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Race Card: Egypt’s No Picnic for Sub-Saharan African Women

welcometoegypt

If you're a dark-skinned black woman in Egypt, you're likely to be sexually propositioned by men and slighted by women there. At least, that's what African-American journalist Sunni Khalid observed during his three years in the North African country with his Kenyan Somali wife. Although Khalid is light enough to pass for an Egyptian Arab, his wife, Zeinab, cannot and experienced race-based sexism there as a result.

"Whenever my wife would come to the airport to pick me up, she'd often have to fend off several Arab men, who assumed that, as a black woman, she was somehow immediately 'available' to their desires, whether she was married or not," recalled Khalid in a thoughtful piece called "Egypt's Race Problem."

I've never been to Egypt, but as a black woman who's traveled to countries such as Mexico, Italy and Spain, I've experienced similar treatment. Particularly in Italy and Mexico, I endured men leering at me, catcalling me and insisting that I meet them for dates. On many of these occasions I was with non-black American women who were stunned at the attention I attracted. But this attention had little to do with me personally and much to do with lasting negative perceptions about people of African descent.

"For too many Egyptians, sub-Saharan Africa is a stereotypical exotic land of thick jungles and masses of poor, starving and black-skinned savages," Khalid explains. But I'd argue that this is a global perception of "black Africa" and not just an Egyptian one. Along with this perception is, of course, the idea that black women are sexually promiscuous and insatiable, which is why non-black men around the world don't hesitate to proposition black women. In Egypt, though, Khalid's wife didn't just attract sexual attention, but rude behavior from Egyptian women.

In high-end shops, for example, Egyptian women would cut in front of her in line. Once while Khalid and his wife dined at an upscale restaurant, an Egyptian woman scolded him for bringing "a woman like that into a place like this." She assumed Zeinab was a prostitute. When Khalid tried to explain that the woman in question was his wife, the Egyptian woman wouldn't hear it.

But it's not only dark-skinned women who face bigotry in Egypt. Khalid says that before leaving Egypt, he met with sub-Saharan African students who told him they faced racial harassment just strolling down Cairo streets. Moreover, Khalid writes that male and female refugees from sub-Saharan African nations such as Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea routinely face security roundups in Cairo. He notes that in December 2005, Egyptian riot police killed as many as 100 Sudanese refugees who were protesting mistreatment, but that the tragedy hardly garnered any outcry.

What's stunning about Khalid's remembrance of his time in Egypt is that many African Americans—most of whom originate, of course, from sub-Saharan Africa—not only romanticize Egypt but have claimed it as their own. Some name their children after Egyptian Queen Nefertiti or Egyptian gods and goddesses such as Osiris and Isis. To boot, whenever a white actress plays the role of Cleopatra, the black community loudly objects. Perhaps it's time for African Americans to learn more about how many people in the country they've romanticized hold them in such low regard.

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Comments

27 comments have been made. Post a comment.

As someone who has had to

As someone who has had to endure the indignities and the fear that goes with unwanted sexual attention and harassment on a regular basis, I appreciate the efforts to highlight the issue. Dark skinned women (not just blacks) are considered exotic in many places unless the population is dark skinned, in which case white-skinned women are perceived to be uber-sexual and a brown-skinned woman with a white person is fair game for sexual harassment (I'm thinking Asia here, especially Thailand and India).

I'm curious, however, about why you chose to highlight this particular issue about Egypt specifically. And why now? Given what is happening in Egypt and their desperate bid to attain freedom against all odds, and the tremendous role that women have been playing there, why choose to focus on this issue? And why paint all Egyptians as racist?

And if you must bring it up, because it is definitely not a issue that should be swept under the carpet, why is there not even an attempt to analyze the situation - why merely report on an article already published? Are there no political, economic, social reasons for why this perception held by some Egyptians? Does this arise from a colonial mindset? Is it class-based? Is it economic - do they view immigrants as competing for an already low pool of jobs? How have African immigrants figured in the current uprising?

Where's the solidarity? Or in lieu, at least an analysis?

Interesting

I don't think highlighting an article about racism in Egypt is the same as painting all Egyptians as racist. I did not say that nor did the author I'm highlighting. In terms of this article, it was recently published and I found it interesting, which is why I referenced it now. Readers can go to any other mainstream website for analysis of what's going on in Egypt politically, but this article--written by an African American man--examined what it's like to be sub-Saharan African in Egypt. I assume he did so because a lot of Af-Ams feel a strong connection with Egypt and are closely watching what's happening there now.

I don't think black women

I don't think black women should reconsider naming their children Isis. I appreciate the look into race relations in Egypt. But I think I might play devil's advocate and "defend" the racism. Essentially, modern Egyptians are probably a blend of Sub-Saharan Africans (Nubian) and other African people. Politics and wars and economic differences have split the African countries apart. I imagine that it's rather uncommon for an Egyptian to see a Sub-Saharan African, or even white women, or Asian women. As the previous commenter mentioned, there is probably some colonial mindset in the way Egyptians perceive people of other races, especially since they don't have opportunity to interact with people of other color. Just as people of color romanticize the Egyptians (assigning them a stereotype), it's likewise for Egyptians. Women of another culture are seen as exotic, something to be conquered and tamed. Not to mention, sex tourism plays a big role in people's perception of the women of another nation. It is not right for some Egyptians to be racist, but they aren't exposed to other people as we are.In America, we're exposed to people from hundreds of different countries and races and we're (usually) taught to treat each other as equals. In Egypt, as was said, they view themselves seperate from Africa. As a woman in Egypt, you are lower than a man, as a woman of a different race, lower still, of another religion/practice, even lower.

Here's a question for everyone: Why do some women of color want to identify with Egypt instead of the many other African peoples? Are Sub-Saharan traditions and history less glamorous or less relatable?

Problematic implication?

Anonymous,

I don't think you are "defending" racism. I see you as providing some explanations for it, which the author of this article failed to do. Is this racism justified? Of course not! But it has to be understood in its context. The least that could have been done was raise the questions that you raised - why do AfAms identify Egyptians and not other African people.

Nadra,

I found the concluding sentence of yours very problematic.
"Perhaps it’s time for African Americans to learn more about how many people in the country they've romanticized hold them in such low regard."

You don't think that African Americans should learn how the system that enslaved them and continues to marginalize them, has impacted people in the 3rd world that has led to stagnation, deprivation e tc? And how this system continues to divide people who have much in common with each other and could join together to make things better for themselves. Instead, you recommend that they re-think this affinity because "those" people hold African Americans in low regard. At least the article that you refer to makes a one sentence mention that race relations have changed since Gamal Abdel-Nasser was president in 1966. You don't even acknowledge this. Do you know how problematic this is given how Arabs men are reviled, persecuted, considered uncivilized etc. in the US and Europe?

And you know what is even more problematic, the seeming lack of recognition that oppression can occur at multiple overlapping levels. Even the poor in the US are way better off than the poor in many Third World countries. I'm not sure what you or Khalid, for that matter, intend to convey - that the uncivilized uncouth Egyptian people are not worthy of democracy that they struggle for. That people of the First World, even if marginalized should not support them? Perhaps you did not intend for it to sound like this, but you realize that this is a sensitive issue, right? And many of us, third World people, are waiting with bated breaths at the outcome in these countries with uncivilized racist populations so that we can become more civilized. And we're hoping that unlike in countries like India, with its farce democracy, that Egypt and Tunisia will get it right - that it can finally shrug off imperial influences.

I come to Bitch to get a feminist analysis of cultural, social and political issues - one that is sensitive to kyriarchy. I'm sorry that this summary that was provided (because it would be a stretch to call it an analysis) gives me none of that.

Great post

Thank you. Since I wrote my post I also thought of something else. If African American woman choose to identify with Egyptians, who are romanticized (as Nadra said) , rather than the Sub-Saharan women they may have more in common with a form of (unintentional?) racism?

Just a thought I had

I agree!! Great Post!

I agree, as an Af American i want to commend you on telling the untold stories to the world of the even uglier side of what is going on in Egypt socially and politically. As you said you can go to just about any M$M news site or turn on the tv to see what is going on there but something like this issue that is so poignant and crucial will not be aired and yet this plays a critical role in Egypt's development as a 'democracy' It goes to show that the issue of race in America and in just about every western civilization has a long way to go on dealing and NOT dealing with race and what role it plays in our society... And yes it is true that a lot of African Americans can connect with the social and political injustices the people of Egypt are enduring and its discouraging to see not one dark skinned person (which Egypt is FILLED with) in front of a camera giving their take on the situations and developments and progress being made, it would be hard for any of our western eyes to perceive them as even being Egyptian in lieu of the fact that it is a country in Africa and the 'mid east' does not exist..another rant for another time but for now. Kudos! And thanks for bringing us the real!!

Thanks!

Thanks, Alicia!

Modern Egyptians are for the

Modern Egyptians are for the most part Arab, not black. I doubt even a significant amount are even mixed with Sub Saharan, so I'm not sure where you think most are.

As for black women being fetishized, I'm surprised pop culture hasn't been brought up in this article, hip hop videos are actually quite popular and viewed--those featuring and sexualizing black women-which is why I'm assuming Egyptian men behave this way and have a certain view of black women. This phenomenon is actually a little surprising, because in countries like India for example, sex is not what is thought of when a black woman shows up.

I've heard frequently from black people associating themselves with ancient Egypt, claiming Nefertiti "was obviously black" -even when she clearly does not have black features (high nose bridge, thin nose, full eyebrows, flat forehead). Same goes with the ancient art--which does depict black people differently than Arabs. I do think this stems from many African Americans thinking African=black, which is NOT the case

Ok so if the queen wasn't

Ok so if the queen wasn't black what was she? Because last I checked, Sudanese, Somalian, and Eritrean women all embody dark skin tones BUT not "black" features. Your position is weak. Dear public, please visit Africa before you make any assumptions on what black people are to look like; we come in all shapes and sizes hence why the queen may have had a different look to her as oppose to what we view as black (wide nose, full lips, thick, wooly hair etc)

Unprofessional blogger

Nadra, I find it cowardly that you chose only to respond to someone commending your post, rather than addressing the questions raised by the above commenters. Bitch is a blog for discussion. If you would like to be praised for your work, unconfronted by anyone who disagrees, I don't know what you're doing blogging for Bitch. I have enjoyed several of your blogs but I feel as if you've let down a lot of your "fans" with this one.

Taken Aback

On this very post and on others, I have responded to many people who've disagreed with my views. In fact, when I do respond to commenters, it's usually to people who disagree with me. Bitch, however, is not the only site I write for. I also write regularly for Change.org, TheLoop21.com and About.com. And if you must know, I spent a lot of time over the past few days dealing with white supremacists overrunning my race relations blog at About.com, which left me little time to respond to comments at Bitch this week. So, while in the middle of dealing with hordes of vile messages from white supremacists for writing about racial justice, I really appreciate your assumption that I'm cowardly. As for this specific blog post, one commenter (I don't know if you're she) made several nasty insinuations, including that I and the writer I reference don't support the revolution in Egypt or that we view Egyptians as "uncouth" because we've pointed out racism aimed at sub-Saharan Africans there. I never said anything at all about the revolution in Egypt, let alone that I don't support it, nor did I ever characterize Egyptians as uncivilized. Frankly, defending myself against people who make outrageous assumptions about my beliefs isn't what I consider dialogue. Responding to commenters who insult me by calling me cowardly and unprofessional, as you have, also isn't dialogue. You seem to think that everyone who leaves a comment on a blog is entitled to a reply, which is extremely unrealistic. Bloggers such as myself who write for multiple sites simply can't manage that. If I spent all of my time replying to people who disagree with my views, I would have no time to generate more blog posts.

I've consistently identified

I've consistently identified myself so don't think I have all the time in the world to reply under different handles. Maybe if you read my post carefully, instead of dismissing it, you will notice that I criticized your article not for bringing up the issue of racism but for perpetuating the "us versus them" mentality with no real understanding of how oppressive structures work outside of the US context. Don't get me wrong, maybe you do understand - certainly doesn't reflect in your article.

Re: Jabril's comment that you "see all these arab looking people and not a single black face, this does little to encourage a notion that Egypt has ever (nor will ever) known what true democracy is." Umm, that's because Egypt IS an Arab country! And most of them identify themselves as ethnically Egyptians - its not a race! I'd like you to cite the demographic composition of Egypt because the CIA world factbook gives me this figure. What figure do you have in your book?
Ethnic groups:
Egyptian 99.6%, other 0.4% (2006 census)
https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/eg.html

Jabril, did it ever occur to you that you don't see sub-Saharan Africans on television because they are immigrants? Do you see Mexican or Asian migrants being represented in the debates on US taxes or economic or political policies?

Just a couple words of unsolicited advice to the author: when you move out of your comfort zone, which I presume is US racial politics, try to get some facts straight. And try to understand that racial and ethnic politics around the world cannot be viewed in the same lens as US racial politics. There are cultural, economic, social and political differences and sometimes that can make a world of a difference.

I could have talked about how racism/bigotry works in Asian countries (the Middle East, South Asia, East and S.E. Asia) and the intricate relationship between race, skin color and economics. But since you dislike engaging your readers, it would be pointless to continue.

3rdWorldFem "Do you see

3rdWorldFem

"Do you see Mexican or Asian migrants being represented in the debates on US taxes or economic or political policies?" Ever hear of Governor Bill Richardson (first generation Mexican migrant) or Governor Bobby Jindal (second generation asian migrant)? I could go on and on and give other examples, such as that of Barack Hussein Obama--the self identified African American president (who does not have one drop of what qualifies African American blood), but hopefully, you get the picture.

In my post, I NEVER made any mention of "sub-Saharan Africans," I simply mentioned "black face." Albeit, your equivocation of black and sub-Saharan African is an interesting one, it assumes that my assertion of black is narrowly tailored to sub-Saharan Africans... "immigrants" as you say, and that is not the case. In other words, your inference is... if one has a black face, one must be sub-Saharan, and again this is categorically false.

Finally, I love how you used that CIA reference in support of your unsound claim. Yes, Egypt is dominated by Arab language, politics and culture--a byproduct of colonialism; however, the undeniable fact is that it is in Africa--the black continent :-). Like Obama, one can choose to identify themself in whatever racial, ethnic, nationalistic context of their choosing, but there is a certain reality in the facts.

@JABRIL..... simply

@JABRIL..... simply **Speechless**. Your delivery & BRILLIANT execution were just so refreshing & appreciated.... *Hats off to you sir* ;)

Whenever I watch whatever

Whenever I watch whatever news network (Aljazeera, CNN or FOX) and see all these arab looking people and not a single black face, this does little to encourage a notion that Egypt has ever (nor will ever) known what true democracy is.

Well, there is a revolution

Well, there is a revolution going on, for democracy. Be aware that most non-democratic regimes in the world are kept in place by US imperialism.

Egyptians of all genders, classes, ages, etc. are in the streets RIGHT NOW, fighting for their rights, for human rights, for democracy, against poverty and imperialism.

The Mubarak regime is backed by US imperialism, the army and police there are funded by US government and US private companies. Tear gas used to repress the people was made in the US.

Your comment was so patronizing.

I am a little upset that the

I am a little upset that the ONLY article about Egypt on this website *since the Revolution began* is this one.

I corroborate what the author

I corroborate what the author of the article says.

I am a dark skinned black woman who visited Egypt. I wore ankle length loose fitting skirts most days. I wore long sleeved loose shirts and a scarf around my hair .

I visited with an Egyptian family who are friends from the US.

When I walked aorund with the Mom, I had some wary looks, some unsmiling stares but no lewd remarks.

When the Dad and his son took me to see the shopping district, there were endless stares but again, no lewd remarks that I noted.

Of course, the day that the son took me out on his own, the story was completely different. The stares were more open, and always accompanied by loud comments.

I didn't get any comments that I could hear from the women - They stared as well and their looks were equally unsmiling.

Before going to Egypt, I posted a travel forum question asking if black people could share travel experiences of being a darkskinned person in Egypt. The respones were mostly from Egyptians themselves. As in many countries, many of the Egyptians claimed that "I must be down on myself if I expected a problem due to skin color" Another replied that it was the racism in my own country that had to cause my question.

A self-professed expat (who did not identify himself as black) replied that if I came to Egypt with that mindset I would see racism because i was looking for it.

I actually broached this subject to a group of young Egyptians that my friend knew. One happened to be working with Kenyan and Sudanese teenaged refugees. She was the first who admitted that it was true that males and females in Egypt could be condescending to openly abusive to dark skinned blacks in Egypt. Part of her work involved having the youngsters write their stories to be performed as poetry or plays and video stories. The young women particularly described being slapped, chased, punched or yelled at by male Egyptian youths.

I think that when Middle Easterners see black people - some people see opportunity. We have no family there, the community has no stake in our good opinion. We're not seen as potential customers, we have no social status in their view so we're not a netoworking opportunity in their view.

Instead - we're a joke, a scene to amuse others - or a notch in the belt so the guys can say they "had one of those".

modern day egyptians are

modern day egyptians are arabs (the mulatto version) ancient egyptians were black africans which is why the french emporer shot the nose off the spinx because of it being unmistakably black african ... this is who the so called african american identifies with not the modern day mulatto version of arabs that are in egypt, ancient egypt was black ... modern egypt is not black ....black people want to identify with their original names, language, and culture, not the arabs that occupy egypt today.

@LUDIE.......(stands up &

@LUDIE.......(stands up & applauds) ...BEAUTIFULLY .....& I state....BEAUTIFULLY...put :)

African-americans please learn your history

I am Kenyan which is in East Africa. Egyptians were never black, always arabs. Yes, they did come in contact with Nubians (modern Sudanese) but that does not mean they are of mixed race. A few maybe. But they are still largely of arab descent. African-americans should stop acting like Egypt is the only country they can identify with. They are 54 African countries on the continent. Not all Africans are black, north African is inhabited by arabs and always has been.

African-Americans came from West Africa, and Egypt is in North East Africa, very far from where you all came from. There were great empires of Ashanti, Yoruba, Ibo, Mandinka people. To the east, Nubian and Ethiopian history is also very rich. Just because the media portrays black Africa as a place plagued by poverty and hunger does not mean a rich history never existed in these countries. Not all Africans are poor, the rich and middle class also exist in these countries. So stop claiming the only history romanticized by white people, and find out the "true" history of your own people. Arab people also enslaved people from East Africa, mostly women and children who were sold as concubines in the middle east. That is why they are people of African descent in Iraq, Iran, India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and a lot of countries in Asia. Yes, North Africans are racist towards black people because they see them as slaves (women as sex slaves). The East African slavery is rarely talked about, but it happened for hundreds of years. Think about that when you are romanticizing about people that think you are inferior to them. Modern slavery still continues - it involves Sudanese girls sold into the arab world. Read the book "Slave" by Mende Nazer and learn something.

Unfortunately, you are

Unfortunately, you are incorrect. The Egyptians of the first several dynasties were indeed "black", according to most (credible) cultural anthropologists. To say that "they have always been Arab" isn't factually correct in the least bit.

And "Arab" btw (much like the term "Hispanic), isn't a race. As there are both black and white Arabs. While "yes", African Americans shouldn't pedestal Egypt, because they don't originate from there, there is no reason for YOU to dissuade them based on incorrect statements.

I am East African too and

I am East African too and Miss you are highly confused. Don't you know there was an arab invasion of Africa? Pick up a book instead of spreading nonsense online. It hurts to see a sister so lost with all the information there is on the internet.

haha, the Napoleon anecdote

haha, the Napoleon anecdote is pure lore. Look it up.

"Ancient Egypt was Black"

"Black people want to identify with their original names, language and culture."

Do you realize how big Africa is? So, I agree the first "Egyptians" were obvi African, Black, but then you run into a problem with this word "Black". Because Egypt was ALWAYS a place where different cultures ran into each other except maybe in the very very beginning. To argue a land on the tip of the continent of Africa, at a confluence of a powerful river and also lang bridges that Egypt was a homogeneous place genetically or culturally is totally ahistorical. So, at what point are we talking they're a mixed race people, or just Black? Afro Asiatic or just Black? "Black" is a problematic term because race is really a false concept. It's genetics you must look at it, and identifying a group simply by skin color is problematic, as is seen by the HUGE array of genetic diversity in Africa.

With this in mind, Egyptian history is NOT the history of all of Africa. It's not the same culture of "all Blacks" or "All Africans" and to suggest that is almost cultural appropriation. That's like all Europeans suddenly taking Greek names, when many of us genetically share zero or irrelevant heritage from there. It's fine to be proud of an example of an African civalization, but to somehow distort Egypt to be a monolithic, pure Black land that all African culture grew from is not supported by the evidence.

Just like the people who

Just like the people who reside in the United states of America today do not look like the people whoe were here 700 years same is for Egypt. These are arab invaders they are not the builders of ancient Egypt so of course they snub their hook noses at us.

Your article makes no sense!

Your article makes no sense!

African American women and men have every right to claim Ancient Egyptian history and culture !

Imagine saying that authentic, dark skinned Mexicans have no right to claim Aztec culture because nowadays lighter skinned Mexcians (who are descendants of spanish conquistadores) are racist towards them?!

It is not because current day Egypt was conquered by Arabs who treat us badly that we must erase that part of our history from our heritage.

WE dark (BLACK) skinned people of Africa wether from Nigeria, Somalia, Uganda, Tchad, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Kingston, Rio de Janeiro are entitled to our roots and history.

Don't let any brainwashed Euro-centric B!tch tell you otherwise.

So, does a Native American

So, does a Native American have the right to claim Aztec culture as their own?

THis is a more correct analogy than yours since Egypt is much newer and distant geographically than the ancient African kingdoms of Subsaharan Africa.

Seriously, look into how big Africa is. Subsaharan African culture does not equal Ancient Egyptian culture. Africa hosts the most genetic diversity in the world in its continent which is HUGE. The two most diverse human genomes exist within Africa. Skin color is a poor linkage in identifying a history of a people. However, I agree that praising Egypt as an example of epic African culture which became a center for trade, learning and international is fine. But coming from Liberia and claiming ancient Egypt is the history of all Africans, that it's somehow YOUR history because your skin is Black is a stretch. It's almost as incorrect as an Arab claiming Asiatic peoples infused Egypt with its magnificent history because undoubtedly, Arab people living outside Africa mixed with early African Egyptians. I mean with that logic, Africans can claim credit for all advances in Human history because we all came from there. Please.