Posts tagged speaking up
I’ve been wanted to upload a video rant to YouTube for quite a while now and, finally, here is my first attempt!
Labor Day is coming up, 3eed Al 3ommal, on May 1st, and we are recognizing on this day the illegal, outrageous, and unethical working conditions of migrant work in Lebanon – and across the Arab world. The campaign initiated by @simby is called Twenty-Four-Seven and it highlights the fact that domestic migrant workers in Lebanon work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Yes, they do. Can you imagine working with your boss 24/7? It is called slavery.
So this week, I, along with many friends, will be blogging and tweeting to raise awareness about migrant work. I thought I would start with an honest attempt to deconstruct my own racism and think about how I, Nadine, really view race. Often, activists are quick to adopt causes just because someone they admire said so, or because the theory of it sounds logical and in line with their politics. But we cannot deal with issues in others, my friends, until we have deconstructed them in ourselves. And so, I, while claiming to be active on the rights of domestic workers in Lebanon, still have a long way to go to undo all the racism (blatant and invisible) embedded in my head. I will start this process of deconstruction by writing out things I have done that I consider racist. Here is the first story:
The nawateer (concierges) of the building where my parents live are a couple from Sri Lanka. I have bumped into the woman hundreds of times over the past few years, and when I do, I smile and say hello and she does the same. Earlier this month, I was passing through the building and saw her a little far away and wanted to call her to ask her something about the electricity. That’s when it occurred to me that I don’t know what her name is. I tired to search my memory as I was sure I must know her name, having known her for many years, but there it was: no name. I didn’t bother, all these years, to even ask or learn what her name was. I felt so ashamed of myself. Is it even possible to look at or treat someone as an equal human being if you never learn their name? If they have no name to you? No. Think of how offended people get when you can’t remember their name. It is insulting.
But it is a widespread practice in Lebanon. We call migrant women by their nationality “Sri Lankiyyi!” or by their country “Sri Lanka!” or by a nickname “Saki” instead of “Sakthipriyah,” for example. One common practice is to call migrant women by a different name all together, such as “Mary,” because their real names are difficult to pronounce for Arabs. Well, we can exert just a tiny bit of effort to learn to pronounce Sinhala or Tagalog or Nepalese names instead of ripping people of their individual identities and lumping them all into the same person: the migrant woman. Otherwise, we are perpetuating racism.
But I am not one to talk before I go to my parents’ house and find the woman who takes care of the building and apologize to her for not knowing her name and ask her what it is and tell her it is a beautiful name and write in on my hand until I learn to pronounce it properly and then use it when I say hello to her.
Maybe that is a first step in deconstructing my own racism towards migrants. I will write more about it this week as we campaign around #24seven. I urge you all to do the same. Let us talk about our own racism, even those of us who think we are progressive activists.
Within hours of my posting a blog on Top 12 Reasons Why the Billboard Campaign, “Sois Belle et Vote,” Is Offensive to Women, I had already received more comments, phone calls, and messages than any time I’d ever done anything feminist before. This is undoubtedly because it was the first time I made feminist remarks against Lebanon’s politics in a targeted manner besides “all Lebanese politics sucks.”
The post spread more widely than I initially thought it would and attracted both the supportive and the angry. If you browse through the comments on the post, you will see some very pointless, angry, ad hominem arguments, which I really don’t know how to (or if I should) respond to. It got me thinking.