Middle East stars face backlash for ‘blackface’ US protests solidarity photos

Middle East

Several Middle Eastern influencers are facing a wave of anger after posting ‘blackface’ photos on social media to show solidarity with Black Lives Matter protests in the US.

Demonstrations erupted across the US last week in response to the death of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, in Minneapolis on 25 May, at the hands of a white police officer. People all around the world have taken to the streets with others using social media to express solidarity.

Lebanese Tania Saleh, Algerian Souhila Ben Lachhab and Moroccan Mariam Hussein each posted photos of themselves doing ‘blackface’, despite the practice being widely considered a form of racism.

Saleh imposed her face on picture of a woman with an afro hairstyle with the caption “I wish I was black, today more than ever”, on Twitter.

While Lachhab posted a photo on Instagram with half of her face and one hand coloured black.

Thousands of social media users have responded to the posts terming the influencers’ response “tone deaf” and calling for the photos to be deleted.

READ: Syrian artist paints George Floyd mural in solidarity against racism and state brutality

Lebanese journalist Zahra Hankir tweeted, in response to Saleh’s post: “You act like you support black culture & yet you engage in fetishisation even though black people are literally telling you you are being racist.”

Neither Saleh nor Lachhab have removed their posts, with the Lebanese artist adding a defence of her actions only hours after it was published.

Hussein, however, who posted the ‘blackface’ photo on her Instagram account, has since deleted the post and replaced with the picture with an un-edited version. She captioned the new post with an Arabic hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) which condemns racism.

In English, the hadith translates as: “There is no superiority for an Arab over a non-Arab, nor for a non-Arab over an Arab. Neither is the white superior over the black, nor is the black superior over the white – except by piety. Humans come from Adam, and Adam came from the soil.”

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On her Instagram story, Hussein has posted condemnation of her actions, including direct messages, from other users, one of which asks her to “educate yourself… or just do some research because this is unacceptable”.

Hussein has also posted Lachhab’s blackface photo, and several news articles comparing the blackface and natural pictures she shared, highlighting the word, written in Arabic, meaning “in solidarity”.

Several social media users have used the photos to highlight the hypocrisy influencers have shown by speaking out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement but failing to condemn the kafala system – a migration sponsorship scheme which ties legal residency to employment and is practiced widely across the Middle East.

In Lebanon, where most migrant domestic workers are Ethiopian, Nigerian, Ghanaian and Filipino women, intelligence officials estimate two kafala workers die each week.

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