How to Educate Your Arab Parents About Racism

A very necessary guide to having uncomfortable conversations

Anti-racism conversations and protests—sparked by the death of George Floyd—have spread across the world, including the MENA region, too

With hoards of young people protesting, donating, volunteering and speaking out on social media; whether it’s the oppressive Kafala labour system or black face, and more casual forms of racism, anti-blackness is rife in Arab societies. But there is some hope. Younger generations are becoming more aware of how racism is embedded in Arab culture and are actively seeking ways to dismantle it.

Even if your parents are Arab and Muslim (in a world where xenophobia and Islamophobia have gone mainstream) some of them still normalise, and even contribute to anti-blackn discrimination, which is proof that you can be part of a marginalised group and still oppress other marginalised groups. 

There is no better time to expose long-festering wounds of racism within our own communities and households. 

Stop blocking your relatives on social media and roasting your parents. If you really want to change the world and make a difference, sit down and have constructive conversations about racism with them. They might feel uneasy, but these conversations are important. And don’t worry, it won’t mean you’re “not respecting your elders”. 

Need help? This is how to speak about racism to your Arab parents. 

Don’t be confrontational
Remember that at one point in your life, you didn’t necessarily consider these issues fundamental either. So it’s important to start the conversation acknowledging your own ignorance too. If you want your parents to really hear you, and hopefully take action, carefully explain how racism makes you feel, so that your statements don’t sound like you’re blaming them. The conversation will come from a place of concern, which should help them accept why they should think differently.

Use personal examples to help them understand the impact of systemic racism
If you parents feel like talking about anti-blackness is impersonal, bring it back to your own community. A domestic worker who has been abused, a friend who is struggling to make a living—use personal examples to illustrate how it affects people that they might know. Linking the Black Lives Matter movement with the Palestinian cause could also help them understand the broader issue of systemic oppression.

Come with ideas on how to actually make changes
If you parents are hearing you and are acknowledging that they should fight against racism too, focus on action. Ask your parents, “so what actions can we collectively take as a family?”.

Don’t be scared of damaging your relationship
Family loyalty is huge in Arab communities, and when political opinions differ between family members, it can feel like family ties are falling apart. But these intergenerational conversations are vital. Your parents probably invested a lot of energy into providing you with the life and comfort they’ve given you, and they might not understand why you’re trying to educate them. Always show respect and gratitude and be empathetic of their experiences. This is how you can then explain to them that evolving into a new environment is key, and that some of their behaviours make you feel uncomfortable and unsafe. Always remember, if the conversation isn’t going anywhere, accept that this might not be the right moment, and come back to it later. 

Set boundaries
If your parents really disregard that you’re trying to teach them about racism, then set boundaries. Kindly tell them that you don’t want to hear racist comments when you’re around them. And if they continue, speak up. Remind them that they’ve crossed your boundaries and you don’t appreciate it.

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