Testimony of a Lifeguard: Lebanon, a racist country

Different Tongues, One Racism @Facebook group: ALL LEBANESE

By Assaad Thebian

OPINION. Lebanon, a racist country? This title might not be accepted by a vast number among the Lebanese population, who think that it is the land of forgiveness and in which Jesus Christ did his first miracle (Qana, south of Lebanon). But let us face it: Check the last two or three weeks news and you will totally understand what I am talking about.

We keep condemning the West (USA and Europe) for their airport procedures, where “random” security searches always fall on people of Middle Eastern or Muslim backgrounds. We even condemned the French for banning the veil in public places few days ago, and hence accused them of being disrespectful to others’ cultures and beliefs (which might be true). But are we exactly better?

Shall we remember how many Syrians got beaten by Lebanese drunk youth in the time between 2006 (Syrian troops’ withdrawal) and few weeks ago? Shall we count how many Sudanese are in Jezzine prison with the minimum health care and life conditions? Why? It is only because our law states that anyone who does not have legal papers shall be deported to his country. Okay fine! But what are they doing in prison? We do not have the money to send them back, many Lebanese officials do comment. We cannot afford plane tickets for 200 people to live in dignity, but we can afford having an increase in the general debt by around 2 or 3 billion liras a year?!

But what is getting more and more unacceptable is how the state mentality (pride and racism) is spreading and getting accepted among the people. Since there are no more 14 and 8 march parties to fight again each other, nor a neighbor to curse from dawn to sunset, we can enjoy humiliating other nationalities. Why? Because we are the chosen people whose God (Amine Gemayel says He is Lebanese in the 1980′s) has given them a part of his paradise to live in (as famous singer Wadih Safi sings “Lebnan Ya Othet Sama”, which means “Lebanon, piece of heaven”).

Since few years ago, many human rights organizations have been trying to investigate rumors according to which touristic resorts (beach, hotel, nightclubs and pubs) were trying to ban domestic workers from entering their premises. A list of several resorts was formulated but no direct action was taken yet. As a result of the “no one asks” attitude from the State and especially from the ministries of Tourism and the Interior, managers and owners kept their policy: “Maids Out”.

Love does not know color @Facebook group: ALL LEBANESE

Only during the last week, more than a case was registered, in which people of darker skin were not allowed to enter a night club or a beach (though they were paying for their costs and not entering as an escort to any of the families).

On her blog, Liliane Assaf explained in details what a Beiruf (lebanese nightclub) bouncer did to a black skin lady who came along with two friends, and how he refused to let her walk in. The case was then reported to his superiors, but both manager and owner did not seem to care about the incident. The bouncer, with no respect of a person’s dignity, told the Lebanese friend (a guy) who was with the black lady: “But you can go in if you want”.

The organization IndyACT decided to check the rumors saying that beaches do not allow maids to get into their premises, and hence formed a group of three. Activist Ali Fakhry, accompanied by an activist of the Madagascan citizenship, tried to get to a beach. They shot the whole conversation with the guard/ticket seller on a camera. In their statement, which was published on Ethiopian Suicide Blog (which in its turn documents all violations against Lebanese maids in houses), the people in charge of the campaign reported:

A group of independent activists organized a direct action on a number of touristic resorts that adopt racist policies towards migrant workers in Lebanon on the basis of color, race, and class. Some of these resorts have put up signs asking their customers not to bring radio, food and maids to the resort.”

Aimee Razanjay, spokesperson of IndyACT, describes the Lebanese resorts as a “reminiscence of the apartheid era in South Africa and the times of blatant racism in the United States”. The activist Ali Fakhry adds: ”The Lebanese government should take the initiative to fine the resorts that are engaged with such policies, going against the UN Charter of human rights, in particular the item relating to equality”. (paragraph content quoted from Ethiopian Suicide Blog)

These actions have not yet been heard by most of the public, and even so, the majority seems not to react. The Facebook group Anti-Racism Movement did not gather more than 370 members yet. What people could not listen to yet, is the following testimony. I received it recently from a female lifeguard who used to work in one of the beaches that allow maids to go in only to take care of the babies of Lebanese ladies.

Summer has finally arrived. The main event for this season is going to the beach to swim, relax and tan to get the perfect ‘bronzage’. I started my summer job in a resort as a lifeguard. The experience was great. It enabled me to play an authority figure, meet new people, tan as much as I want and of course, save lives!

My job was simple. I was to save anyone from drowning and to make sure that the guests abided by the pool rules. Most of the rules were standard safety procedures. One however, took me by surprise and I called it the racist rule. It was so shocking and inhumane. Maids from all ethnicities were banned from the pools. So why is it that the help wasn’t allowed to swim? Well the answer I got is because elite Lebanese women don’t accept to swim in the same pool with a maid. They consider themselves too prestigious to do so.  It’s as if their maids’ swimming in the same pool would contaminate it. What horrified me the most though is the scene I witnessed at the kids’ pool. Maids were squatting at the border of the pool, behind the filter with their hands stretched towards the water, supporting the children they were caring for. Any maid attempting to venture inside the water was warned with a whistle from the lifeguard with a demeaning shooing hand motion and the phrase “no may, inte barra may” (no water, you outside the pool). Most of these maids cook and clean for their ‘prestigious’ bosses not to mention act as babysitters for their children. Yet these Lebanese women are disgusted to enter the same pool as them.

An Ethiopian lady came up to me and asked:”Why am I not allowed to swim? Only because I am black”. She held out her hand and pointed to her skin. She proceeded by telling me that she isn’t that different from the “white” women. She told me that she is educated and speaks English but works as a maid to support her family since there aren’t many job opportunities in her own country. She said that just like the women at the beach she believes in god. But I wasn’t so sure of that. God banned the devil from Eden because of his arrogance. He asks his followers to be humble and not to boast. He asks them to treat people in equality.

The most occurring images I saw at the resort were that of women gazing into their magnifying mirrors in search of any flaws, women rubbing their bodies with tanning oils so that their skin becomes darker while their dark skinned maids build sandcastles with their children”.

This is the new face of Lebanon in the 21st century, the country of coexistence. Do you really want to raise your children in such environment?



Filed under Journalism, Middle East, Migration

6 responses to “Testimony of a Lifeguard: Lebanon, a racist country

  1. Marina

    very interesting piece, i remember this from talks with Ali and cool seeing him in action in the video clip. This is part of the Lebanese society we never learn about. Thanks

  2. Ines Ayari

    Well written and expressed, Assaad.

    This is what we really need: a good understanding of the issue in order to put it in clear words and make the case heard! And, that is exactly what you did!

    • Marina

      Ines, darling, so nice to see you on the blog :-*

      • Ines Ayari

        Marina (I miss you beauty!)

        It is normal to see me here. I am in every single amazingly well-done blog 😉 And, you are doing an amazing job keeping it up-to-date and taking it to the next stage!

        Keep up the great work 😉

  3. Ines Ayari

    Marina, beauty! So nice to see all your great work too! Keep it up 🙂

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