The White Guilt of American Elections

Subtle racism has found its way to the American political scene in the final days before Americans head to the ballots to vote on who should run their country for the next four years. The issues both candidates stand for are known. Conservative versus liberal, right wing vs left wing, grosso modo. However, with elections being less than 48 hours away, the talk isn’t centered around the core issues anymore.

The American elections are now all about demographics: who’s voting for who. Because demographic talk is important to see how the country might vote on November 6th.

Pro-Obama analysts underplay the shift in numbers from 2008 to 2012 as something that can be compensated for on election day. Pro-Romney analysts extrapolate the shift in numbers to claim a premature victory they desperately seek. But what is the demographic talk they speak of?

It is that of Catholic and Protestant voters. It is that of independent voters. It is that of women. And do you know what’s the common thing among all those demographics that are up for grabs still?

They’re all white. Or caucasian, whichever term is more politically correct.

In the dying minutes before Americans choose, the tactic is to bring out the colonial white guilt that hasn’t died down since America’s old days. Bringing out the guilt happens even in subtle comedy that, when not read into, is another funny gimmick to make people laugh. However, after a careful minute of reflection, a seemingly harmless skit holds a deeper meaning than it presumably intends to.

For struggling campaigns, the play on the emotional cords of voters is essential to rally them up come election time. The emotional cord for white American voters is the issue of racism. If you don’t vote for this candidate, then you are subtly racist. The fear from the label pushes some people to vote against their convictions in order not to fall into the stereotype.

And this is the inherent hypocrisy of the American system.

More than 90% of African American voters are voting for Obama come election day. Are they accused of racism? No. How many of those voters are more inclined to vote for Obama because of the color of his skin? How many are voting for him based on their convictions and political stance? Both questions are quite irrelevant because they don’t apply here. They apply to “others.”

On the other hand, caucasian Americans do not have the prerogative to vote for their convictions guilt-free. It’s because they weren’t the segment of American society that was marginalized for years and years. But does the fact that African Americans had a very tough phase in their history warrant the rhetoric that has sunk to the level it’s at today?

And we’re not even going into the baggage that voting for one candidate over the other carries: xenophobe, homophobe, female-phobe, anything-phobe.

The bottom line is: it’s not racism and you’re not a racist when you’re voting for someone not because of the color of his skin but because of what he stands for. It’s not racism and you’re not  a racist if you haven’t really thought about a candidate’s skin color until now. Come election day, everyone – regardless of their skin color – should vote to who they believe can get their country in the right direction. The “white result” of 2008 has shown that the majority of Americans don’t care about a candidate’s skin color. So for those who voted to one candidate in order to prove they weren’t racist in 2008, mission accomplished, no need to feel guilty if you cast an opposite ballot this time around. One thing to be said though is shame on media that would revert to such cheap tactics in order to get their preferred candidate a boost.



MEA Fires Racist Employee

MEA did the only thing acceptable in the situation the company found itself in over the past few days. The employee who was front and center of the racism incidence was fired, as reported here.

While I do not agree that the  name of the employee should have been announced, I obviously fully agree with the steps taken. Not only is firing the female employee and her male accomplice the right thing to do but it’s actually a “pioneering” step in the Lebanese fight against racism.

Never has a racism event gone this public and been met with accountability – and that is the only way we move forward with the issue of racism.

People like to preach about the importance of education in overcoming the issue of racism in Lebanon. I am all for the distinction between a racist country and racist individuals and based on that, I work on never trashing my country when I talk about racism. However, I also believe that education in Lebanon would lead nowhere in the issue of racism.

Education is important, definitely. But the education we get is one that the majority of Lebanese don’t – that’s the majority which lives in the rural regions of the country – the regions we very easily categorize as extremist. Those regions have such high poverty levels and so little educational levels that another solution needs to be devised.

Racism isn’t also a Lebanese problem. It is a worldwide problem that takes many forms. It transcends the hate towards others based on skin color. It is the intolerance towards another’s religion, the intolerance towards another’s nationality. And if a country doesn’t have a predominant problems with someone’s race, then they probably have a problem with differing religions. It is the problem of “difference.”

We dislike those with whom we can’t easily relate.

So what’s different between Lebanon and those supposedly racism-free countries? It’s quite simple: accountability. And that’s what works most with us Lebanese: a slap on the wrist when we do stuff wrong (fines for smoking, for not putting on the seatbelt, for speeding….)

People who get accused of racism in those countries have consequences to deal with. In our country, racism is met with indifference. A prominent TV anchor was blantly saying that an Ethiopian maid who committed suicide a few months ago was deranged (click here)- and he found no trouble at all in passing his ideology to his viewers. I’m sure he got high ratings for that episode as well.

If that anchor had met the same fate as the employee, people would have known that what he said was wrong. They would have known that talking badly against someone else just because you don’t like the skin they were born in is unacceptable. And they would have realized that it is no longer accepted to have it happen.

Their racism would then regress – it would get suppressed. And that is how other countries do it.

MEA Responds to Racism Incidence

Following the news about racism with MEA employees (click here) at Beirut’s International Airport (I refuse to call it by that other name), MEA has issued a statement. Of course, they were sort of forced to seeing as the story went viral.

This is their response:

To our loyal customers and fans,

We are aware of the purported incident that took place on the 6th October 2012 at Beirut International Airport, and appreciate your patience while a full investigation by MEA is underway. Please rest assured that MEAs policy is not to tolerate discriminatory or racist behavior in any form from our employees, and that appropriate measures will be taken once the facts of the incident are brought to light.

Yours sincerely,
The MEA Team

Is it lackluster? Yes. Does it feel forced? You bet. Is it color by number? Definitely. Will it calm people down? Perhaps it will.

A couple of days from now, few will remember that there was an employee with MEA who insulted people just because of their citizenship, fully knowing that the passport those people have can get them access to much more countries than the miserable piece of identification she has stashed in her pocket. You know, that blue booklet with the cedar on it – our pride and joy. You can start crying out of pride now.

I really hope that people keep talking about this until MEA lets everyone know what those “appropriate measures” will be. Racism in Lebanon needs to be tackled sure. But raising awareness gets you nowhere. And if there’s anything that works with people like the Lebanese, it’s a tap on the wrist. Or a slap across the face. Once they see that being racist outloud will get them fired, they will think twice about publicizing their stupidity.

Let’s face it, bottled in racism exists everywhere – even in countries that proclaim they don’t have it.

And there’s nothing I’d rather see than that woman and the man who supported her fired. Am I harsh? Absolutely not. They deserve much more than that.

Racism With Middle East Airlines (MEA)

Situate yourself in the following scenario: you are waiting to board a plane. There are people of every nationality you could think of there. And the hostess decides to single you out. Only because your nationality is not something she likes.

This happened to Filipino and Nepali workers who were waiting to board an Air Arabia flight, which was managed by MEA. This is the story in detail (link):

Yesterday on the 6th of October I was at gate 11 with a friend of mine waiting to board the Air Arabia flight at 20:25.

While waiting to board there was a group of foreign workers sitting with the rest of the passengers waiting for their turn. They were behaving normally as any other group of passengers would.

Then sadly, the lady (looking at her uniform she apparently works for MEA Ground Services and not Air Arabia) at the gate announced on loud speaker (over the whole system covering the airport) the following: “Filipino people stop talking” ; then she started giggling about it with the macho gentleman who was with her at the gate.

They continued their racist behavior by announcing again “Filipino Nepal people talking not allowed here” and on and on.

Shocked, I obviously became furious and approached them and explained that this racist and discriminatory behavior is not acceptable, impolite and does not at the least reflect what employees at Beirut Airport should stand for (not to imply it’s acceptance in any other situation of course).

This unfortunately sounded like a joke to them and they went on to say “we do whatever we want and we don’t care about what you are saying”, then “management doesn’t even want this kind of people on the flight” and “even if you complain this will be thrown away and we dare you to do anything about it”.

When I asked her “how would you feel if you ever wanted to travel to Europe and while queuing for your visa they told you the same thing?”, she replied “these people are different”; The macho gentleman seeing that his female friend, whom he was trying so hard to impress with his imitating giggles, was cornered with her twisted racist logic even went further to ask me to back off the counter and threatening to make a problem and to void my ticket!! When I asked for the complaint form they answered (While still laughing of course) “take it from the flight attendants and good luck sitting next to such people on the flight”

I did file an official complaint with Air Arabia and their staff was very helpful and promised to reach the message out to their management.

However Air Arabia is paying MEAG for such services and they need to use their power to do greater efforts too to ensure that the people behind this are held accountable. I also sent an email today to Mr. Richard Mujais from MEAG, explaining what happened and asked him to further discuss this with me and to show us that these employees were held accountable for such racist behavior.

Until then, and as a friend suggested that they also need to be exposed please help me exposing such intolerable behavior…

Abed Shaheen

It’s very easy for MEA to know who was working during the flight in question. They only need to look through their database. And there’s honestly only one acceptable solution in this situation.

Fire them. No severance package. No goodbye gesture. Just get them out of your company and let them try to find a job with their narrow mindedness and backward mentality elsewhere.

It is beyond unacceptable for a person working at a flight company, which naturally means dealing with people from all across the world, to have a hateful attitude towards people just because of the color of their skin, their language or their passport. Perhaps MEA should start doing a better job at choosing people that would represent it to the world especially that it is the first thing that people see of Lebanon before they get here and the last thing they see before they leave.

Shame on MEA for hiring unqualified people to do jobs. Shame on them not even having a complaint system that would get their employees to panic and shame on those employees for being downright nauseating.



Lebanon’s Colored Shades of Racism

Wel lebneneh? El lebneneh 3onsore. El lebnene 7mar. El lebnene sheyef 7alo.

Those were some of the answers some Lebanese decided to come up with to the question asked by the Cheyef 7alak video above.

People are failing to realize that the video is not of real students in a real classroom situation and is an exaggerated representation of Lebanese society.

Therefore, the entire country is judged accordingly.

Is Lebanon a racist country? Sure, we have racism. But is everyone a racist? No. The correct designation for Lebanon would be: a country which has many racists. And this description applies to every single country on this planet – all 200 of them, with slight variations in the description.

I’m currently in France for a neurology clerkship at one of their country’s and europe’s leading facilities in the field. I see patients on daily basis who are losing their mind, therefore many of their social inhibitions, and who say whatever they feel like saying. I’ve also met enough French people to last me a lifetime and I’ve discussed with those French people politics on more than one occasion. And one thing has come very clear to me.

They are racist too.

“Est-ce que tu as voté, madame?” was something a physician asked a woman who thinks she’s still in then 1900s when Mitterand was running for elections. She shook her head. The physician asked her why. She replied: “Les memes personnes gagnent toujours… les Arabes, les Noirs, les Chinois….”

The physicians and interns, some of whom were Arab, took it with humor as they do everything in this country apparently.

But I knew better.

One of the many discussions French people seem comfortable to have with me as a Lebanese Christian is about Islam. And if you heard the things I heard, you’d be offended as I was – yes, even as a Lebanese Christian. Note that the discussion happened with Holland-voting people who should be more “tolerant” to the “others” in their country than right-wing voters.

So France is a racist country. Typical flawless Lebanese logic. Right?

No. Why? Because even in France, you will find people who do not think that way and who are open to other people around them. Just as it is in Lebanon. I would even argue that there are as many people who are worried about Islam in France as there are people in Lebanon who don’t like black people.

Racism is not a Lebanese problem and we might as well stop making it seem that way. Racism is a problem that derives from the basic human fear of difference – we are automatically inclined to like those that are different from us less. Those differences might be the color of their skin, their religion, their political views, etc….

The French, however, would say we are the retarded society because we can’t accept those who are different from us skin-wise. They fail to see that they are not accepting those who are different from them religiously. Even the French atheists have no problem with the Christians but have problems with taking in the French Muslim population.

And by the looks of it, it’s the same across Europe. It’s the same in the United States as well where you being from the Middle East comes with a baggage of stereotypes. The only difference between all those other “better” countries and us is that they don’t see it as a bad thing to have in their society. On the contrary, it is a constant matter for political debate that benefits different parties in their quest for political power.

In Lebanon, on the other hand, we absolutely love to bring down the Lebanese. Houwe sha3b bhim, sha3b 7mar, sha3b bajam…. And the list goes on. Sure, there are many things that we need to work on as a society, including racism and looking down on people from different nationalities. But we need to know that not everyone thinks this way and the majority might not be this ignorant. And if there’s anything that I’ve come to realize with me being away is that the good in us is absolutely great.

And if there’s anything that still makes me proud about my country it’s all the good that we, as people, have achieved again and again.

Our political problems? Sure they bring you down. They make you lose hope. They make you lose pride. They make you want to leave. They make you want to give up. Sometimes you try to change your community and sometimes your community breaks you down. Sometimes you stick around. And sometimes you just leave.

And it is when you leave that you see exactly how great the Lebanese really is – when they are in a country where they have to live by law and regulations and where their ambition isn’t limited by wasta. You randomly encounter a middle aged man who hears you talking Lebanese and see his eyes light with pride only to find out you should be proud of him being the head of neurosurgery at the hospital you’re working at.

You see other Lebanese who have managed to become interns at one of France’s most competitive medical programs. You find other Lebanese who have fought adversity and tough conditions to get into a Masters program in France.

You find other Lebanese who are heads of banks and enterprises. And you also realize that when the French talk of you as a Lebanese they don’t put you in with those “others” that they dislike. Why? because you as a Lebanese are their boss in more than one field.

Does it make me proud that the French don’t think that low of me? Honestly, I don’t care. Does it make me proud that my people are excelling in their country? Yes. Does it make me proud that my friends can actually apply to scholarships and not worry about getting rejected just because they don’t know someone? Yes. Does it make me proud to see my people reaching places despite their hopeless, country-less country? Yes.

Does it make me proud to see the achievements of my countrymen in spite of all those other countries that have turned their land into their playground? Yes.

El Lebnehe sheyef 7alo. Beddkon l sara7a? Bi7e2ello. 

A Collection of Timeless Pictures

Following my post about some of the best pictures ever taken, a reader started sending me her collection of pictures that she’s amassed over the years.

Some of them were part of the previous post in question while others were totally new. All of them are still striking, amazing and haunting.

So without further ado, I commence.

1957 – The first day of Dorothy Counts at the Harry Harding High School in the United States. Counts was one of the first black students admitted in the school, and she was no longer able to stand the harassments after only 4 days.

1963 – Thich Quang Duc, a Buddhist priest in Southern Vietnam, burns himself to death protesting the government’s torture policy against priests. Thich Quang Duc never made a sound or moved while he was burning.

1965 – A mom and her children try to cross the river in South Vietnam in an attempt to run away from the American bombs.

1966 – U.S. troops in South Vietnam are dragging a dead Vietcong soldier.

1975 – A woman and a girl falling down after the fire escape collapses.

February 1, 1968 – South Vietnam police chief Nguyen Ngoc Loan shoots a young man, whom he suspects to be a Viet Cong soldier.

1980 – A kid in Uganda about to die of hunger, and a missionary.

1987 – A mother in South Korea apologizes and asks for forgiveness for her son who was arrested after attending a protest against the alleged manipulations in the general elections.

1992 – A mother in Somalia holds the body of her child who died of hunger.

1994 – A Rwandan man who was tortured by the soldiers after being suspected to have spoken with the Tutsi rebels.

1996 –  Kids who have been affected by the civil war in Angola.

2001 – An Afghani refugee kid’s body is being prepared for the funeral in Pakistan.

2003 – An Iraqi prisoner of war tries to calm down his child.

Congo: A father stares at the hands of his five year-old daughter, which were severed as a punishment for having harvested too little caoutchouc/rubber.

1902 – location in the United States not specified.

July 7, 1865 – Washington, Lincoln assassination conspirators Mary Surratt, Lewis Payne, David Herold and George Atzerodt shortly after their execution at Fort McNair.

July 1913 – Gettysburg reunion, Veterans of the G.A.R. and of the Confederacy, at the Encampment.

March 1941 – Planting corn on a plantation near Moncks Corner, South Carolina.

May 18, 1914, Washington, D.C. – Washington Post records the passing of one John A. Eaglen, 3 years.

What Lebanese Racists Say

This video, titled Shit Lebanese Racists Say, couldn’t have come at a better time. When the country is slowly forgetting about Alem Dechassa, the Ethiopian Maid that committed suicide after being publicly abused, the Anti-Racism Movement has come up with this video that is highly poignant to say the least.

Without further ado, here it is: