The May 25, 2020 killing of George Floyd, a black man, while in police custody in Minneapolis, and the ensuing protests across the U.S., sparked many reactions in the Arab press, which focused on accusing the U.S. of racism and discrimination, both towards its own citizens and towards other nations. In response to this discourse, Palestinian journalist 'Abd Al-Ghani Salameh published an article in the Palestinian Authority (PA) daily Al-Ayyam titled "What Racism Are You Talking About?". In it, he argued that Arab societies have also been steeped for millennia in racism and discrimination – against minorities, women and in particular blacks. He called on the Arabs to acknowledge this racism and denounce it before condemning the racism of others.
The following are translated excerpts from his article:
Image: Aljazeera.com, May 31, 2020
"The murder of the American citizen George Floyd by a police officer exposed the extent of the racism that prevails in American society. [But] this case is not the first of its kind. The [American] police is often too harsh with black suspects. [Moreover,] the manifestations of racism are not confined to police brutality but also characterize [other] broad sectors. According to the British Guardian, American blacks, including those from strong social sectors, suffer discrimination. They receive less pay compared to their white colleagues, receive different [quality] healthcare, and are sentenced to longer terms in prison [if they are convicted of a crime]. Judges are [also] quicker to sentence a criminal death if he is dark-skinned.
"Although American society has begun to recover from expressions of racism since the abolition [of the discriminatory laws] in the late 1960s, and although [the U.S.] even elected a black president, Barak Obama, as well as some congressmen of various races and backgrounds, it appears that Trump's populist, racist right-wing discourse has revived the racist fundamentalist right-wing groups and fanned the discourse of hatred against minorities and various ethnic groups [in the U.S.], including blacks…
"Floyd's tragedy is also an opportunity for us Arabs to examine the forms of racism that have existed in our [societies] for millennia: racism against blacks, against women, against minorities, against people of other faiths or sects, and against the disabled. Just as we demand to expose the American, Israeli or European racism against the Muslim communities, we must also examine our own racism, acknowledge its existence, and only then resume our justified campaign against all forms of discrimination and racism. Otherwise our criticism of America’s and Israel’s racism is completely meaningless…
"It seems that racism has been rooted in Arab societies for a very long time. Arab slave-traders plied the Indian ocean for centuries, carrying African slaves to the Arabian Peninsula and from there to the Old World countries. When Islam emerged and called for justice and non-discrimination, and encouraged the liberation of slaves because all men are equal, [Arab] society did not heed this divine call…
"In Arab culture, the color black has negative, reprehensible and pessimistic connotations, while the color white is associated with cleanliness, beauty and optimism. This cultural [trend] is reflected in various popular proverbs and sayings, such as the curse 'may Allah blacken your face' or the saying ‘a white penny for a black day,' [in which] money represents wellbeing and whiteness signifies happiness, whereas poverty and deprivation are [described as] black. An Arab proverb says, ‘When the black man is hungry he steals and when he is sated he fornicates’… Dark-skinned people are sometimes called ‘crows,’ likening them to these black birds, which are considered unlucky.
"The saying 'dark but beautiful' has racist overtones, as though beauty softens the 'crime' of being dark-skinned. Fair-skinned girls have always been more desirable from birth and tend to marry younger, whereas dark-skinned girls are less desirable and are often teased in school, and even in the media.
"In addition to the racism against blacks, there are hundreds of examples in our [Arab societies] of racism against Asian and African servants and workers, especially in Lebanon and the Gulf, but also in the rest of the Arab countries. It comes to the point that they are beaten, arrested, deprived of sleep, humiliated and robbed of their pay – treatment that does not meet the lowest standards of humaneness.
"Furthermore, there is even worse racist discrimination against women. A study conducted in 2014 by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on discrimination against women worldwide placed Yemen in the first place, followed by Sudan and Somalia. Saudi Arabia and Lebanon were in first place [among the countries] whose family laws discriminate against women. The Arab woman is still exposed to beatings and humiliation by her husband and by other men in her family, who [can] deprive her of her inheritance and keep her from seeing her children if she is divorced. True, such behaviors are common throughout the world, but they are especially bad in Arab societies.
"Similarly, there is also discrimination against the disabled, on [both] the official and popular levels. An example is the absence of laws protecting these sectors, or the non-implementation of the laws that do exist. [This discrimination is also reflected in] people's everyday behavior, in degrading and patronizing [attitudes] and pity, or in cruelty and disrespect. This is reflected in popular sayings.
"As for discrimination against anyone of a different faith or sect, it is the gravest of the phenomena [described here], especially in the recent decades, during which it has given rise to civil wars, sectarian conflicts, acts of terror against innocent people, a culture of takfir [accusations of heresy] and accusations of treason, and an attitude that disparages and excludes ethnic minorities and [various] small sects.
"This racist culture clearly engenders many racist incidents and racist attitudes, some of which have also surfaced on social media, arousing anger – but most of these cases have been completely forgotten.
"Racism in our [societies] is an ugly social phenomenon and a loathsome mental disorder, which we must purge from our hearts before we criticize others for their racism…”
 Al-Ayyam (PA), June 3, 2020.