Racism & Slavery: The Perfect Gift For A Lebanese Mother

Mother’s day is coming up and the mass hysteria surrounding the perfect gift to get our mothers is on an upward trajectory all this week. Should I get her a new home appliance, or would that send the wrong message? Should I just get flowers, or would that be too tacky?

Well, it seems that the answer is easier than you think. Why don’t you just get a bunch of “help” to your mother, discounts guaranteed?

Posted on Kafa’s Facebook page today is the following screenshot of a text message that a woman named Rola Koubaissy received:

Isn’t that such a good deal? They have special offers on Kenyans and Ethiopians. How is that not even a bargain?

Lebanon isn’t a country where sensibilities towards those of a different skin color are respected. Racism is widely present, sometimes unintentional and sometimes fully intended. All of the country’s migrant workers, especially the darker their skin goes, are victims of racism, horrifying lack of basic human rights and dismal salaries that many even find are “high” to pay for such “creatures.” But we’re paying them too much, a Lebanese woman would say about her maid’s $200 salary, as she clutches the bag she just purchased somewhere for about 10 times that amount.

You see these people who risk everything to come to this country of ours and get called dumb, stupid even when they learn our language and our ways from scratch. You see them being told off in public. You see them being placed on separate tables in restaurants or kept standing holding a purse while the family eats. Their passports are hijacked, they are imprisoned in our homes but few are those who find anything wrong with that.

And because all of that wasn’t enough, there are companies now that are publicly discounting them based on their passport. What’s sadder is that the people that sent the above text have no idea how unacceptably racist, horrifying and utterly disgusting their action is.

Housekeeping is not a profession to be ridiculed. Offering discounts on people just because they come from a certain country is not only nauseating, it’s a symptom of a greater problem in a country that sees people who are different as nothing more than commodities who can be exchanged for money, who divides them based on racial categories, the darker you are the cheaper you get maybe?

I tried to call the number in question but there was no answer. I contacted Roula Kobaissy and she said she had absolutely no dealing with that office before. She was unaware others in her area have received such a message as well.

Welcome to the country where modern-age slavery is advertised by text messages.

Update:

They apologized, which goes well with my point that they didn’t even know it was racist to begin with.

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 Update 2:

The Ministry of Labor is closing down the bureau according to LBC (Link).

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The Lebanese Help: Lebanese Cop Rapes Maid on Valentine’s Day

February 14th is when this happened. April 5th is when we found out about it. They sure know how to cover their tracks.

The cop in question was apparently lonely on Valentine’s Day. So the only way he could find company was to force himself on a maid he had behind bars in his headquarters in Nabatiyeh. The reason she was in jail? She tried to escape from her employers, for many reasons.

Soon after, the maid was taken to a women jail in Baabda where evidence of violence was noticed on her body. An official investigation was opened but the judge saw nothing that deserved attention so he only ordered the cop to be arrested for one day. Soon after, another judge in Nabatiyeh found out about the incidence and worked on keeping the cop in question in jail, pending trial and further investigation.

Today, the cop is still in jail – which is exactly where he should be. Some people try to somehow rationalize the cop’s behavior as him being “only human.”

That’s not an excuse. Cops are supposed to be here to protect us, not violate us. If we can’t trust them to keep their hormones in check, then who can we trust?

Perhaps Lebanese General Security should be way more thorough in checking those who apply to be part of their field. According to the article I linked to earlier, many General Security individuals have priors. How did they end up becoming those who keep the country’s security in check?

One word: wasta.

I fear that this cop’s wasta will soon work to get him out almost unscathed. The raped maid? She’ll be deported soon because there’s nothing else we can do, even though her stay here has scarred her both mentally and physically for life.

But for once, I salute the Lebanese judicial system for not letting something like this slide. Here’s hoping more maids get the same justice for the many wrongs Lebanese do to them – even if for a limited time.

The Lebanese Help

As I was sitting with some family members who were visiting my mother after a recent surgery, the issue of the “help” in Lebanon came up.

I sat and listened as the “grown-ups” spoke about the maids that entered their homes and left. One of my family members, however, had never had a maid. With her turning 40 and an increasing backache, she was considering the idea – especially with one being available at her disposal the moment she says yes to her sister’s offer.

But that woman was worried. The cause of her anxiety? She only had one bathroom at her house and God forbid the maid uses the same bathroom she uses.

I snapped.

I never thought the passages present in the book, The Help, would actually pop up in such dramatic fashion in a Lebanese society. I never thought for a moment the bathroom issue was actually an issue in Lebanon. Aren’t those maids cleaning the bathroom to begin with? Aren’t we, in 2012, at a level of culture and knowledge that is sufficient to know that, unlike popular belief, those maids are not bringing in with them a ton of foreign viruses the like of which Lebanon has never seen before?

I replied to my family member. I was strict and somewhat rude in my reply. I think she was offended but I didn’t care. I knew Lebanese society was racist but you never think it goes on in your family until it actually takes place in front of you.

But that wasn’t the end of it. Flash forward a few days later, I was having dinner with a couple of friends my age. And if you thought the older generation, with its minimal contact early in life with “the help,” may be justified somewhat in the racist ideas that swirl through their heads, then what “excuse” could you come up with when a twenty two year old agrees with my 40 year old family member about the bathroom issue? The justification given was: but they are “dirty.”

And it is then that the need for a Lebanese version of The Help became obvious to me. Many people had spoken about how that book, and movie, were very relevant to our society today. Most of those people had thought about that only fleetingly, for the few moments after having finished the book or the movie. Some had even blogged about its relevance

But then I thought, why not have an online version of The Help, adopted to Lebanese society, that tells stories of the maids that come to our homes, before something bad happens to them and their story becomes top news and activists get outraged at the injustice in our society when it comes to “the help.”

If you have your own maid story you want to share, don’t hesitate to contact me. I’ll start with telling the story of one of the maids that came into our home really soon.