It is problematic to talk about racism in the Middle East and North Africa region only in moments of tragedy, according to panelists in a virtual event titled “Anti-Blackness in the Arab World: Mobilization and Solidarity through Film and Journalism,” held on Oct. 28.
This event is the second webinar in a year-long series titled “Decentering Race: Perspectives from the Global South,” organized by the Northwestern University in Qatar’s Faculty Working Group on Race, and moderated by Joe F. Khalil, associate professor in residence. Filmmaker Eiman Mirghani and journalist Bahira Amin discussed the importance of mobilization and solidarity through film and journalism to address anti-Blackness in the Arab world.
When the Black Lives Matter movement protests erupted this summer in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, certain Arab celebrities tried to show support by doing Black face. This had led Mirghani to realize that people don’t understand how racism works or that it exists in the Arab world, she said. This moment has created an awakening in Arab communities to talk about their own racism and internalized white supremacy, she added. Not wanting to only talk about anti-Blackness in times of tragedy and simply riding a wave, Mirghani struggled to decide if she should publish her documentary, which tackles anti-blackness in the Arab region. “My identity as a Black Arab person in the Arab world, trying to show people that this thing exists, that racism exists. I was faced with the dilemma: Do I ride this wave? … Do I publish my film now? … is it ethical?” said Mirghani.
In the end, Mirghani was satisfied with her decision to publish her film online, given the denial of racism’s existence in the region. “I don’t regret that decision because since my film has gone online, I haven’t been able to meet so many people have conversations with so many people,” she said.
Amin started her discussion by acknowledging that she is not Black and not intending to take up space or talk over Black voices. “I’m a non-Black Arab journalist who has written a piece that was very well received, surprisingly, so… All I can do is offer some thoughts into how we as journalists, as media professionals, choose to stand in solidarity,” she said.
She added that solidarity is a keyword in her work, speaking horizontally across struggles rather than speaking back to Empire. “I have little to no interest in speaking purely to the Western world…. I think there’s more urgent work of solidarity to be done among ourselves,” she said.
In her process of ethically writing the article, Amin learned to center Black individuals’ stories and narratives as a way to start the conversation about anti-Blackness. She also avoided demanding stories of trauma from Black people for non-Black Arab’s education. “That’s [education] on us, the archives of pain and suffering, they’re out there,” she said, adding all of these learning moments resulted from conversations with activists on Twitter or her mentors.
Nadege Bizimungu, a journalism and strategic communication junior and a managing editor at The Daily Q, asked about Mirghani’s process of avoiding the white gaze as a Black media professional. Mirghani stressed the importance of starting from her own experience and then engaging in collaborative learning and research. “My film is very personal. But at the same time, I spoke to at least 75 people when I was doing my research,” she said.
Mirghani emphasized that personal experience can be a segue to a shared collective experience. In her movie, “There is a point where it stops being about me and it starts to become about so many other black Arabs that I know who have shared similar stories of, you know, anti-blackness that they grew up with,” she said.
Khadija Ahmad, a communication sophomore, asked the panel about ways to avoid the commodification of Black trauma in their media products. Mirghani emphasized the importance of research and preparation. “You’re in charge of the narrative freely when you’re making a documentary, you can choose the visuals, you can dictate the conversation…. If you’re staying with a subject, you have to live with that subject for a while. It all really comes down to your preparation,” she said.
Amin replied to Ahmad and Bizimungu’s questions by emphasizing the agency that journalists and media professionals have. “It’s about carving out creative spaces for ourselves. So even if I’m reporting in a colonial language, there’s a way for me to challenge all of these things …. It takes a lot of finessing. It takes a lot of navigating,” she said.
The panelist agreed that accountability and collaboration are key in tackling anti-Blackness. “When you’re trying to talk about big issues, you can’t do it alone,” Mirghani said.