As an American who has traveled over the years outside the U.S. I’ve found that one of the things most often thrown my way are charges of racism in our society. No arguments there…but I also have found that racism exists everywhere, although it’s not always as clear cut as it has been in the U.S., and that it is almost always denied.

Algeria is a country where skin color is varied, ranging from the very dark to the whitest of white. These variations can even exist (and often do) within the same family. Like other North African countries, Algerian society values and grants social privilege to those who are perceived, rightly or wrongly, of being of the “purest” stock, and the darker the skin and the curliest the hair the lower on the totem pole.

From the tiniest store to the largest pharmacy’s shelves, skin-whitening products are prominently placed.

I have witnessed the importance deemed to skin color within the family, where, when I mention my affection for one niece who I feel is extremely beautiful, my comment is always dismissed with a pitying smile and the word “cahlouche,” which means dark-skinned. Another relative recently had a baby who is the picture of health with his lovely light brown skin and curly hair…same reaction when I ask how he is: “Cahlouche,” they say, as if to say “Poor thing!”

In another North African family the son married someone with much darker skin than the rest of the family, and she is clearly treated as lower class even though her family is relatively of the same social status.

North Africans are clearly subject to the most insidious forms of racism already; how sad that there is further racism which is self-imposed due to something as insignificant as skin color.

1 comment:

Nouri said...

I agree that this is a problem (being one called 'callouche" myself coming up), and this is a problem in all Middle Eastern societies.
One finds it especially bad among Gulf Arabs and Sudanese (because slavery is of so recent existence). It is not as bead in Algeria, mostly because the old social ways were destroyed by France, including slavery and most ethnic and "racial" distinctions (apart from actual color). My mother is Lebanese, and is particularly dark for an eastern Arab, and she has taken note of Lebanese attitudes towards "abeed" for as long as I can remember.