Wednesday, May 2, 2018

As an Arab: What if Kanye was (partially) right about slavery?

The martyred hero Saddam Hussein - a keyring found by a friend in Amman
In case you did not hear Mr. Kim Kardashian, otherwise known as rapper-designer Kanye West has just said "“When you hear about slavery for 400 years, for 400 years? That sounds like a choice. You was there for 400 years and it’s all of y’all. It’s like we’re mentally in prison. I like the word prison because slavery goes too direct to the idea of blacks. Slavery is to blacks as the Holocaust is to Jews. Prison is something that unites as one race, blacks and whites, that we’re the human race.”
Cue the many many offended people, and rightfully so.
During one of my visits to the US, I saw a black woman at Walmart with a t-shirt that said "I am the descendant of cotton pickers", and only very recently a teenager got banned from his prom and graduation for holding a promposal (proposal for prom) that said "If I was black, I’d be picking cotton, but I’m white so I’m picking u 4 prom?"
Look it needs no anthropological genius to discover how bad the relations between races are in the United States at this point, day on day on we hear of black people being shot at simply for knocking and asking for school directions, and so on and so forth.
But I am digressing, and before anyone brandishes the righteous ethics book - a course I took at university - sadly, there is a small element of truth to what West was saying.
In a conversation I had with a Syrian intellectual a few years back, he was expressing some unorthodox views about the matter which he summed up with an Arabic proverb "el kohl a7la min el 3ama" (putting Kohl on your eyes is better than being blind). The closest translation means "better put up with a bad situation than be completely in a horrific one" or - if I am to borrow a different English proverb "better the devil you know than the one you don't".
Don't believe me? Two words: Arab Spring.
The consequences of what was called Arab Spring ended up exchanging one dictatorship for another, bringing new ones to the region and otherwise fortifying established regimes.
Was slavery evil? You bet.
Could slaves have done something about it? Most likely not.
Then how come West has a grain of truth in what he says? Just ask any Arab population about their despot, about how after years of trying they gave up, about how it all became an established system ingrained in them, and you get the answer.