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It’s Time To Talk About Colorism in the Arab Community

It’s Time To Talk About Colorism in the Arab Community

This op-ed neither refutes the fact that racism exists in Arab communities, nor claims that all Arabs are racists and/or colorists. Rather, it challenges those who are not interested to know what colorism is, and racialize Arab identity just to claim that they cannot be racists when they are all “Arabs.”

I was sitting with a friend of mine, silently enjoying my favorite iced coffee when she all of a sudden gave me this dreamy look and softly said “I want to get married to someone with blue or green eyes and blonde hair — imagine seeing a guy like this in front of you every day.”

She sounded overly infatuated as she was describing this Eurocentric phenotype, which caught my attention. So I kept listening to her, observing.

“You know,” she grabbed my hands as she suddenly became euphoric, “my children had better inherit his genes!”

I sighed as I told her that she was fetishizing white beauty to the extent that I felt she was advocating White superiority. She went silent for a moment, sipped her hot drink, and replied “Jummanah, you’re really obsessed with racism. Look at me, I’m wheatish-skinned! It’s not that males here are not attractive — not in the least! We all end up falling in love with our dark-skinned males!” On sensing racial gaslighting and tokenism, I knew arguing was pointless, so I saved my energy.

As soon as I laid down in my bed that evening, I couldn’t help but get this kaleidoscope of memories so vividly in my mind that I felt I was living them again. I remembered a babysitter that I knew from a sports club. Her cheerful voice suddenly echoed in my ears: “Apply some sunscreen! You wouldn’t want people to contemptuously tell you ‘You are dark skinned,’ as they often tell me.”

This old friend of mine is not the only one who has participated in colorist incidents. In our community, where the dominant skin color can never be white, it is absurd, yet real, to highlight that this light supremacy gains its hegemony not because light skin constitutes the majority, but because it is “rare.”

It’s ironic that we voiced our solidarity with Black people after the death of George Floyd and condemned what was happening in the U.S., yet still refused to believe that racism and colorism are inextricably intertwined in our community. Colorism is so normalized, so much so it no longer raises a red flag — and we can never obtain our rights if we don’t give others their rights.

Hassan Ahmed, Professor of Sociology at Cairo’s Ain Shams University, as Al Arabiya mentioned, told AFP “What is rare is expensive, since in Egypt, like in the rest of the Arab world, olive skin is the most common, we prefer white skin.”

Earlier, on June 6, the Egyptian celebrity Mohamed Ramadan posted a screenshot of a disparaging comment affirming in his reply that he was proud to be Black soon after he and his son encountered colorism after sharing his picture with his son via Facebook. The colorist comment read “He is as black as his father. The catastrophe is that none of his children has the beauty nor the color of their mother.”

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Quite recently, specifically on August 8, a so-called “funny” post with derogatory and colorist implications, from July 16, 2019, went viral on Facebook among the Arab community. It read “Today’s pearl of wisdom: If you tan too much, you become Uncle Abdu. Sincerely, Uncle Abdu” — Uncle Abdu is a stereotypical epithet for an Egyptian elderly dark-skinned doorman.

What else can it be, if not colorism, when almost all of the comments jibe with such post? What else can it be, if not colorism, when the overwhelming majority of users are mentioning their friends to laugh at such a “joke”? If this is not colorism, what else can it be?

It’s ironic that we voiced our solidarity with Black people after the death of George Floyd and condemned what was happening in the U.S., yet still refused to believe that racism and colorism are inextricably intertwined in our community. Colorism is so normalized, so much so it no longer raises a red flag — and we can never obtain our rights if we don’t give others their rights.

We need a whole ideological reform. But, we cannot reconstruct our ideology when we deliberately turn a blind eye to racism and colorism — specifically when we’re always in denial. Surely, we have many anti-colorists and anti-racists across our Arab community, but we rarely hear their voices amidst our noise. We need to hit that mute button and listen to them. I stayed up all night, staring at the ceiling, reflecting upon the situation, repeating my new empowering mantra — one that I never ceased to utter ever since then: search, read, learn, enlighten, change.    

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