What does it mean to be racist?

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Al-Jazirah newspaper

NOBODY believes we are harboring any racist feelings toward anyone. And we read, hear and see everyday people talking about laws being enacted against racism. But, by God, don’t you encounter such deep-rooted feelings wherever you go?

Watch yourself and contemplate on your feelings and attitude toward others. How do you react when you see a Bangladeshi worker carrying a broom, sweeping the street and collecting garbage to keep our streets clean and tidy. How do we reward him? It is with looks of suspicion and contempt due to the kind of job he performs and his country of origin.

It is the same way we look at the lean African in worn-out clothes and who guards our buildings. We look at him suspiciously and treat him with repugnance, which we do not care to conceal.

We may encounter a Sri Lankan housemaid who is exhausted due to long years of hard work in the most untenable conditions, staying in a foreign country away from her dear and near ones. Not speak of the long hours she puts in to make way for the “blue-blooded race" that most us Saudis firmly believe we are. We are haughty and arrogant even toward our Arab brethren.

We are slightly tolerant toward people who Allah Almighty bountifully graced with affluence, such as the citizens of our neighboring countries.

In our daily life, we take out our racist attitude on everyone we believe is inferior to us.

The university gatekeeper shouts angrily at the Asian drivers. His boss shouts at him for the simple reason that he is a mere guard and of a lower status in society, hence does not deserve any empathy from the part of his superior.

The female Saudi worker in the building orders her female Asian colleague around. In turn, the female Asian worker takes revenge on the hapless child she is supposed to care for.

In this way, the stereotyping passes from one person to another. It can be likened to an endless string of beads in a rosary, with the racist attitude passing from one bead to the next.

We have reached a state of saturation through a harmful system of values. It has enhanced tribal status, wealth or proximity to those in power, as the criteria for respect in society. It has belittled some people, as if they were not created by Allah Almighty like the rest of us. Such people do not enjoy the high status and respect Allah Almighty has blessed the son of a tribal sheikh with.

Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act toward one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

Article 2 of the Declaration states: “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”

Article 11 of the Basic System of Governance in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia states: “Saudi society shall be based on its members’ holding fast to the bond of God, cooperating unto righteousness and piety, and maintaining solidarity, and avoiding dissension.”

This is what is stipulated by the international law and the Kingdom’s Basic System of Governance. Despite this, our culture of daily dealings with the young and old everywhere exudes racist sentiments and behavior, except for a few. So what should we do?

The message of mosques where people come to pray in congregation five times a day can be disseminated to millions. The imams and khateebs can do wonders in stressing the principles of love and equality and remind people of the manners of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). They should stress the importance of sticking to the religious values.

Our imams and scholars can set an example to be followed with their humble and kind behavior. They can discern the differences between human beings, but they will treat all equally however different they might appear from each other.

The media can play a big role in stressing equality between all human beings despite the differences in color, race or social class.

Civil societies can be very effective when they are given the green light to organize social, recreational and training activities to fight off racism everywhere. They can make a difference especially among the poor, who need such assurances.

Women, workers, disabled persons and the blacks suffer daily due to this terrible stereotyping. Perhaps this might not be discernible by some, but they can see it if they try once to be in the shoes of others and act as a woman or a disabled or black person. May be at that stage they will begin to realize what this detestable racism really means.


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