by Luna

by Luna

Luna

Luna

Blog Intro

Hello, I'm Luna, and I'd like to welcome you to "Kisses from Kairo,"* my blog about living and working as an American belly dancer in Cairo.

Life in Cairo isn't easy for dancers, foreigners, women, or even Egyptians. It is, however, always exciting. That’s why after living here for seven years, I've decided to share my experiences with the world. From being contracted at the Semiramis Hotel to almost being deported, not a day has gone by without something odd or magical happening. I will therefore fill these pages with bits of my history in Cairo—my experiences, successes, mistakes, and observations. Admittedly, my time here has been rather unique, so I want to stress that while everything I write is true, my experiences do not necessarily reflect the lives of other dancers.

In addition to my life as a belly dancer, I will write about developments in costuming, performances, festivals, and, of course, the dance itself. I will also make frequent references to Egyptian culture. I should note that I have a love/hate relationship with Egypt. If I make any criticisms about the country, please keep in mind that I do so with the utmost love, respect, and most of all, honesty. Egypt has become my home, so I want to avoid romanticizing and apologizing for social maladies, as most foreigners tend to do. Nothing could be more misguided, patronizing, or insulting.

I hope you find this blog informative, insightful and entertaining, and that we can make this as interactive as possible. That means I'd love to hear from you. Send me your comments, questions, complaints, suggestions, pics, doctoral dissertations, money, etc., and I will get back to you. Promise. :)~



My Videos

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Racism in the Middle East

I'm glad Randa Jarrar wrote that article entitled "Why I Hate White Belly Dancers" in the left-wing online magazine Salon.  Not because Jarrar brings up good points, or that her piece created "much needed" dialogue on "cultural appropriation." I couldn't care less.  Everyone appropriates everything these days.  As long as we appropriate respectfully without damaging the cultures or persons whose cultures we're borrowing, I have no issues with it.  Rather, I'm happy because the author (and the publication) exposed what a racist she is.  And because this now serves as the perfect launching pad for me to shed light on yet another problem in the Arab Middle East that is relatively unbeknownst.  I am referring to the unabashed racism that is rampant in the Arab world. Not just the anti-white racism that Jarrar spews, but racism against black people.  The latter is much more common, despite the irony of brown people hating other brown people.  In a region in which the "n" word still enjoys wide currency, in which anti-semitic (not to be confused with anti-Zionist) speech is the norm, and in which the stereotypical ranking of the intelligence and beauty of different races is considered knowledge, it's no surprise that Jarrar, a Palestinian-American writer who spent her formative years in the Middle East, is a racist. 



Please don't suggest that racism in the US is just as bad.  It's not.  You have no right to say that unless you've lived in an Arab country and speak fluent Arabic.  Yes, the US has racism. But I can't remember the last time I heard someone say the "n" word in the US publicly or privately. Except of course certain black rap artists, and popular TV chef Paula Deen, who admitted to using the word in the past.  I have, however, lost track of the amount of times I've heard that word in Egypt. I've lost track of how many times I've heard one of my favorite "truisms"-- the one about Jews being the sons of pigs and monkeys-- a truism that predates the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, by the way.  Hmm, let's see... what other fine racist (and sexist sand homophobic) speech have I been subjected to?  Oh yeah.  White men, i.e. American and European men aren't "real" men because they don't completely control their women, for the most part.  And because they're not prone to crazy outbursts of irrational jealousy.  Black women have more "desires" than white women.  White women are easy whores. 

Shall I go on?
As I mentioned, the US is not devoid of these racist thoughts and variations of them. However, on the increasingly rare occasions that someone in the US says the "n" word, the media makes a shit-storm about it, and rightfully so.  There is no shortage of condemnation and ridicule directed at the offender.  Not only does this verbal tar and feathering serve to correct racist (and homophobic) speech, but it sends a powerful message to the rest of society that hate will not be tolerated.  Add to this all of the antidiscrimination laws on the books in the US.  AND our affirmative action policies. At the very least, it's fair to say that America is making efforts to eliminate and correct its legacy of racism. 

(By the way, can we reintroduce actual tar and feathering as a form of punishment?  Please? That would make for some great theater.)

Compare this to the Middle East, where it's totally acceptable for presidential hopeful Mohamed Morsi to publicly talk about the songs of pigs and monkeys (and to compare Egypt's problems to a scene from Planet of the Apes!).  Where it's completely kosher to invite celebrities to participate in a reality show, and then falsely tell them that the producer and broadcaster are Jewish in the hopes of filming their (sometimes violent) reactions.  Where there won't be much public outrage if you slaughter people who pertain to a different sect of your religion, or even worse, who practice another religion. :O

Am I coming down hard on this region?  Yes.  Forgive me. I'm exposed to hate speech on a daily basis and am sick of it.  There's no excuse for that shit in this day and age.  I'm just glad I came to this part of the world already inoculated against the diseases of racism, sexism, and homophobia.  Otherwise I'd wind up like Jarrar. 

I'm sure a lot of what I'm saying is new to many of my readers-- unless you're a specialist in Middle Eastern affairs.  Either way, I'd like to direct your attention to a well-written article by Egyptian feminist Mona Eltahawy entitled "The Arab World's Dirty Secret: Racism." She opens her piece with an anecdote about the racist treatment of a Sudanese woman on the Cairo metro. Eltahawa explains: "We are a racist people in Egypt and we are in deep denial about it."  She goes on to say: " The racism I saw on the Cairo Metro has an echo in the Arab world at large where the suffering in Darfur goes ignored for two main reasons – firstly because its victims are black people and we don’t care about those with dark skins and secondly because those who are creating the misery in Darfur are not Americans or Israelis and we only pay attention when America and Israel are behaving badly." (emphasis added)

Eltahaway continues: "My argument on the Cairo Metro was a also a reminder of our double standards. We love to cry “Islamophobia” when we talk about the way Muslim minorities are treated in the West and yet we never stop to consider how we treat minorities and the most vulnerable among us."


All very true, unfortunately

Now that I got that out of the way, has anyone noticed that I'm white?  (Actually I'm translucent, but the closest in meaning to that on the census is "white." :P)  I'm pointing this out because it's one of the factors for my success as a dancer in Cairo, and is thus further evidence of the racism endemic in this society.  Yep.  Contrary to what Miss Jarrar would have you believe, my whiteness is an asset here in the land of Egypt, ironically enough. Egyptian women love my white but-tocks. So do the men. :) How do I know this?  Because Egyptians have said it to my face.  Over. and. over. again.
Every time an Egyptian takes it upon him or herself to flatter me, they recite a list of all of my real and perceived attributes.  Interestingly, white is always at the top of that list.  I find this awkward, being that I spent a large amount of my teenage years trying to be brown. Short of tanning salons, there was no remedy for whiteness I didn't try.  Dark foundation. Bronzers. Self tanners. Sun-bathing. I eventually realized there's no cure for whiteness and gave up... until I came to Egypt and strangely learned to accept my color, or lack thereof.

I also learned to accept that Egypt has issues.  Major issues.  Racism is one of them.  It's cousin, self-hatred, is another. It's no secret that most Egyptians are in denial of their African roots, despite Egypt being on the African continent, and despite many of them having African features.  While they can't exactly claim that they're white, they also avoid thinking of themselves as Africans.  Related to this are their feelings of inferiority.  For all of their public displays of xenophobia, Egypt has an inferiority complex vis-a-vis the white world, east and west.  Egyptians believe that everything created by white people (with the exception of secularism of course), is superior to their Egyptian or Asian or African equivalents.  White technology is better.  White clothes are better.  White people are better-- better work ethic, more honest, more intelligent, more ethical, more beautiful. I'm not making this up or expressing my own opinions.  Egyptians really do say this stuff to me.

This could all be post-colonial trauma.  Indeed, many explain Egyptians' self-hatred by suggesting that they inherited and internalized the racism of their colonizers.  Or, it could just be that everyone wants to be what they're not. The way I covet dark skin and curly hair.  Or it could be that racism, hate, and exploitation are common to all societies.  It's most likely all of the above.

Whatever the reasons, racism and self-hatred are widespread in Egypt.  You can see it in the entertainment industry, in which lighter-skinned Egyptian and foreign dancers, singers, and actors are idolized.  You can see it at weddings, in which brides make themselves white for the night by applying foundation five shades lighter than their skin tone.  You can see this in the pharmacies and beauty supply stores, which sell whitening creams. (Can you imagine?)  And even in the Reda Troupe.  I'll never forget the first time I observed a Reda rehearsal five years ago.  I noticed that in the group dance routines, most of the taller dancers were in the front row, while most of the shorter ones were in the back.  It's supposed to be the opposite, so that everyone is seen. When I asked why that was, I was told that they put the darker-skinned dancers in the back row because they don't "look as nice."  As you can imagine, I wasn't prepared for that answer, and didn't exactly know how to respond. 

And get this.  I've even heard parents say that their kids aren't beautiful because they turned out too dark.  I mean, come on now.  Everyone thinks their kids are beautiful.  What kind of people would say their children are too dark?  Or too light?  Or too fat, or too this or that?

I don't know what else to say about racism in Egypt other than it's currently a widespread problem with no real solution in sight.  Personally, I do my part in educating people whenever I can.  Like when people use the "n" in front of me.  I explain to them why this term is wrong and offensive and why it should be discontinued.  I try to get them to empathize with suffering that black people have been enduring on account of their color.  I drive it home even further by inconveniently reminding them that there are plenty of people who use the "n" word to refer to Arabs-- only they put the word "sand" in front of it.  That usually gets them to think twice about using racist language

Unfortunately, I'm not sure there's much more that can be done.  God knows I've tried. Like the time I sent an Asian dancer to replace me on the boat one night.  I don't even want to share the comments I had to hear when I went to work the next day, all because the dancer was Asian!  Or the time I brought some of my black dance friends to an Egyptian venue in the States and asked the owner to let them perform on the weekends.

It's disappointing and totally unfair. Not to mention completely ridiculous in an African country in which the overwhelming majority of people are dark brown!  I just hope that more Egyptians start recognizing the racism in their country and work to abolish it.  And I hope that hurtful and dangerous stereotypes are combated through a revolutionized education system that emphasizes equality, tolerance, and respect.  And on that note, I can't wait until it warms up so I can go sun-bathing and work on my tan! :D


43 comments:

  1. first of all , sorry ma'am but unfair comparison between a country like Egypt and USA ,,
    if you wanna talk about the racism in Egypt you have to read a little pit about psychology of the society , i give you an example " words like N " they don't mean the long story of slavery of the black ppl , but they only wanna to says a joke !! - wrong we admit but it's not intentionally racial " and a loooot of words we always say we mean something but it holds a racial meaning in fact ..

    we admit that we suffer of racism but when we seek the reasons we find out that it's not the ppl !! they are not racial but they don't know what racial means ! they don't know how to talks as a civilized man because of his hard social and economic conditions and i'm sure that you know a good part of it ..
    hope that you understand what i mean my friend .. thnx and nice blog

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Honestly, every time I've heard the "n" word used, it wasn't jokingly. It's always been used in the context of a serious conversation about something. For example, one person was trying to tell me that New York City, my hometown, is full of violent because it's full of "n"s. Really? That was not a joke. Another person referred to hip-hop dancing as "n" dancing. Not jokingly. By the way, when they speak Arabic they use the word "black." Iswid, or sood. Why don't they just use the word black in English? It's so much easier and less offensive. I admit that for a lot of people, they may be ignorant. But usually the ones who are using this words are the ones who are educated enough to speak English well. The other thing that nobody likes to mention is that the Muslim Arab world played a huge role in the African slave trade. They often served as the middle men between the Africans and their European purchasers. Oh, and what about white slavery? The Jannisaries, made up of young men kidnapped from the Caucasus? The Arab world is no stranger to slavery, my friend.

      Delete
    2. With all due respect, I think you are missing the point. There is a very serious problem here. The racism, or in this case, colorism, since Egyptians ARE an African people and considering the fact that more than half of the population is the same color as their neighbors in East Africa.

      You say it's a joke. Well let me ask you, why is it the joke is always on the dark skinned person? What's so funny? If it's just a joke, why are there no jokes about white or lighter skinned people?

      Don't you see how sad and self destructive these attitudes are? The hatred or dislike they express about other African peoples is a reflection of the dislike they feel for themselves. They are lashing out aginst the African in themselves. How can Egypt ever expect to become a nation that is respected when they have no respect for themselves? It's sad, it's pathetically sad. Instead of looking for ways to justify it or excuse it, you should be asking what can be done to correct it. You should be asking what you could do for instance, to make sure that these ideas are not passed on to your children, or how to protect their minds from this type of poison.
      Tarik

      Delete
    3. I agree Tarik. A lot of Egyptians are in denial about many things, and apologize for them in the most creative ways. That's what stopping them from making any real progress in all aspects of life. Failure to look within themselves, admit failure/wrongdoing, and to work on improving the situation.

      Delete
    4. I would add that that goes for everybody, not just Egyptians. The entire paradigm on which these arguments are built is a big fat error that needs to be fixed; not by blaming 'others' but by getting a perspective that superceeds the limitations of the egoic mind.

      Delete
    5. Yes, what I said in my previous comment can apply to many different people, but I'm writing about Egypt here, so I'm not obligated to talk about other cultures.

      Delete
    6. Yes there is real and wrong racism in Egypt. I am not arguing with that. Globally speaking, racism is like a virus that has infected the entire human race. It is everyone's problem. I am personally interested in the few places that racist hate speech does NOT exist. Please consider that if you grew up around Africans you would know what Mahmoud is talking about. I have been called the 'n' word and I have been called 'white' by Africans in the most loving, silly way possible. Until you have experienced this I am not sure you will understand what it is. I see it as a valuable part of the culture and its missing from the 'politically correct' discourse that has been corrupted by endless (and boring) arguments over semantics. Because you are in the entertainment industry - which in most cultures today is merely a pure and unadulterated extension of racist heirarchy - please consider that there might be another side to human nature (and North African culture) that you are missing. Maybe, just maybe. Thank you for considering.

      Delete
    7. I think you bring up a good point about people being able to joke about race in silly, well-intentioned ways. The reason this is missing in the US though is because there's a fine line between silly banter, on the one hand, and hurtful stereotypes/hate speech on the other. And quite frankly, there's a lot of room for misunderstanding. We're dealing with human beings, who are subjective creatures. For example, I may not mean any offense when I jokingly use certain words around people of color. And while some of them won't take any offense, others will think I've crossed the line. That's why in the US, we've thrown the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak. Also, as Tarik said, the joke is almost always on the darker-person. And this translates into real institutionalized discrimination. Herein lies the problem.

      I'd also like to add that I grew up Latin in the US. Spanish was my first language. Yet I've been referred to as white by fellow Hispanics, as well as black by non-Hispanic white people. The result was me feeling like I never completely fit in anywhere-- I had no real place with Latinos, and was looked down upon by my Greek and Italian "friends."

      Why oh why is it so difficult to judge people by their character and not color? I don't see dogs attacking each other on account of different fur colors, or fish or any other animal for that matter. Why do humans have to make such a big deal about something that is essentially meaningless and beyond anyone's control?

      Delete
  2. All words that I completely agree with. As usual I applaud your bravery and honesty. I feel the need to draw attention though to reasons for the racism in a place like Egypt is in large part residue left over from European colonization which also offers more understanding of Jarrar's rage. There is a turn of the tide lately where many Arab audiences do not want the white girl to perform anymore as indeed they have in the past. The perfer an Arab dancer albeit generally beige. The low esteem and self hatred will take a long time to cure but I believe that Jarrar's comments, as illogical as they are, are part of this process and awakening. And my comment now is made by someone whose success performing in the Arab world for 33 years was often due to being blonde and blue eyed.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Yasmina! :) Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts. I agree that racism is part of the residue of European colonization in the region. However I also think that prejudice, no matter what form it takes, is part of the human condition. Human nature is fundamentally flawed, and that's one thing that won't change or evolve, no matter how technologically advanced the world becomes. Prejudice has existed in every society in every period of history, and every group of people has been a victim of it at one point or another. There is prejudice against blacks, white, Asians, Latinos, women, men, homosexuals, the elderly, the young, the rich, the poor, the ignorant, the intellectual. So long as there are differences between human beings (however superficial they may be) and are perceived, there will be hate. Which is why countries need to do their best to enact and enforce tough anti-discrimination laws. (On a side note, the Arab world is no stranger to slavery, both black and white. And it played a large role in the African slave trade. Arab merchants often served as "middlemen," buying and selling Africans as slaves to Europeans. Then there were the Janisarries later on in history. Basically an army slave corps of young men kidnapped from the Caucasus.) Thanks again and I'm so looking forward to seeing you in July!

      Delete
    2. This is why I always crack up when I see someone driving around with "Hate is not a family value!" bumper-stickered on their car. Are you kidding? Can you name another experience that is more persistent and familiar to the human condition than suspicion and anger directed at people who are different from you and your kin? Hating outsiders is the original family value.

      Delete
    3. EXACTLY Anonymous. People have a hard time coming to terms with the reality of the human condition. This is such an intelligent comment, you should be proud to write your name, though I understand your wanting to stay anonymous. Thanks so much for summing up in two sentences what I took 4 pages to.

      Delete
    4. Hey Yasmina:
      Tarik Sultan here. I agree with you that maybe what Jarrar is expressing is a rejection of the brainwashing she's endurd. Quite often the first stage in the journey is anger, rage etc. But it's just as wrong and misguided. The goal is to find balance.

      One thing thouh I think that we can do is to be proactive. Whenever someone expresses these types of attitudes, we need to speak up and let it be known that we do not support such attitudes. Each one teach one. Never underestimate the effect of a well placed word. Just look at the amount of energy one misguided article ha created.
      Tarik

      Delete
  3. you have to realize the middle east is still very much a tribal region. people belong to a tribe and will come up with lies and offensive comments about any other tribe. it's where they are right now in their evolution. i'm not justifying their behavior. i'm just saying it is very different from a country where the individual is valued. sometimes, though, i miss the pros of having a tribe. i just wish they were more respectful toward one another.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Samira, while I wouldn't use the word tribal to describe a country like Egypt or Syria or Lebanon, I do agree with your larger point. You're right, the entire region is at a different point in its evolution. I hope it transcends that point soon. Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Delete
  4. Nice piece of propaganda, Luna!
    Let me tell you something though. Palestine will be free whether you like it or not. No amount of propaganda will ever stop that from happening. It's only a matter of time. You can keep trying but you WILL FAIL. So eat your heart out!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Zachariah," I've decided to publish your comment so that everyone can see how stupid and irrelevant it is to the topic at hand. I suggest you take a reading comprehension class, fast.

      Delete
    2. And who said anything abot Palestine not deserving to be free? FOCUS, FOCUS!
      Luna, I think this doll is crazy....
      Tarik

      Delete
  5. **applause***

    nothing more.... your amazing and well written, please keep up the essays.

    and the comments are killing me, i laughed hard at the last one, can we say "case and point?"

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hey sweetie:
    Glad you wrote about this. I think that things like this, or any social ill, continue to persist because people do not speak out aginst it. We stay quite. Perhaps we're afraid that if we say somethig we'll loose a friendship etc. But if we stay quiet, nothing changes. Think of it this way, by opening your mouth, you are helping that individual to evolve.

    This type of attitude, unfortunately is the result of a legacy of colonialism and slavery. While the Middle East did enslave white people, the slavery of black people lasted longer. People tend to forget everything except what is most recent. The other thing to remember is that Egypt has a legacy of colonialism that lasted 2,000yrs. While, with the exception of the recent experience of French and British colonials didn't necessarily carry an explicit element of color prejudice, they got the message peripherally.

    Just imagine. At one time Egypt was an African society. It spoke a native African language and lived a culture that shared similarities with other African societies. A look at their art works shows that the standards of beauty were based on African features and skin tones. Big kinky, curly hair was considered beautiful and desireable and can be seen by the Afro wigs on display in the Cairo Museum. Long krinkly locks were celebrated. And then, Egypt was invaded. Wave after wave of foreigners controled their country and exploited it's resources. No one said anything implicitly, but after a while, authority, intelligence, goodness, strength became associated with a paler face and who doesn't want to be a part of the winner's circle. Therfore, people seek to emulate those that they feel are superior. This conditioning still persists to this day.

    Quite often black and brown people will seek acceptance from white people by trying to make a connection. "I'm not like THEM, I'm more like you". You'll hear about the aunt, cousine or some other relative who has blond hair, or blue eyes, or who is the same color as you. Quite often it pops up in conversations where it had nothing to do with the topic at hand. Especially in the West, many immigrants learn very quickly who is in the in group and who is in the out group and so they seek to ingratiate themselves into the dominat society by distancing themselves from the out group. This is why and when you will hear how much they hate black people etc. What to do?

    We'll, especially for people in the USA, you may want to point out that had they been here as recently as 50yrs ago, there would have been a lot of places that they would have been banned from because of the color of their skin. They would have had to ride the back of the bus with the other "negros". HAd it not been for the long struggle on the part of African Americans, they wouldn't have had the right to emigrate here, let alone been able to obtain citizenship. Got your green card by marrying an American woman, who 9 times out of 10 is was white? Well, 50yrs ago that wouldn't have happened since it was illegal for non white men to marry white women. For those of you who live in the South like Texas, Florida etc. The next time you hear somebody slip with some racially charged comment, just remind them what side of the colored waiting room they would have been on. If Leena Horne was too black to sleep in the whites only hotels she performed in, what makes a swarthy Egyptian think that he or she would have been treated any differently.

    To wrap this up, we need to let people know that we do not condone this sort of behavior. We have been and continue, to work long and hard to move from oiur less than glorious past. If they are to be part of this society, they need to get with the program. When visiting over seas, they need to know such language and attitudes score no brownie points in your eyes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, which is why I always open my mouth when I hear racist BS. The first time I heard the "n" word in Egypt was when I was visiting in 2006. I was alone at the zoo admiring the lions, when this guy popped up out of nowhere and started speaking to me in very good English. He asked me where I'm from, and when I told him I'm from NY, he went off about all the "n's" who make the place dangerous. I was so shocked I think I had an outer body experience! Just picture it! At the zoo in Egypt checking out lions, someone comes and tells you your homeland is full of "n's". I whipped him into shape though. Recently, I had another one of those experiences that made me pinch myself. I went to work as usual, only to have my band greet me with "Heil Hitler," phrase and hand gesture and all. I stopped dead in my tracks and shrieked what??? I could tell they thought it was funny. And of course no big deal since they believe that Jews were Hitler's only victims. I looked at them and asked them if they knew what Hitler thought of Arabs. Of course they didn't. You should have seen the looks on their faces when I told them he called Arabs "half-apes." They never greeted me with Heil Hitler again.

      Delete
    2. Hitler considered his Quranic allies to be Aryan. Read up about Hajj Amin al-Husseini and the guilt that all Mohammedan bear for their Nazi crimes.

      After the war, the vast majority of the Nazi leadership emigrated to Egypt and Syria where they became the spiritual leaders of the pan-Arab movement.

      Egyptians love fascism and during WWII virtually all of them supported the Nazis.

      Delete
    3. I'm well aware of Hajj Amin's alliance with Nazi Germany. However that bit about Hitler considering Muslims his Aryan allies isn't accurate. I'm sure he lied about that because he needed that alliance, but Hitler's real views on Arabs are well known.

      And your claim that Nazi leaders became the "spiritual leaders" of Pan-Arabism... who are these leaders? Examples?

      Delete
  7. If you compare the state of economic affairs in Egypt with that of the US then it becomes obvious why you experience more outright racism there. The more populations are competing for resources, the more racism you will see. This goes for any population. And, there is a fundamental difference in the cultures of Northern Africa and that of the United States. In the United States racism is hidden under 'politically correctness.' Northern Africans tend to say it like it is. And as for the bias towards light skin; even the Somalis forbid their children from being out in the sunlight so they keep their skin as light as possible. In India, advertisments for skin lightening are everywhere. And while its true that the Egyptian population is by-and-large totally racist, this argument of yours is way more complex than you have portrayed it to be.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm not sure that political correctness is a bad thing. I'd much rather be treated with civility to my face, even if it's phony, as well as enjoy the protection of the courts, than to have people say stupid things to my face (which would provoke an argument at the very least) and treat me like garbage because there are no laws to stop them from doing so. And what do you mean by North Africans "tell it like it is?" Tell what like it is? That black people are inferior? That they're not intelligent or beautiful, and overly sexual? Because that's what they say. I'm sorry, but I for one don't think that's the way "it is." That's just racist misinformation. And there's no way to apologize for it. The way we can't apologize for white racism. It's ugly and it's wrong, and really as simple as I've made it out to be. Thanks for your comment though.

      Delete
    2. It may be 'simple' for you, its not simple for everyone. It is pretty obvious that racism is a multi-sided, complex issue. And not everyone shares the view that 'politically correct racism' is so great. My point was that outside the institution of 'political correctness' people have more freedom to talk about race in playful and healthy ways (This is the opposite of hate speech, which exists everywhere with the sole intention to keep people down). There are just fundamental differences that are worth noting.

      Delete
    3. Once upon a time there was this guy from Arabia. Perhaps you've heard of him? People called him the prophet Mohamed..If you haven't heard of I'm sure you can find a lot about him if you do a google search.

      Anyway, he was very much known for keeping it real and telling it like it is. So much so that people were constantly trying to kill him because of it! Anyway, it would seem that he was the very first person in the Arab world to speak out against racism, classism and tribalism. In fact, it was such an important topic to him that it was the major thrust of his last speech before he died.

      As to your line of reasoning.... whaaaat? So a bad economy is the cause of colorism and racism? Well how come that economic unrest never gets turned against fair skinned people? So what is it? Are black people scooping up all the couscous in North Africa and leaving light skinned people hungry?

      You line of reasoning makes no sense. Just because Somalis and Indians are doing it doesn't mean it's right. You know what people in those areas use to do? Bury girl babies alive. Seems they only wanted to have boys, so if a woman had a girl, they would bury it alive and try again. The Prophet Mohamed use to speak out against this too. He seemed to have been such a trouble maker. Why couldn't he just leave people alone? Why he had to be bothering people trying to make the be better people? What's wrong with jahalia anyway?
      Tarik

      Delete
    4. My point is only that it is not simple and as long as people want to have somebody to blame we will not find lasting solutions. Everything in this article is true, it's just only one side of the story.

      Delete
    5. My line of reasoning is not attempting to argue with you, only that the situation is complex in a way that is so far beyond what any of us can imagine. I'm not excusing anybody's behavior but I'd rather not define a culture based on it either. As I said, as long as there is someone to blame outside of ourselves, there will be no real solutions

      Delete
    6. The Prophet Mohamed was way above arguments of this nature, How can you even bring his name into this? He had a deep love for all humanity and that is where his message was coming from. He never spoke from a polarized position of blaming someone else. My point is that there is a better way...

      Delete
    7. So anonymous, if there is another side to this story, please share it with us because I'm unaware of it. I covered all the bases by blaming Egyptian racism on a) their colonial experience b) the fact that prejudice exists in all societies and c) human nature. What other narratives can you offer? Also, I beg to differ with your assertion that I'm using the specific problem of racism to define Egypt. I am not and never claimed to be.

      Delete
    8. It takes courage to look hate straight in the face - I give you that. And I can see that you have exhausted all attempts at finding what is to blame for racism - an undeniable problem not only in Egypt, but in arguably every modern society today. Please consider that as much as there is hate in this world, compassion and love exist even stronger. The human capacity for love and compassion preceeds all human ideas of hate, as a means of gaining social power, by millenia.

      Compassion has the ability connect us and hate separates us. The latest 'politically correct' way to express hate is by blaming 'others.' Everywhere we read one blame after another and, in turn, yet another way to collectively dismiss the precise perspectives that hold the keys to our evolution. At some point humans will realize, collectively, that the cycle of blame has no end.

      You mentioned earlier that you are not obligated to talk about other cultures. Of course, but you hold the choice to take this discussion to the next level by connecting it to the human rights of humanity. What is missing from the discussion, in my opinion, is compassion. Its totally your choice but just consider that most of your audience is attempting to understand you by projecting ideas of themselves onto what you write. As I see it, you have a great opportunity to give back a reflection of human compassion and open up some channels for more love and understanding between cultures. Where is that message in this article? Please share, I missed it. Thats why I said before that as long as we seek 'blame' we will continue to miss the obvious solution (and big fat truth) staring straight at us. Change will only happen when we choose to change ourselves.

      Delete
    9. Change will only happen when we begin to discuss injustice, get angry, and do something about it.

      To answer your question, the message in this article is that racism towards blacks exists in the Middle East and it's ugly. And it's not really a message. It's a fact. Not every piece of writing has to contain a message.

      I'm also not sure what you mean by I have the "opportunity to give back a reflection of human compassion and open up some channels for more love and understanding between cultures." What topics should I write about then? What specific topics will allow Egyptians to love westerners, and vice versa, other than music and dance, on which I write a lot? The fact of the matter is that is a society plagued by many ills-- racism is actually a minor one in comparison to the others. I can't help but notice these ills and put them up for analysis. I have a background in political science, Middle Eastern Studies, and journalism, so I'm wired to perceive issues and dissect them. Though your words sound nice, I'm afraid they're a bit empty and misguided. In fact one of the things that's made my blog so successful is the fact that I expose many of the issues that non-Egyptians would have no other way of knowing. So I am, in essence, building a bridge of knowledge. I'm sorry it's not to your liking, but it's true to who I am and the experiences I've had in Egypt.

      I also take issue with your contention that "The human capacity for love and compassion preceeds all human ideas of hate, as a means of gaining social power, by millenia." Compassion as a means of gaining social power is demonstrably false. In fact it's the complete opposite. All forms of power, be they political, economic, social, or religious have been based on violence, greed, hate, and manipulation. A functioning knowledge of history and politics would make that clear to you.

      Anyway, we'll have to agree to disagree, but as always, thanks for such an interesting discussion, and kudos for keeping it civil. :)

      Delete
    10. Okay Im finished. But 'begin to get angry'? Geez it almost seems like the only way people know how to communicate is through anger and attack. 'Politically correct' discourse is lacking in the civility department. Everyone is so busy thinking up the most clever ways to tear ideas down. And its going nowhere fast, not sure if you noticed. I think people can do better than this, way better. There is a lot to be learned about love and respect and how to accept all of our differences with compassion.

      Delete
  8. We could create similar generalizations about Somalians. In Somalia racism, against both 'light' and 'dark,' is even worse than in Egypt. Its undeniable presence is directly related to more war and more extreme inequality in the distribution of resources. Rwanda, which has a beautiful and ancient culture, experienced a genocide. And indeed Rwandans in the US have to deal with being defined by it; as if there is nothing more to know about their culture. In this day and age the existence of culture unfortunately parallels the existence of racism, oppression and atrocity. Its everywhere, its a part of the complex process of evolution. Defining 'other' cultures by their 'flaws' gives an incomplete picture of the situation and can potentially serve as an excuse not to learn. This may sound crazy but the answer is in ourselves, that is where the change needs to happen.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Here is a video for you & Tarik. It changed my life so I am sharing - http://www.ted.com/talks/lisa_kristine_glimpses_of_modern_day_slavery

    ReplyDelete
  10. Thank you Luna for your superb, insightful ATL post and the thoughtfulness with which you take the trouble to respond to BTL comments.
    contrary to what someone else observed in the Cairo museum, one of the most formative experiences I had was looking at a sarcophagus there. Images on the sides depicted a victory in ancient Egypt. What struck me was the victors were pale and Aryan in appearance, whereas the vanquished on one side of the sarcophagus looked like Der Sturmer antisemitic caricatures, with hooked noses, and on the other side, the vanquished looked like Deep South caricatures of Africans, dark and exaggerated mouths and noses. It made think that Egyptian racism has much older roots.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi There, thanks for sharing your observation and thoughts. That is utterly fascinating, and I'm inclined to agree that racism (anywhere really) is much older than we think. I honestly don't know much about ancient Egypt though, that's why I only chose to write about this era of Egyptian history, which I'm all too familiar with. Thanks for reading!

      Delete
  11. Just read this post. In an ideal world, you'd have the column in Salon.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Racism as we know it today did not exist before European colonialism. In the past people identified with their nation (later called "tribes" and "ethnic groups" by Europeans). Prejudice definitely existed, often between warring nations. But race is a very recent social construct Western Europeans created to establish a hierarchy and justify their violence. Chattel slavery- an extension of racism- also did not exist pre-colonialism. Slavery before then was more like the indentured servitude of POWs. Their children were also not considered slaves because it was seen as an occupation, not part of their identity.

    Racism and prejudice are not synonyms. Racism is specifically institutionalized oppression of people based on their race. White people are not oppressed purely for their race anywhere in the world, so they can not experience racism. They can experience prejudice and discrimination, but in that case it is generally because of anger and resentment over colonialism. This is where Randa Jarrar's anger comes from. Almost every country was colonized (except Ethiopia who won two wars against Italy) and almost all of these countries' current economic, social, and cultural problems were a result of colonialism. Jarrar is Palestinian and it was the British who took away Palestine's autonomy and "gave it away" to become Israel; she and her family are likely directly affected by this.

    Cultural appropriation is by definition a negative term, it is not synonymous with cultural sharing. It refers to a dominant culture stealing from another culture and erasing the meaning and origins of what they stole over time. The most important aspect of it is the power imbalance, which many responses to Jarrar's article didn't understand (the ones that said something like, "If white women can't belly dance does that mean black people can't do ballet?"). Western culture is dominant, and it forces its culture on everyone else via imperialism. It has a long legacy of stealing and erasing the meaning/origins of things from other cultures: jazz, ragtime, swing, rock n' roll, country music, tap dance, charleston, lindy hop, mohawks, dreadlocks, and Eastern religions (especially Hinduism, which rarely accepts converts) are some examples. There is no such thing as appropriating respectfully because it is done without the permission of and often in direct opposition of people from the culture.

    White women belly dancing isn't appropriation by default, though they do have a responsibility to respect the dance.

    This response from a belly dancer goes into more detail on this quite eloquently: http://sihayadesigns.tumblr.com/post/78960783737/my-fellow-white-bellydancers

    The same dancer talks about the inaccuracies of the article: http://sihayadesigns.tumblr.com/post/79236249207/hi-im-so-sorry-if-you-answered-this-before-but-would

    And lastly this response is a beautiful piece of writing on how foreign dancers should approach belly dance. "Ask not what the dance can do for you, ask what you can do for the dance" is a choice quote. http://this-is-not-belly-dance.tumblr.com/post/79888380600/i-saw-these-comments-by-someone-named-christi-in

    ReplyDelete