How was Racism Normalized in the Arabic Pop Culture and Media?

Published May 15th, 2019 - 10:53 GMT
Myriam Fares (Lebanese singer) appeared in of her songs 'Goumi' in December 2018 in a blackface. The video sparked outrage as a racist video but it's still up until today. (YouTube)
Myriam Fares (Lebanese singer) appeared in of her songs 'Goumi' in December 2018 in a blackface. The video sparked outrage as a racist video but it's still up until today. (YouTube)

Despite the fact that black Arabs have been an integral part of the region for ages, the Arab media, drama, cinema and even daily-use language is still dominated by racist and offensive portrayals of black people.

The representation of the black community as a material for mockery and derogatory language has been ongoing for years and it reaches the peak in Ramadan; the drama season when families gather at night to watch supposedly family-friendly TV content.

Yet every year, the content fails to avoid the racist and offensive language against black communities in the Middle East.

For the past week alone, two videos from Egyptian and Libyan TV shows went viral and faced a massive backlash for presenting a racist and disrespectful content against black people.

One of them showed an Egyptian actress, known as Shaimaa Seif, adorning a black face on a TV prank show imitating Sudanese women. Not only this, the actress rides a public minibus trying to annoy people by raising her voice and uttering 'gibberish' in a clear representation of the accent of Sudanese women. She even tries to steal the phones of those on the bus for the benefit of the camera.

The show has already sparked anger and condemnation by Sudanese and Egyptians who demanded that Seif apologizes and called for a boycott of the TV company.

Another video emerged this week and was taken from a Libyan prank show. It represents a black woman who has children depicted as animals.

The video has also gone viral on the internet sparking discussions on the racism in the Arabic media and how normalized it has become.

Unfortunately, the anger and controversy on the internet did not succeed in making its way into the wider society and creating debate among people. Therefore, it led people to work on exposing it more through sharing videos and scenes from Arabic drama that offends black people and highlights the racism exposed in society.

This led Abdullahi, or as known on Twitter “Abz Captures”, to collect videos from live TV shows, movies, and music that present an offensive content against Arab black communities in the Middle East.

For Abdullahi, the collection of tens of videos aimed at highlighting the "anti-blackness" in the Arab world represented through its media.

In a thread on Twitter, he shared dozens of videos he has been collecting for years of scenes taken from the Arabic media showing how racism has been making its way for years and up till now.

It is a sensitive topic that is often underreported in the region, yet it should be discussed more and awareness needs to be raised about it, Abdullahi told Al Bawab Node.

In addition to the fact that most Arab countries do not criminalize racism led to its “normalization” to the level that it is never an issue as well as leading some people to defend it and accuse the black community of "playing the victim" whenever it is denounced.

The matter of normalized racism in the Middle East had been brought out to the media two years ago when an Egyptian TV show called “Rayah El Madam” featured one of the main characters describing an Egyptian-Nubian musical band called “Black Theama” as “Black Teena [mud]” referring to the black singers of the band.

The issue made people angry then which led the Amir Salahudeen, the band’s leader, to take his outrage on Facebook. He was then invited on several talk shows to discuss this issue. However, people criticized him for insisting to keep talking about the matter even though the TV show producers made an apology.

Yet, those are few examples of the anti-black sentiment being reflected on a daily basis in the daily lives of Arabs.

A few months ago, a wide discussion was made on Twitter among Arabs and Muslims, highlighting the issue of using a commonly-used word to refer to black-skinned people in the Middle East instead of the use of:  “عبيد” [Abeed] which literally translates into “Slaves”.

As much as degrading the word sounds, some Arabic-speakers still use it. Meanwhile, many believe it is now being used less than before with more efforts being paid into educating people on the actual meaning it holds.

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