By: Malak Sekaly
Whenever we think of Egypt at its peak, our old TVs come to mind, playing black and white movies with Egyptian actors and actresses dominating the screen.
How gorgeous the ladies were back then, we think. And how liberated they must have been, with such short dresses and no trace of the veil whatsoever.
That’s Egypt at it’s best, we think. Where girls could wear short skirts and the streets of Cairo looked oh so clean.
What goes unnoticed however is the utter racism present at these times, especially in our favorite black and white movies. Have you ever stopped and considered why only dark colored actors were cast as servants, drivers… etc.? Or how the bawab would be the stereotypical Nubian man named Osman?
“Watch any Egyptian sitcom and tell me about the image of the Sudanese character,” said Algerian author Kamel Riahi, commenting on the racist portrayal of darker skinned individuals in Egyptian TV.
Even after the days of monarchy, racism did not disappear. A lot of people regularly mocked Egypt’s own former President Anwar El Sadat because of his dark skin and accused of not looking “Egyptian enough.”
Such racism that has been underlying Egyptian society has simply escalated today. We see this daily, when a dark-skinned woman walks down the street and young kids chase her and call her “shocolata,” something I have seen my own friends do. We see this when “zingy” has become an insult, with the lighter-skinned being praised for their beauty.
Anthropologist Elizabeth Smith clarifies in her work that Egypt does in fact have a racist problem and traces it back to the “golden age” of Egypt. From her anthropological work, Smith does in fact clarify that the darker an Egyptian is, the less attractive they are in society’s eyes.
Smith also points out that there is in fact racism in Egyptian TV, and how dark skinned individuals cannot be hosts, further substantiating that Egyptian TV and Egyptians across the board do have a problem with darker-skinned individuals.
This is also seen, as many don’t consider Nubians to be Egyptians, even though Nubia is in fact a part of Egypt. Smith suggests that Egyptians consider them African and thus considering them to be Egyptian would ‘expose Egypt’s Africanness, something Egyptians seem not to want’.
According to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights dark skinned African expats in Egypt regularly suffer from physical and verbal violence from general Egyptian citizens as well as authority figures.
It is about time to stop denying the fact that Egypt very clearly so has a racism problem that we can trace back to the era of fashion, liberty and cleanliness that is so naively portrayed on the Egyptian screen.
So no, the black and white movies do not portray the golden age of Egypt because numerous subliminal messages are entrenched in them to emphasize that only the lighter skinned are worthy of the main role. Just because the elite, upper class women could wear skirts more freely than nowadays, that does not mean this was the case across Egypt. This also does not mean that Egypt was at its peak of its equality, in terms of gender or of race.