By Tarek Fatah
August 19, 2014
Only a black person knows what it is to be black.
We may have empathy for their uphill struggle and stand in solidarity with them, but we can never walk in their shoes.
So let’s stop pretending we know what’s happening in the minds of young black men in Ferguson, Missouri.
And as to those, such as Iranian “Supreme” Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, who are lecturing the U.S., let me assure them anti-black racism is ubiquitous all over the world, from Iran to China, to the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent, to the Arab Middle East.
I am sure Khamenei is aware of such racist terms in the Persian language as “Siyaah Zangi” and “Kaakaa Siaah”, equivalent to the “N-word” and applied to descendants of African slaves brought to Hormuz by Portuguese and Arab slave traders.
Iranian-American writer Shalizeh Nadjmi in her essay, “Siaah Sookhteh” (Charcoal Face) notes that even in America, Iranian “exposure to ideas on racial equality [learned] at school are buried under racist mentalities perpetuated at home by parents and aunts and uncles.”
For those who believe institutional racism against blacks is a product solely of white America, let me assure you this cancer pre-dates Columbus and the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
As early as 1377, no less a scholar as the eminent historian Ibn Khaldun wrote:
“The Negro nations are, as a rule, submissive to slavery, because (Negroes) have little that is (essentially) human and possess attributes that are quite similar to those of dumb animals.”
No wonder the status of blacks in the Arab world is dismal.
The genocide of black African Darfuris by men who called themselves “Arab Janjaweed” is a testament to Arab, anti-black racism. Even today, the term many use to address blacks in Arab countries is, “Ya Abdi” (O my slave).
While America and the West have been confronting issues of race and racism, such efforts are virtually non-existent in the rest of the world, where allegations of racism are met with denial.
In China, anti-black racism erupted in the 1988 anti-African protests that led to mass demonstrations and riots in the city of Nanjing and lasted from December to the following January.
The racist behaviour of many students in China led to Prof. Barry Sautman of Hong Kong University penning an essay “Anti-Black Racism in Post-Mao China” in 1994.
As a child growing up in Pakistan, I heard the term “Kaaliya” — the “N-word” in most Indo-Pakistan languages — uttered without embarrassment to describe people of black African descent, whose forefathers were sold as slaves in India by Arab slave traders up to the 19th century.
Prof. Saba Dashtiyari, a Baloch nationalist who was assassinated in 2011, once recalled that anytime he would get on a bus going towards Karachi University, he would notice fellow students put their hands on their wallets and clasp their purses.
He was black, of African heritage, and that meant other Pakistanis saw him as a criminal.
So next time you watch the anger of young black men on display, remember the words of Trayvon Martin’s mother in a letter to Michael Brown’s mother:
“If they refuse to hear us, we will make them feel us.”
A few days of street violence protesting the shooting death of another mother’s son, is a small price to pay for a thousand years of injustice that does not seem likely to go away anytime soon.