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Racism on a Song

“One of the sexiest women in the Arab world” is in trouble. It clearly shows that within Islamic societies there is a wide range of behaviour and disparities.

Haifa Wehbe is a Lebanese pop singer and this time it is not her revealing clothes and sensuous moves that are being questioned. In her latest album, Baba fein (Where is Daddy?) there is stanza that goes, “Where is my teddy bear and my Nubian monkey?”

At first one might wonder where the offence lies. There are animals, amphibians and mammals from different parts of the world, and making a reference to them ought not to create a controversy. Would anyone make a noise had it been koala bear?

Nubians, however, have been targets of racism for long. In some ways such innocent aspects of pop culture can be educational. I did not know anything about them until this came up.

They have an ancient history and are now primarily Egyptian, Muslim and Arabised. It is probably part of the manner in which some African nations are going. Their culture is alive among the ruins although, as Motez Isaaq of the Committee for Nubian Issues says, they are discriminated against because of their darker skin. They were politically oppressed in the 1960s, when the Egyptian government forced thousands of them to leave their homes and resettle in southern Egypt to make way for the High Dam.

The real issue here is contemporary racism and, as has been pointed out, it is a children’s album and kids will assume that all Nubians are monkeys. I agree with this only to an extent. Some organisations will sue the record company, the lyricist, the singer. Will the discrimination end?

We are naïve if we believe that adults, in the privacy of their homes and offices, do not indulge in racist behaviour. It may not be overtly so, but the underlying resentment manifests itself often enough. And they teach their children the same things, again by the way they conduct themselves. How many Egyptians will sit their kids down and educate them about Nubians?

Pop culture is an easy target although one cannot forget the influence it does have. But we are living in times when the past isn’t old enough. We want quickie news, quickie opinions, quickie history. Yesterday becomes retro in no time at all. These kids will grow up and won’t be thinking about people as monkeys but about the singer and her moves.

I suspect children are being used even by the anti-racist lobby. They seem to only pay attention to the terminology and not the manner in which it had been filmed. It isn’t just about colour, but elitism. And sensuality. It is the lady singing and asking for ‘it’. The Nubian as a plaything is as offensive as its simian reference.

People are objects when everything seems accessible, except sensitivity.

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You can watch the video here