Not Allowed Here

In an earlier blog post entitled “Welcome to the Neighborhood”, I discussed prejudice in America against Muslim Americans. There is heightened intolerance toward this ethnic group in the United States since 9/11. Is there an equivalent to this narrow-mindedness in Lebanon and what racial discrimination issues are currently at play within Lebanon?

Beirut, Lebanon is a cosmopolitan area that is home to a variety of ethnic groups and a great diversity of religions as is Lebanon in general. Africans, who make up roughly 5% of the population, and people of Asian decent, Filipinos, and Sri Lankans, etc. seem to be less welcome in Beirut than other cultural groups. Racist feelings are also more likely directed toward females of these ethnicities. Many venues within the city turn away immigrants who appear to be from one of these cultural groups. This is also true of Palestinian refugees, who are denied basic civil rights to work or own homes outside their camps. In the streets of Yemen and Lebanon people taunt Africans, calling them al-akhdam or “servants”. Militants even target dark skinned people.
“A Lebanese friend took her Sri Lankan friend to the hairdresser the other day (pause for the Lebanese readers to get their heads round that one). Not a big posh chain, just one of those small corner places. In fact she took her to five salons, and one after another refused to cut her hair because she’s Sri Lankan. One said he’d lose all his customers if they saw him. Clearly he felt that not one of those customers would be concerned that he turn a paying customer away on socio-racial grounds.”
-Ginger Beirut Blog

During the spring and summer seasons beaches in Lebanon are segregated and off limits to persons of color or those who are deemed to be “of lesser socio-economic worth…among those cited regularly for blatant discrimination are several hotels whose swimming pools (are) off limits to, as one at the Sporting Beach Club warned: ‘Maids are not allowed’”. This racism seems to be largely based on classism and status. These prejudiced assumptions are based on what your job position is in society. The majority of “lower” class workers such as maids are largely foreigners in Beirut.

Each country has racially negative inclinations toward certain foreigners. It would be shocking for citizens in Lebanon who so readily judge people within their own country based on ethnicity, to travel to a country that views their beautiful country as a nation with an infestation of terrorists and “towelheads”. These racist tendencies, no matter the country, seem to be related to race and social status. Certain groups and ethnic cultures rise to the top while others fill in the domestic worker jobs and other “low” class positions. The rich get richer while the poor, in general, remain underprivileged and discriminated against.

Some of the racism in Lebanon is documented by Abed Shaheen, who has witnessed it in the Beirut Rafic Hariri International Airport. He observed an incident in the airport where a couple began saying things to the foreign workers there such as “Filipino people stop talking, Filipino Nepal people talking not allowed here”. The couple went on to say, “We do whatever we want and we don’t care about what you are saying,” and “Management doesn’t even want this kind of people on the flight” and worse, “Even if you complain this will be thrown away and we dare you to do anything about it.” Shaheen filed an official complaint with Air Arabia.
Here is his full story on

This initiated an online petition, seen here:

Even in hospitals immigrants in Lebanon are housed in a separate section of the hospital. Rumors were started after a plane crash off the coast of Lebanon (January 2010), that those in the plane who died were separated into different morgues based on race (Ginger Beirut). The Europeans, the Lebanese and maids were placed in different morgues, so as to not mix company.

Why this hatred? Some of the racial discrimination may be left over from the slave trade. Sub-Saharan Africans were brought to the Middle East as slaves hundreds of years ago. Even today many of the races that are being discriminated against are considered cheap labor. It is unfair to say that all or the majority of Lebanese are racist, however within a collective society it is often difficult to break the cycle of unjust treatment of certain cultural groups.

Each society and nation assumes their own prejudices based on preconceived notions. Unfortunately the United States receives a bad reputation from the ill-informed conceptions of a few people whose viewpoints are slanted. Within the United States, as in Lebanon, there is also a tendency to look down on those who immigrate for work, many of whom are less fortunate. They do the “dirty” work, the lowest of the low paying jobs that many refuse to do. Their economic circumstances do not give anyone the prerogative to further worsen their situation with heinous words and accusations. Is this how a country of immigrants or any country welcomes people to their shores where instead of finding their dream they face more discrimination and hatred?


5 thoughts on “Not Allowed Here

  1. Slavery did not end and probably never will as long as domestic workers are being controlled by their household, they are not allowed to have their passports, they cannot go out of the house and are forced to do everything they have been told to do. I believe there should be a law allowing domestic workers to be free, they shouldn’t be living with the family in the same house. Because if this ever happens, domestic workers will be seen as workers not “slaves”.

  2. As ghada said slavery did not end. 5 cases of death among the domestic workers have been recorded last year!!!
    an increasing number of activist groups in Lebanon have begun to tackle the issue of migrant rights, ranging from local NGO’s like Kafa to activist networks such as Anti-Racism Movement hoping to reach a conclusion.

  3. The issues and Lebanon are not so different from the issues in the U.S. It seems so long ago for us but within the lifetimes of our grandparent and some of our parents, African Americans were legally discriminated against. Even today, with all the progress and improvements that have been made, minorities seem to held to the lower class. Many people claim that discrimination is really based on economic class and not race but why then do so many people say nasty things about Obama based on his race and his heritage. He is clearly highly educated and in a higher social class. In the United States, Mexicans are used as slaves, excuse me “domestic workers”. It always amuses me when people complain about Mexicans “taking our jobs” as if the person complaining was really going to work as a migrant worker or clean toilets for a living and all for less than a living wage with no benefits and at the risk of your child’s education and future.

    The only real difference between Lebanon and the U.S. (based on the information in this post) is that racists have to be more subtle and creative. If that couple in the airport had done that in the U.S., there could have been expensive consequences for them. Racism is taken very seriously in public life. Outward discrimination such as posting signs could lead to criminal prosecution or at the very least civil sanctions. While ignorant people will still make racist comments, it is socially unacceptable. That means if a racist wants to avoid repercussions they have to keep their beliefs private or find a way to make their actions seem fair by blaming the victim. An example would be the murders of Trayvon Martin and Chavis Carter.

  4. I’ll tell you what it is about, very simply. It is about prestige. Lebanese people feel they are of a higher class than these foreigners and for that they treat them in a very discriminatory way. They forget that they call for equality and that human beings deserve to all be treated equally, and that no specific characteristic should determine the level or class of a person. It is sad, yet very true. The prestige is one of the things Lebanese people are addicted to. They want to show off as being rich and educated, and as belonging to a certain class of society, so being around people of different ethnicity does not fulfill that aim of Lebanese. Hopefully one day they will be able to get over these naive judgments and ignorant thoughts.

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