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 Facebook.com:
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?