My Family Always ‘Passed’ as White, Until We Didn’t

Posted in Articles, Canada, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Passing, Religion on 2017-08-23 15:28Z by Steven

My Family Always ‘Passed’ as White, Until We Didn’t


Mike Miksche

Images courtesy of the author

Each of my siblings’ names, skin, hair, and religious observances earned us different levels of privilege.

My family immigrated from Lebanon to Canada before I was born in order to flee a nasty civil war. Since we’re quite light-skinned, growing up people assumed we were some kind of white: Italian, Spanish, or Portuguese was mainly what I heard. My mom explained how back in those pre-9/11 days, people she met hardly knew where Lebanon was and hadn’t heard much about Islam either, so it was easy for us to live under the radar, hassle-free. This was before the hummus craze. But obviously, with everything going on today, things have changed. Now, the disclosure of who we are, along with some cultural clues, shifts how people see us regardless of our light skin tone. I suppose one could argue that it’s a privilege to be passable as white, or a variant thereof, but it’s a bit more complicated than that.

As a kid, my folks cultivated a dual identity within the Lebanon-like bubble of our southwestern Ontario home. We remixed the Lebanese Arabic dialect with English idioms and ate kibbeh with chicken nuggets and homemade fries. As Muslims, we studied the Qu’ran, prayed five times a day, and were forbidden to eat pork—including pepperoni and bacon, too. You’d expect it all to be confusing, but I was a happy kid living under the radar and felt my upbringing was normal…

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Mixed feelings

Posted in Articles, Arts, Media Archive, Social Science on 2013-02-20 04:28Z by Steven

Mixed feelings


NOW is the online source for news, features, analysis and much more, covering Lebanon, the Lebanese diaspora and the Middle East.

“The people photographed are so beautiful they make you feel like having mixed race babies,” said Kevork Baboyan, one of many attendees at Wednesday’s opening of the photography exhibition, Mixed Feelings.

Over the years, racism has slowly but steadily started to raise eyebrows in Lebanon, a country that is infamous for abusing migrant domestic workers and discriminating against refugees and other groups of society. Rarely, however, has anyone addressed racism between Lebanese until Lebanese-Nigerian activist Nisreen Kaj sought – in collaboration with Beirut-based Polish photographer Marta Bogdanska — to explore the concepts of race and identity.

“Living in Beirut as a black Lebanese has [clearly highlighted] the hierarchy of skin color and ethnicity in the country,” Kaj told NOW Extra. “This reality has gotten under my skin, which is only a figure of speech, for it is in fact about the surface, about the skin, about the way we perceive identity, race, and ethnicity.”

Opening at Hamra’s Dar al-Musawwir, the launch combined images and interviews of some 30 Lebanese from African and Asian descent and was produced in cooperation with the Heinrich Böll Foundation, Middle East Office…

…When asked whether racism was more prevalent in Lebanon as compared to other Arab nations, Khoury said it was “particularly [widespread] here, but this is exhibit is a start.”

“They see my car keys and can’t believe I own a car… so [people at the supermarket] follow me to see whether or not it’s actually possible,” said Khoury’s mother laughingly, recounting the incident with equal humor and frustration…

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It’s all in the mix

Posted in Articles, Media Archive, Social Science on 2013-02-19 22:09Z by Steven

It’s all in the mix


NOW is the online source for news, features, analysis and much more, covering Lebanon, the Lebanese diaspora and the Middle East.

“I am apartment hunting with Hala who looks like a cheap whore,” read the text message that Hala’s friend accidently sent to her while they were walking together.  Hala, who is 27 and has a Nigerian mother and a Lebanese father, was shocked and ended up giving this “friend,” who is gay, a two-hour lecture. “For someone who is gay, who goes on saying Lebanon is not accommodating gay people, you’re just a typical Lebanese in the end,” she told him.
Ever since Hala’s decision to move from Nigeria to Lebanon for her studies at the American University of Science and Technology (AUST), each day has been a battle. The color of her skin is the reason why.
Most African women in Lebanon come from Ethiopia. According to Tsega Berhan, who works at the Ethiopian Consulate in Lebanon, an estimated 55,000 Ethiopian domestic workers live in Lebanon, and their brown skin resembles Hala’s. Ethiopians are often seen as either maids or prostitutes – the two occupations most looked down on in Lebanon – and for this reason, Hala faces racism and harassment on a day-to-day basis.

While Hala is constantly hurt by people’s words, she believes that coming to Lebanon at the age of 20 helped her to cope. She did not try to change herself for the sake of others’ perceptions, but instead started to surround herself with circles of trusted friends who accept her as she is. However, Hala’s strategy only goes so far…

…Hala’s skin has colored her love life as well. While she had dated Lebanese men before, it never developed into anything serious. “I have a lot of guy friends, but at the same time, it’s so funny because none of my guy friends would ever date a black girl. They’re not racist, but because they have racist families, they don’t want the headache.”

When she went to a guy friend’s house, his mother looked at her with a suspicious eye and asked her neighbor, who was sitting next to her, her opinion of Hala. The neighbor told Hala to turn her face, scrutinized her from head to toe, and then commented in Arabic, “She would look better if she washes the dirt off her body.” Hala caught the comment and never went to the house again. After this and other similar incidents, Hala learned that her father would have never married her mother had they met in Lebanon.
Taking it day by day
“I do feel Lebanese but it’s not in a typical way. You’re more aware of your differences. In Lebanon, I have to mention that I’m half-Filipino, but when I’m in the Philippines… I have to tell [relatives] I am half-Lebanese… People pick out the differences before they look at the similarities,” says Gaby, who is 19. He spent most of his life in Lebanon with a loving, stable family composed of a Filipina mother, a Lebanese father and three brothers. His parents met in Saudi Arabia more than 20 years ago, when his mother was working as a nurse there and his father was on a business trip.

For Gaby, growing up in Lebanon and dealing with racism has never been as dramatic as it was for Hala. He says he never really experienced confusion about his identity as a child or adolescent, even when he was made fun of for being different. “As a person, you don’t really analyze your situation so much and say you’re confused. What am I going to do? You just sort of live normally,” he says, adding that having three brothers also helped.

Perhaps because he doesn’t get sexually harassed as women of color do, Gaby views Lebanese as “respectful” of diversity and sees their racist comments as coming “offhand,” rather than intentionally. Nonetheless, he knows how his Filipina mother, who comes from a country that has over 30,000 nationals working as live-in maids in Lebanon, “gets a lot of crap.”

“Sometimes, someone would come over to the house, selling something or whatever, and my mom would answer the door. And then they’d ask to see the Madame.” Gaby has also grown up seeing his father defend his mother when confronted with racist comments. His parents never directly told him, but seeing this, he says, “I realized in a subtle way that you should fight back. But you don’t let it get to you….You can take [being mixed] as a disability, but I don’t think I ever took it as that.”…

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