jewish supremacy pushing our ancient society into extinction. We dance like clowns any time a European leader spares us a thought. Have we no sense of history? No sense of pride? No comprehension of who is truly standing with us and who is sabotaging us? In a world order that peddles notions of entire continents or regions as irreducible monoliths, the conversation among Arabs becomes a dichotomous Arab versus African , ignoring millennia of shared histories ranging from extensive trade and commerce, to the horrors of the Arab slave trade, to the solidarity of African-Arab anti-colonial unity, to the current state of ignorance that does not know history and cannot connect the dots when it comes to national liberation struggles.
via Confronting anti-black racism in the Arab world – Al Jazeera English.