• Muhannad Sarhan

A Letter to My Iraqi and Arab Friends, Cced to My Non-Arab Friends

Updated: Sep 15, 2020


Following the death of George Floyd, I posted a black square picture to express that I stand with fellow humans and that I am antiracist. Some of my friends – mainly Iraqis – reached out to express their viewpoints about that picture. Unfortunately, most of these viewpoints were uneducated, uninformed and biased. The reality is we have a big racism problem for years, and we need to talk about it. Below are some answers to questions that I was asked by friends and family.


Why are you caring so much about George Floyd, he is one person, he did wrong, he is not the first or last to die?

One human is already too much. The way George Floyd was killed demonstrates the depth of hate towards black lives. He was killed with cold blood, and was not the first. If you say you do not mind one person dying, you are literally saying that you don’t mind all people dying.

But why do you support people vandalizing?

First, let me say that I can’t believe I have to explicitly answer this question. Let me spell out that neither I nor anyone I know – as per my knowledge – supports the vandalization public or private properties. It is understood that people will feel anger, and want to make their voices heard one way or another. Years and years of discrimination and systemic racism will create that. People who don’t see themselves accepted by the system, will try to express this anger in unconventional ways. A small fraction of protesters on the ground are vandalizing, focusing on that and ignoring that someone was killed, is a bigger problem.

But the protestors are looting, why should I support them?

Of all citizens in the world, Iraqis who lived through war could empathize the most. After the 2003 US led Iraq invasion, many Iraqis were in the streets looting government buildings, banks, Saddam’s properties, small businesses and everything else. At that time American troops that were supposed to protect Iraqis called the Iraqis a racist derogatory term, “Ali Baba”, referencing the fable “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.” Most Iraqis didn’t loot, but they were still called Ali Baba. Similarly, we should recognize that most protestors are not looting, and protests play a great role in raising awareness about racism towards black people. If you are not supporting the protestors, at least don’t demonize them by spreading false information.

But why should I care? I’m not black?

When we stand with black brothers and sisters, we are standing for humanity. We say that we recognize that the systems we have in place now are racist, and that skin color has a say in where you live, work, study, and learn. In a just world, your skin color shouldn’t have a say in all of that. While these systems are biased against people of color in general, they unfortunately impact black people more than any other group not only in the US, but in a lot of countries around the globe. These systems are fueled by biases and stereotypes about black people no matter where they live. If we support these biases and stereotypes, this means we are fueling that racist system. Consequently, that means we agree with racism, and when we are targeted by these systems we shouldn’t complain. Something that people of color in the US had a taste of. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “No one is free until we are all free.”

But Blacks and Africans are like that, they are angry, they are lazy, their brains are smaller … etc

This is the single most appalling idea that Nazi’s and white supremacists wants us to believe and it has been debunked over and over. The bell curve research had shaky scientific evidence. Many of the biological differences between groups (Asians, Arabs, Blacks, .. ) are smaller cross groups and larger within a same group. The difference in sizes of brain is a lie. Spreading those lies will spread misinformation and may cause others pain.

and the following ones are all the “whataboutism” questions:

But what about Iraq, why do you care for what happens in the US?

Racism is a global issue. It doesn’t affect the US only. Racism against black people specifically has its roots in the horrible times of slavery, no matter what country. It is in the US, Brazil, South Africa, Europe, Canada, Iraq, Egypt, Libya, China, and many other countries. If we dismantle racism against one group, we take a step towards dismantling it for all groups... including Arabs and Middle Easterners.

Black Lives Matter is a movement that is going global now. As I am writing these lines, there are supporting protests happening in the UK, New Zealand, Australia, Germany and other countries. We must give this movement a voice everywhere in the world, including Iraq and the Arab World. Understand that racism everywhere is one.

But what about the Iraqis protesting, what about the women rights, what about abuse of children, what about the war against Iraq, ETC.

These are all legitimate issues that we need people to talk about. Supporting one cause doesn’t come on account of other causes. In fact, it is the opposite, supporting one cause means that we lay the groundwork for standing up for all causes. Each finds what they can support and think they will be more effective in. What is important is that you don’t keep silent, you were given a voice... practice raising it! Seriously, are you feeling jealous that someone is defending a cause that does not include you?

Now what...?

First of all, please don’t take this as an attack or me “unmatching” you. I say all of this out of a duty and an obligation. I care about you, me, my family and my friends, and that is why I am sharing these thoughts.

Second, I invite you to continue to learn. Racism will be defeated by education and learning about others. Just read … anything … but also read specifically about the history of slavery, racism, the Jim Crow laws and racism in the Arab world. Here are some suggestions material for a start:

Books:

- The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander

- The Autobiography of Malcolm X, By Malcolm X

- Gang Leader for a Day, Sudhir Venkatish

- The Myth of Race, Jefferson Fish

Documentaries

- 13th (Must see, if you really didn’t have time for anything else just watch this one).

- The Black Power Mixtape

- I am not your Negro, James Baldwin (and any videos by James Baldwin)

- Accidental Courtesy, Daryl Davis

The above is only some of my personal favorites, but feel free to add or share with me some of your favorites. I have one my list next, Tears We Cannot Stop by Michael Dyson.

Third, in addition to the above, if you still have doubts about racism in the Arab world, watch the following YouTube links (Arabic mostly):

- Racism against black imams in Saudi Arabia https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bn2mzijs0HY

- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BPeMf70mHLg

- Racism against black people in Iraq https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tbsB4Bm-lAc

- Bias against black people in Egypt https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aFGNADuKg00

- Racism in the Arab world France 24 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LinHnY55rT4

Fourth, don’t be afraid to speak up and stand up for what is right. Discrimination based on skin is immoral, unethical, unconstitutional, and wrong in every religion. Have courage. Do not be afraid to say it aloud to your friends and family. Don’t confront them or create division, but educate and get them to see how others are suffering from that.

It is time that the Arab Nation makes a strong stand against racism to start seeing an end to it. The silver lining is that it is not systemic racism like what you see in other countries (like the US and South Africa). It may make you feel uncomfortable to say it openly, but remember it is dangerously impacting black people’s lives.

Fifth, stop promoting stereotypes and eliminate racial slurs from your language. You know these in your dialect, we don’t need to list them here.

Sixth, let’s start a conversation with everyone. Specifically, reach out to your black people everywhere in the world and have a candid conversation with them on what living means while black. You’ll be surprised. Feel free to share this post with people you think need to read it, or to read and watch some of the resources in it. Reach out to me if you would like to have a conversation, I am more than open for us to learn together. Share your opinion about this article and let me know what I have missed.

If after reading this you will want to unfriend me, I would understand but I hope you won’t.

P.S. This post is translated into Arabic if you need to share that one, it’s available for the public.



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The views expressed no this site are my personal views, and they don't represent a company, country or nation.