I received an email that I would like to respond to on my blog.
Salaam Umm Adam,
Let me first say that I am happy that you are taking the time to answer my questions. No worry, you do not have to be an expert to answer my questions I just would like to know your opinions.
Due conversations with acquaintances, friends and even family members who have worked in the Middle-East and my own brief experience in Dubai, I am now under the impression that many Arabs have negative if not very racist attitudes towards Africans (also South-Asians and Filipinos).
I have heard stories from Somali and Ethiopian refugees now living in the DC area of young Saudi kids insulting them or sometimes throwing rocks at them while walking on the streets.
Filipina domestics physically beaten, raped or going months without pay.
South-Asian workers not paid but still required to work under the burning sun.
Africans being constantly being called “abeed” by young and old.
My brother-in-law’s mother (Chadian) cannot count the number of times she was called “abeed” or “zurga” and was even deported because she complained about the fact that her employer had not paid her for several months.
I used to think that the Saudis would be more tolerant because a significant part of the Saudi population appears to be African or at least of mixed-heritage. But I guess colorism amongst Saudis is probably as bad as it is amongst Indians.
As a black-American woman living in KSA, what’s your impression? Are you treated relatively well? What is your relation with Afro-Saudis? How do your kids interact with local kids?
Thanks for your thoughts.
BTW: Great blog!
Wow! This is a really heavy topic. I actually am not the best person to answer this question. My family has not personally experienced situations like those you have heard of. I have heard of similar stories, but not first hand accounts. Always people who know someone that had this happen to them. I don’t doubt it happens. Unfortunately, racism and nationalism are evils from their pre-Islamic lifestyles that remain in their culture to this day. You will find that the more religious try harder to treat everyone fairly and just.
My family has many Saudi acquaintances. That’s as close as it gets. It’s hard to consider them close companions even though they are very good to us. Saudis are tribal so you won’t get too close. They usually are only close with family, it’s not racist just reality.
It is true that Saudi has a large population of African descendants as well as mixed heritage nationals. I have seen blacks in very prominent positions here. They are given the same opportunities as anyone else. Here it is all about wasta (connections) and there are blacks with wasta too.
Colorism, is an issue here. This week I’ve gone to two walima’s (wedding parties). I don’t ordinarily mix with Afro-Saudis but this week I did. The first wedding was an all black wedding. There were a handful of non-black guest (mostly trashy Arabs) a disturbing amount of morbidly obese people, and a few non-black wives.
Last night’s walima was for a mixed heritage cousin from the same family. Marrying a white (that’s what they call them not me) Saudi. The venue and guest were very different than the previous. The hall was very elegant and posh. The guest were mostly mixed heritage and white. The women’s dresses and makeup were tasteful, they appeared healthier and in better shape. The black cousins from the previous walima were there. They self segregated themselves and took wall seats and remained fully veiled the entire night. I could not help to make this observation, because the night before they were flaunting their tackiness. It was obvious that they felt completely out of their element and also obvious that the majority mixed raced cousins were trying to distance themselves from the black side of the family as much as possible. I think Tariq Nelson does an excellent job explaining this phenomenal on his blog, The New ‘Passing’ .
I was once befriended by an Afro-Saudi family. They wanted me to find them white husbands. Their mixed cousins (Syrian mom/Afro-Saudi dad) came right out and told me that they wanted to lighten the family up. They were making progress and not going back. With their black father dead and out of the picture they blended in just fine. The oldest son took dad’s job at the oil company, the house was paid for upon his death, the government supported them, and the father’s/son’s boss married his white daughter to the son and since I couldn’t/wouldn’t find white husbands for the daughters they have all settled for white Saudis. There will be no trace of black in their family, and they want it that way.
I was hesitant to discuss this topic on my blog. I am asked it so much. I don’t think blacks are treated nearly as bad as other nationalities. African Americans are known to whip out their passports as soon as they detect a problem, so maybe we can not fully relate. Saudis are more nationalistic than racist. Even the blacks love their country. The hit song last night was called Ashsha Saudiyyah (Long Live Saudi). Once the the band played that everybody jumped up, many pulled out national flags, and even the people who were just sitting danced on that one.