Tuesday, May 22, 2012

IMPORTANT: A Message to Everyone Who Watched, Heard of, Loved, or Hated the Controversial Video Released by the ARM

A message to everyone who watched, heard of, loved, or hated the controversial video released by the Anti-Racism Movement last week:

On March 15th, we released a youtube video depicting a widespread discriminatory practice at Lebanese private beaches. The video was meant to address the common policy of not allowing migrant domestic workers in swimming pools, and to generally highlight the absurdity of treating people differently based on their skin colour (or any other irrelevant characteristic). Unfortunately, the video itself was subjected to more attention and scrutiny than its message. Though we are glad it created a heated debate, we deeply regret that it offended many people, some of whom are victims of the sort of discrimination we are fighting against. This was the opposite of what we intended to do, and in order not to offend any more people, we promptly removed the video from public access.For those who have not seen it, the video goes like this: a young, attractive, Lebanese female is tanning at the pool while a lifeguard is eyeing her and smiling. Time passes, and the Lebanese girl emerges with much darker skin. The lifeguard spots the girl trying to get into the pool, and assuming she is a migrant worker, starts blowing his whistle at her. Text appears on the screen that says, in Arabic, ‘it is forbidden’. We then see that the lifeguard has forced the woman to wear a “maid’s” uniform. Text reappears saying ‘to remain racist,’ a continuation of the previous text.

Responses to the video varied greatly. They ranged from praise to indifference to offense, to accusations that the Anti-Racism Movement was ‘using racism to fight racism’, and silencing migrant domestic workers by using a white person to represent them.

A recurring comment was that we used “Blackface” by painting the Lebanese girl to make her look dark. We would like to clarify that, having grown up in a Lebanese context, those of us who worked on the video had never heard of this concept. (“Blackface” is the infamous 19th and early 20th century American practice of white people painting themselves black in order to ridicule and exoticize black people for their audience’s entertainment.) The association with that history in our video was deeply offensive to many people, and we would like to apologize for this and to clarify that the “paint” on the girl was meant to depict her as a very tanned person, not as a black person. Nonetheless, we have learned that putting dark paint on a white person’s skin is very offensive, but unfortunately we were not aware of this negative mental association. We should have been more culturally aware and sensitive, and even though the video was targeting a Lebanese audience, we realize that we do not operate in a bubble, and that our work can quickly spread across the globe.

We were also accused of robbing migrant domestic workers of a voice, by using a Lebanese actress to portray them. It cannot be stressed enough: there was no migrant worker in the story line, and if there had been, there is absolutely no reason why we would not have had a migrant act the part. Those who know the Anti-Racism Movement know that we work very closely with migrant communities and, more importantly, that we are strong believers in migrants representing themselves. It is the character of the lifeguard who mistook the dark girl for a migrant domestic worker. The Lebanese person was a Lebanese person throughout, and this is a marked difference from Blackface and the way that is traditionally understood.

Nor did we mean to say that “black people” are “very tanned people”, and we know that this is very offensive as well. The lifeguard’s sexism and racism was unfortunately attributed to the video itself, and its makers, despite the fact that it was made by people actively fighting these forms of discrimination. Nor did we mean to commit any racial profiling by suggesting that all migrant workers subjected to racism can be represented by one dark woman.

We regret having offended anyone, and admit that there were many other ways we could have gone about dealing with the barring of maids from pools. We are all victims of faulty thinking, and all we can do is grow and learn from our mistakes. We try hard to mitigate the mistakes by including migrant community leaders and migrant workers in our decision-making process.

Thank you all for your comments, critiques, and understanding.

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For more info, please write to antiracismlb@gmail.com

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