Monday, July 5, 2010

What are YOU Going to Do about Racism?!


During the week of the U.S. vs Ghana game, there was an air of racial tension in  our household. I've mentioned my 2 roommates before, one Somali girl and another American girl of German/Irish descent. My Somali roommate, who'd gone to school in Maine. My other roommate had grown up in a largely homogeneous Mid-Western city.

The night before the match, my Somali roommate and her Kenyan friend visited  nearby Restaurant 55.They did not have a reservation and were stopped at the door. Often at nicer establishments in the suburbs of Maadi and Zamalek, there is a bouncer to keep unwanted individuals out. Some places insist on "reservations", even if its just a bar. The bouncer let countless white patrons in without asking them for reservations or I.D. but called the manager to inspect my roommate and her friend as they stood waiting on the side of th entrance. Upon sight of them, the management told her they were full, although she could clearly see that wasn't the case- and turned her away. When I saw her the next day, she was frustrated to the point of tears. 

This scenario is one we often deal with in Egyptian establishments, especially in Maadi and Zamalek. Usually it plays out like this: A black person is stopped at the door and made to prove that they have reservations. Even with reservations, management is called to inspect you and your I.D. You'd continue to be hassled for several minutes as the bouncer weighed whether or not you were worthy of entrance, all the while letting white patrons in with a subordinate, Chester cat smile. Your I.D. would be cross referenced to the guest list, hushed phone calls would be made, and then you're cross referenced again. Suddenly after 10-15 minutes, both owner and bouncer would become extremely apologetic for the inconvenience, hand your I.D. back, and lead you to your reserved table. At other times, without "reservations" and sometimes even with them, the establishment would flatly refuse you entry under the guise of being full or some other excuse. Sadly, When we wanted to avoid this hassle, we'd bring a "token" white  or Egyptian person along. Unable to justify granting entry to part of the party, the bouncers would reluctantly have to let the entire mixed group in.When my Somali roommate told my other roomie and my roomie's Egyptian friend about what happened, she was met with the apologist proclamation that, "There's no racism in Egypt! I have black friends," from the Egyptian. 

To be quite honest, I wish I could say that I met the days events with the poise and grace that comes with a lifetime of dealing with discrimination but, I did not. Unfortunately, there is a hardened cynicism that becomes a coping mechanism when one deals with constant racism from an unlikely source- the poor, largely illiterate people of color in Egypt- or the denial of racisms existance from those who you consider to be your friends. Thus, when my white roommate asked me during the Ghana game if I'd also faced racism here in Egypt and in DC, I dismissively told her that racism was just a fact of life when you were black. Ignoring my tone, she continued to probe and ask questions. Finally, she asked me why I didn't do something about it. I was instantly offended with what I perceived as the privilege in her tone! As if it was my duty to take up the mantel of bringing enlightenment and racial tolerance to the East! "Why don't you do something about it," my Somali roommate and I both demanded. "Well, because I'm white. It doesn't effect me," she said. 

Hurt and insulted by her dismissal of our question, I  decided she had a voyeuristic curiosity into the challenges black people confronted and she claimed didn't effect her. For the remainder of the evening, I tried to avoid continuing the conversation. That night, I didn't want to educate, elaborate, comfort, and enlighten. I was tired of the world where my self assured, intelligent, and outspoken nature was perceived as being an "angry black woman" and ill-bred bigots felt comfortable enough with their  notions to confront me with it daily. Instead of telling her all of this, I did to her what I didn't anyone to do to me. I made assumptions about her based on her background and the way she looked and let the opportunity for an honest racial dialogue pass.

Self righteous in my indignation, I allowed the tension to  remain in our house. A few days later, she came in my room and asked to talk. I was still hurt and offended by her comments but I'd promised my friend, Matt, that I would talk to her about these issues when the opportunity arose. Equally, she was offended by my presumption that she was willfully ignorant and that she'd intentionally meant to hurt me. We had an open and honest discussion. I admitted to her that the constant fight to have my humanity recognized had made me callous in the way I'd addressed her that night. I expressed to her how I felt  that she was being flippant and dismissive of my experiences as a black person when she'd demanded to know why I didn't do something to confront racism. In turned out that some serious miscommunication had happened. She thought I was referring to a single individual and I assumed she wanted me to educate each and every bigot from here to DC! I asked her if she cold imagine stopping to confront every man who sexually harassed her in the street. The thought alone struck her as dreadful and she could then understand why I didn't feel that every bigot was worth my attention.She apologized for offending me and openly admitted her lack of knowledge and experience in this area. In the end, we embraced each other in a hug and released the burden we'd both been carrying. As Egyptian border police lawfully murder Sudanese refugees-men, women, and babies- on the Sinai border, Islamophobia spreads through Europe, and Arizona and many other U.S. states pass xenophobic immigration laws, the question remains timely and relevant. Regardless of the colour of your skin, What are you going to do about racism?

I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality... I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

My roommates aren't morning people lol

Articles  I shared with my roommate on this issue:


Matt said...

two things:

Thing one: Told you so.

Thing two: THERE IS NO WAY IN HELL IDAHO IS THE MIDWEST!!!! As a real midwesterner I take offense to that. Do I call Miami part of the South? NOOO!

Balanced Melting Pot said...

Often I hear from Europeans that they consider the US to be the most racist country in the world - that's usually after I make a comment about racism I experienced in their countries. From your point of vie, do you think it worse in Egypt than in the states?

I think any racism is horrible - but if what you described with the restaurants happened in the States, that place would receive some serious negative press. Moreover, there would be picketers lined up day in and day out until they changed their ways. To me, that makes it a little easier to deal with...

Frenchie said...

@Matt, Geez, you're sooo humble... i wonder where you picked that up! Thanks for good advice and for being a good friend...don't let it go to your head! lol

@BMP I lived in the US, went to school in the Deep South, studied in Paris during the Muslim riots, and I've traveled quite a bit. YES, Egypt is the most racist place I've ever been. In the US, racism is usually covert and hidden under a veil of PCness. It's not proper to yell out the N word in public, no one would dispute that. Those who do perpetuate overtly racist behavior, like Mel Gibson, are condemned and deemed ignorant. one cannot simply attack black people in the street of America(unless you're a police officer of course, then you can shoot them in the back while their hands are tied or while they are reaching for their wallets).

In Egypt however, racism is overt and acceptable. It's okay to yell out a racial slur to black people in public, even to little children. Racist comments are casually made with no regard to whether or not you can overhear them. Violence towards black people-especially stone throwing- is common and goes unreported. An acquaintance of mine was stoned in broad daylight by a group of young Egyptian men and told to "go back to Sudan"; She's actually from the US. Her wounds were so bad that she had to return to America to recover. Even some people who'd be considered the educated elite are comfortably, vocally racist. When Egypt played South Africa in futbol, the Egyptian coach referred to the South Africans as a 'bunch of slaves' in the media. There was no widespread condemnation, no one even thought his comments odd.

There are economic and political reasons behind racism and bigotry, of course. There is a large influx of African refugees in Cairo from neighboring countries vying for jobs in a nation with record high unemployment rates. The national myth of Arab unity and Egypt-Mediterranean grandeur that the propaganda machine perpetuates can't confront the reality/history of dark skinned people in Egypt. However, I find the silence and complacency of most Egyptians towards racism here the most disturbing factor of all.

Viajera said...

It's very interesting that she commented that racism doesn't affect her.

iamatraveler said...


from reading your blog, I've already accepted that Egypt is not the place that I had hoped it would be and I no longer hold the delusion that I would be welcomed there.

With that said, I think you and your roommate have already made huge strides in racial relations and attitudes through conversation and cultural attributions. Your roommate may not truly understand your frustrations because she's never walked in your experiences, but the fact that she's willing to overcome this disadvantage says more than words.

Knowing each other begins with individuality, but once people are able to get past that, then there's room for growth.

Anonymous said...

For a million reasons you are better than me. She would have been cut off for life with that "I am white and racism does not affect me comment". But hey thats why God has you dealing with her and not me.

I am sooo over educating people for FREE!!! hopefully I can shed some light when I get paid as a professor...for now no more free lessons

Dude, I don't know what kind of freaky Ebony/Ivory love is going on in that pic...but hey that is one thing people can DO about racism...

Anonymous said...

Ive copied and pasted the following for your viewers.
I left Egypt in 1962 and never looked back!

Muhammad's Own Words
Prophet of Doom was written to expose what Islam’s founder had to say about himself, his ambition, religion, and god. Before you use or criticize these quotes, please read this overview from the author. For those who are serious about the study of Islam, be sure to read the source material appendix, entitled Islam's Dark Past.

Ishaq:243 "I heard the Apostle say: 'Whoever wants to see Satan should look at Nabtal!' He was a black man with long flowing hair, inflamed eyes, and dark ruddy cheeks.... Allah sent down concerning him: 'To those who annoy the Prophet there is a painful doom."
[9:61] "Gabriel came to Muhammad and said, 'If a black man comes to you his heart is more gross than a donkey's.'"
Ishaq:144 "A rock was put on a slave's chest. When Abu Bakr complained, they said, 'You are the one who corrupted him, so save him from his plight.' I will do so,' said Bakr. 'I have a black slave, tougher and stronger than Bilal, who is a heathen. I will exchange him. The transaction was carried out."
Qur'an 9:97 "The Arabs of the desert are the worst in unbelief and hypocrisy, and most fitted to be in ignorance of the command which Allah hath sent down to His Messenger."
Tabari II:11 "Shem, the son of Noah was the father of the Arabs, the Persians, and the Greeks; Ham was the father of the Black Africans; and Japheth was the father of the Turks and of Gog and Magog who were cousins of the Turks. Noah prayed that the prophets and apostles would be descended from Shem and kings would be from Japheth. He prayed that the African's color would change so that their descendants would be slaves to the Arabs and Turks."
Tabari II:21 "Ham [Africans] begat all those who are black and curly-haired, while Japheth [Turks] begat all those who are full-faced with small eyes, and Shem [Arabs] begat everyone who is handsome of face with beautiful hair. Noah prayed that the hair of Ham's descendants would not grow beyond their ears, and that whenever his descendants met Shem's, the latter would enslave them."
Tabari IX:69 "Arabs are the most noble people in lineage, the most prominent, and the best in deeds. We were the first to respond to the call of the Prophet. We are Allah's helpers and the viziers of His Messenger. We fight people until they believe in Allah. He who believes in Allah and His Messenger has protected his life and possessions from us. As for one who disbelieves, we will fight him forever in Allah's Cause. Killing him is a small matter to us."
Bukhari: V9B89N256 "Allah's Apostle said, 'You should listen to and obey your ruler even if he is a black African slave whose head looks like a raisin.'"
Ishaq:450 "It is your folly to fight the Apostle, for Allah's army is bound to disgrace you. We brought them to the pit. Hell was their meeting place. We collected them there, black slaves, men of no descent."
Ishaq:374 "The black troops and slaves of the Meccans cried out and the Muslims replied, 'Allah destroy your sight, you impious rascals.'"
Bukhari:V4B52N137 "The Prophet said, 'Let the negro slave of Dinar perish. And if he is pierced with a thorn, let him not find anyone to take it out for him.... If he [the black slave] asks for anything it shall not be granted, and if he needs intercession [to get into paradise], his intercession will be denied.'"

Anonymous said...

Im an American convert, graduate of Azhar and trained as a Mufti (like a Rabbi) and this is just baseless.

All of these reports are weak save al-Bukhari's below, one of them grossly mistranslated, and the verse of the Quran.

Ishaq is Ibn ishaq whose strength has a sound narrator is questioned because he was more interested in reporting anything he could get his hands on than reporting the authentic. The same applies to al-Tabari's massive, multiple volume collection mentioned below. Neither are taken as references for creed or legal opinions since the goal of both books was to mention everything attributed to the Prophet (sa).

As for the verse from the ninth chapter, one should view the verse that follows it, "And from amongst the Arabs are those who believe in God and the Last day." The first verse is about the hypocrites, and the second about the believers." Applying it to all of the Arabs is not only bad research, but an admittance of ignorance- they were not aware of the verse that followed it?

As for bukhari's narration the last one is mistranslated for two reasons:

1. The word Negro does not exist in classical Arabic
2. There is no adjective to describe عبد "abd" in the the text which reads
تئسى عبد الدنار
"Cursed is the slave to money."

Here the word abd is used for anyone who becomes a slave of this world, bartering away the hereafter. This is utter trickery, the translation; used to fool people. As for the "black leader" hadith. It is forcing upon a racist community to accept the leadership of any good person regardless of color! "The most noble of you in God's site is the pious." 49/13 and "God does not look at your shapes or appearances, but your hearts and deeds." and "I was sent to the black and the white."
When the Prophet conquered Mecca he asked Bilal, a black man to ascend the Kabba, and make the call to prayer." (sound Hadith). Once a black woman died who used to clean the Prophets mosque in Medina, he went to her grave, after she'd been dead for some time and prayed on her grave, begging gods mercy for her." (sound Hadith)

The final fact is that many of the greatest scholars and thinkers were of African origin:

1. al-Nafi the great Faqih and teacher of Imam Malik and student of Umar
2. al-Duali who put the Arabic marks and grammar of the Qur'an down
3. Ibn Munthir, one of the greatest linguist who wrote the most important dictionary lisan al-arab
4. Sh. Uthman Dan Fodio of Nigeria who lead the resistance against colonialism


Patricia Kayden said...

Sad to read about the in-your-face racism there is in Egypt. But not too surprising given the situation in the Sudan and Mauritania where Arabs still keep Blacks as slaves.

When I was younger and pro-Palestinian, my sister would always caution me that Arabs probably do not care about Black issues the way Blacks tend to care about Arab issues. I can see where she is coming from now.

Great blog, by the way.

Afrika said...

I know a couple of West African friends who had terrible experiences in Egypt so this doesn't come as a surprise to me. Cool blog btw. Cheers!

Related Posts with Thumbnails