An incident recently reported in Lebanon by journalist Sahar Mandour raised a lot of debate on social media - prompting me to question our current state of affairs, our humanity and compassion that are fading in the fake world we the Lebanese live in, based on appearances, superficial husks and self-importance.
On her personal Facebook account, Mandour revealed the details of an incident involving an Indian woman who had attended an international academic art conference in Lebanon to give a lecture, only to be immediately prevented from entering the swimming pool of the Sporting Beach Club in Beirut’s posh al-Manara area. This surely was not related to a security threat or a misdemeanor, but simply because of the colour of her skin.
Around the same time, the management of the Sporting Beach Club distributed flyers stipulating the dress code for domestic help, along with a signed affidavit by the employing family acknowledging the dress code and enforcing it: short and t-shirts are required at all times. Any breach of the code, would lead to the expulsion of the worker from the club without a refund of the entry fee.
Coloured people may not enjoy the Sporting Beach Club facilities, to add insult to injury, “man’s best friend” is welcome to enjoy the cool water and escape the heat.
In Lebanon we see ourselves as a “white” people entrusting our children’s lives to “coloured” people, yet we deprive these loyal assistants of their simplest rights.
This ‘racist’ publication, entailing within a clear violation of the right of workers to dress how they saw fit, incurred the wrath of many who consequently took to calling for a boycott of the club, citing the clear discriminatory treatment of foreign female workers - while noting that Lebanon’s Ministry of Tourism had a month earlier issued a wide circulation calling on swimming clubs and spas to abide by the principle of equality when receiving customers, warning against discrimination based on race, nationality or handicap.
The Ministry’s circular seems to have fallen on deaf ears; Many of Lebanon’s beaches, who continue to prohibit domestic workers from swimming - even if their work employers wanted them to – as some members simply did not want to swim along domestic staff, as if they were infectious germs.
To add insult to injury, some of these same clubs allow the members to bring their dogs - allowing “man’s best friend” to enjoy the cool water and escape the heat. Back to the incident at the Sporting Beach Club, while it is true that the “establishment” private club has the right to set its membership rules, it is also our right as a nation hungry for freedom and social equality to revolt and take a stand in the face of these unjust practices, opposing long standing inherited racism.
The age of slavery and ethnic cleansing has ended, yet there are still some individuals who believe in the inferiority of people of colour - a result of a combination of social and historic stigma. Despite the fact that we live in the twenty-first century, there still is some families that entrench the notion that those of dark skin are “dirty” and of lesser value in the minds of their children..
Ultimately, what took place in the Sporting Beach Club is but one of many chapters of injustice and oppression that domestic workers in Lebanon endure. Perhaps what is strangest is that we, who see ourselves as a “white” people entrust our children’s lives to them - while at the same time depriving them of their simplest rights, choosing to imprison them instead in stereotypical templates which we can look down upon - as if they were a diminished creature that brings us shame and embarrassment.
It is time to call things as they are, there is no place for racism in today’s Lebanon, we should all do our bit to fight it and end discrimination now.