Archive for the ‘Being Black in Lebanon’ Category

Somehow the song “Lean on Me” helps me reminisce about my childhood – summer camp performance of it during a talent show, church song used to do a mini-step (not dance) routine, just singing with friends to show allegiance and friendship.

It’s the first song that comes to mind today.

The hardest part about being so far away from home, in a country where internet service is iffy, is being so far away from my support system.  Don’t get me wrong, I love new friends, but for a commitaphobe, who takes a while to trust people, there’s something about having your tried-and-trues just a short drive or a phone call away.  Sometimes a sistah just needs someone who gets it.

So in honor of all of those ex-pats, who find them selves on the other side of the ocean, divide, equator, continent or world, this one’s for you!

The subject of race makes some people uncomfortable, so often, I avoid talking about it, except with close friends – with them I am candid and open.  I feel comfortable getting otherwise uncomfortable things off of my chest.  Some prefer to avoid the topic altogether, as though the issue doesn’t exist.  Others choose to reverse the blame and place the responsibility on the offended.

I would be lying to say that the issue of race never crosses my mind.  As a child, I was always straddling racial lines.  The black kids in my church told me that I talked white, though I went to school primarily with Filipinos.  Similarly, the Filipino kids told me that I wanted to be one of them, because I took an interest in their language and culture.  I was always one of two or three black kids in my class, which was situated in a rich white neighborhood; I struggled to find my place in society.

My University was different.  As a historically black university, situated in the South, it presented a new set of challenges for me.

I experienced textbook culture shock.  Never had I been so completely surrounded by black people.  They came in every shape, size and color.  They spoke different languages, had different accents and were from different countries.  In a seemingly homogenous environment, there was so much diversity.  This was a total paradigm shift.

From then forward, I continued to see myself through these eyes.  There was a sense of awareness about my race and how it fit into who I am.

In each country I’ve visited, I’ve wondered about people who look like me.

In Korea, a seemingly homogenous society, I expected to stick out, and I felt as though I did but not in an uncomfortable way.

In Mozambique, I noticed the color of people’s skin seemed to get lighter, the closer I got to the city.

In Spain, the people were amazed to see black people, which in turn amazed me, seeing as they’re practically neighbors with Africa.  They stared, sometimes asked to touch our skin and sometimes yelled out phrases like “Cola Cao”, the name of a powdered chocolate drink.

Before arriving to Lebanon, I wondered how people of color are treated in this part of the world.  And while I haven’t completely gotten a handle on it, I have some ideas.  I asked a friend and he vaguely said that Americans are generally treated with respect here, which I have found to be true, but it seemed as though he was noticeably silent on the issue of race.

I recently found this blog about a white American couple who adopted a little Ethiopian girl; they are now living in Lebanon as missionaries and they share their take on race relations in Lebanon.  Their story, which is really very interesting, is posted here.  It’s worth the read!

In my eyes, everyone here (as far as I know), who looks like me, is a maid or a housekeeper, so it must but a strange concept for some people here (especially those who haven’t traveled) to accept a black woman in a professional position.  This is all fresh in my mind because of a comment a student made to me this week.  In a fit of anger (because he was not allowed to have his way) he blurted out that I should go home, since I probably left my country because I am the lowest person in my country and they didn’t want me there.  This idea has sat in my mind since.  I’m still sorting it all out.

So this blog post is a bit cathartic for me.

The most frustrating thing about placing people in racial boxes is that we limit who they are.  While Filipinos in this country are maids, at home, my childhood best friend is Filipino and is a resident anesthesiologist.  While Ethiopians are thought to be commonplace in this country, at home, they are thought to have the most beautiful black women and are found to be very desirable.

I know the Lebanese are not the only ones whose hands are dirty.  As Americans, we are guilty of this as well.  While here, Middle Eastern men are thought to be someone’s dad, brother, son or uncle, at home, they too are stereotyped.

We all need to allow people to step out of the small, race-bound boxes we place them to let them be the individuals they are.  They might surprise us.  Prejudice is a lazy man’s method of processing the world.

Lebanon has reinforced this idea for me.

Blogs that reference Blacks in Lebanon:

http://www.onelebanon.com/forum/7216-do-you-find-black-women-sexy-attractive.html

http://janerubio.blogspot.com/2009/01/being-black-in-lebanon.html

http://beirutbeauty.blogspot.com/2010/03/brut-al.html

http://web.me.com/wesleytillett/Site/Blog/Entries/2010/10/17_Ethiopians_in_Lebanon.html

I fumbled clumsily to place my suitcases on the conveyor belt, as I went through the routine customs inspection in the Lebanese airport.  Though on the outside I tried to put up the front of a seasoned traveler, who regularly frequents Lebanon, on the inside, I was shaking nervously, like a leaf in the middle of a storm, not because I was carrying contraband, but because this is Lebanon.

The single conveyor belt was more than adequately staffed, with its three smartly attired military officers.  I later found out that they were more effective at being wingmen than anything else.

My suitcases slid through the scanner with ease, and then they posed the inevitable question, “What’s your nationality.”  “American,” I responded casually.  To which the customs officer responded assuredly, “But you’re African, right?”  A small confusion passed over my face.  “No, no.  I’m American,” I said.  Once again showing them my passport for proof.

They exchanged a few words amongst themselves, in Arabic, which furthered my desire to learn the language.  Then, by committee, they came to the conclusion that they were right and I was wrong.  We continued the discussion, with me gesticulating and them insisting.  Finally, after our exchange, when I felt as though I had explained it sufficiently, I walked away with my luggage in tow, proud of my ability to communicate my message, only to hear, “Bye Africano.”  I shook my head to myself and chuckled on the inside.

The lesson I learned: To Lebanese customs guys Black = African

Maybe they didn’t get the memo about the diaspora over here…

This got me thinking about stereotypes; honestly, my hands aren’t clean either.

Before I left home two close friends recommended that I listen to Chimamanda Adichie’s speech entitled The Danger of a Single Story.  I’d highly recommend it to you as well.  I put off listening to it until my final moments at home, when I needed company while I packed my suitcase.  As I listened, I realized it really was the message I needed to hear as I made my way over to Lebanon.

Here are a few of the things that were totally different than I expected (or different than what other people expected):

There’s a lot of diversity at my school, from Egyptians to Brazilians to Serbians to Hungarians to Sudanese to Americans (like me):

There are beaches in Lebanon and girls wear bikinis (even the big girls)

The hijab is not worn by all the women in Lebanon, as this is a Christian and Muslim country, and even all of the Muslim women don’t wear them.

Most of the stuff I can find at home, I can find here

While I won’t blend in, I also won’t be the oddity I thought I would be