Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Racism and Prejudice in Egypt

There is nothing in the world I hate more than racist bigots, and unfortunately most Egyptians are both. Being a racist is one thing, but NOT admitting that you are one takes the issue to a whole different level.

Some prejudice is expected, because of cultural/religious norms, such the prejudice against homosexuals, atheists, and other people who do not abide to the norms. Yet, some other forms of prejudice are just mind boggling: like the 'color' prejudice in Egypt. Yes, it is a color prejudice. If you are not a certain hue of white, you are inferior by Egyptian standards—God forbid that you might actually be black!!

The irony of it all is that Egyptians are not Nordic Aryan descendants of Vikings. We are Africans, among of course a wonderful and exotic mix of races that our DNA has picked up through thousands of years of foreign invasions of the land of the Nile. I suppose that therein lies the problem, foreign invasions! Through hundreds of years of Turks ruling Egypt (who have fairer skin than the native population), fair skin became associated with superiority and dark skin with the working slaves! And hence was born the infamous 'khawaga complex'. No matter how pathetic this may seem, it is true. The Egyptians identified more with the oppressors, instead of wanting to break the cycle, they were eager to mate with the invaders so that they would have 'whiter' kids. To this day, having 'Turkish blood' is supposed to be a sign of superiority!! Heck, come to think all of the invaders were white: Romans, the Brits (C'mon, you can't count the French-they didn't stay long enough!)

This might just seem like a lesson in pseudo-history (or at least my interpretation of history); when in fact this little tale has modern day repercussions. Kids at 'International' schools, with highly educated parents, play 'who-is-whiter' games. The 'fairest of them all' gets to be Cinderella or, appropriately, Snow White. And the darkest? Well, one of the evil step-sisters or a maid in the palace of the princess. This is , albeit psychologically damaging, small-scale discrimination.

The true victims of overt racism here are the Nubians. The quite, peace-loving, people down South who have been screwed over and over again for years. Their villages were drowned; their heritage sunk to the bottom of Lake Nasser, and the whole of Egypt just celebrated the building of the high dam. They are taunted on the streets. Their kids are made fun of, if dare to live up North. Even when a half-Nubian president, Anwar El Sadat, came to power, the word on the street was that he was 'too brown.' Zahy Hawwas came out a few years ago assuring Egyptians that Tutankhamon was Not BLACK! Being black is grounds to get you harassed on a Subway .

I still do believe that the problem goes beyond that. It is a problem of self-acceptance, of wanting all-things European, and turning away from who we truly are as a people. Parents, inadvertently, through all their subtle little comments and messages teach little 'brown' kids that they are somehow defective and inferior, that they should feel bad in their own skin—literally!

When my daughter came to me with the story I wrote earlier in the post, I told her that next time some kid talks about that in front of her she should say :'mommy says, we are not supposed about skin color. It is haram. And God doesn't like people who do it.' And then I showed her pictures of very beautiful black women, as pretty as Cinderella, to prove to her that beauty has nothing to do with skin color.
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