The Arab world is diverse but lacks people who accept and celebrate differences.
This is evident when we talk about racism in the region, especially when it comes to people of color. Anti-black racism has long been a problem in our (and other) countries but it is rarely discussed.
Regional TV dramas, films, and online content feature dialogue ridiculing Arab blacks and try to pass these unacceptable insults as a form of "comedy." There's also never been a shortage of performers who donned a "blackface" on screen.
Unfortunately, in the world we live in, some like to brush this issue aside but it's nothing to make light of as it affects the lives of millions who live in countries including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Libya, and Algeria to name a few.
We spoke to a few of them and they told us all about their experiences with racism. Their stories are harrowing but paint a poignant image of why things need to change in the region.
"When I tell people I am Lebanese, they laugh in my face"
Lina is a Lebanese-Nigerian entrepreneur based in Lebanon, a country where she has continuously struggled to feel accepted. The 31-year-old was born to a Lebanese father and a Nigerian mother.
She says her parents met and got married in Nigeria but later decided to move back to Lebanon, a decision she feels ruined her life.
"I've lived here for decades but I've always felt like an outcast because I am black. I am Lebanese, I speak the language but you won't believe how shocked some are when I converse with them. And when I tell people I am Lebanese, they laugh in my face," she said.
Lina has had her fair share of unacceptable racist experiences that have left her at her wits' end. She often questions why Lebanese people think they're superior to every other nationality and race.
"Racism exists all over the world, yes. But at least in other countries people get called out on being racist. In Lebanon, you can insult someone for being black in public and no one will stand up to you. This is outrageous and if it doesn't change, I don't think I can continue to live in my country any longer," she added.
When asked what she believes was the most traumatizing racist incident she faced, she explained that it took place at a local resort. Lina was in a pool when she overheard two women talking. Both of them thought she couldn't understand Arabic and were loudly questioning how managers "let her in the pool."
"I understood every word and felt absolutely humiliated. They referred to me in an Arabic word that translated into 'slave,' and thought it was disgusting for them to be sharing a pool with me. I didn't say a word, I was just paralyzed and I don't know what happened but I think it was shock. After I went back home that day, I cried my heart out. I hope they read this and know that to this day, it hurts," she said.
Lina thinks what keeps her going is the fact that she's surrounded by a tight-knit circle of family and friends in the country. However, she expressed her worries over domestic workers and foreigners who have to deal with even more horrible racist incidents all alone.
"Anti-black racism is unbearable in Egypt"
Speaking to StepFeed, 23-year-old Ayman says anti-black racism is rampant in Egypt though a huge part of the North African country's population is black.
The university graduate's harrowing experiences with racism date back to his early school years and are traumatizing, to say the least.
"My classmates would call me 'chocolate head,' and refer to me as 'Sudanese,' because they assumed all black people come from Sudan. The bullying is constant and unrelenting. I feel it even at this point in my life," he said.
Ayman says he hopes he can migrate somewhere where he'll be free of racism because he simply cannot imagine starting a family in his home country.
"I know racism is a major issue everywhere but I feel that no matter where I go, it can't be worse than it is in Egypt. This is why I'd never allow myself to bring a child into this situation. If I am ever to start a family it has to be in a place where I am of value regardless of my race."
"They want us to be ashamed but I am a Saudi black man and I am proud"
Millions of Saudi blacks face racism on a daily basis, 28-year-old banker Abdul Aziz told StepFeed.
The young man explained that things differ for individuals depending on where they live in the kingdom. In most cities, racism against people of color is, unfortunately, alive and well. Even as a child, Abdul Aziz was made to feel "inferior" and carried that with him well into his adulthood.
"I was called names, kids swore at me and would call me 'black,' thinking that's an insult when it's just the color of my skin. They want us to be ashamed but I am a Saudi black man and I am proud," he said.
Abdul Aziz says that when he approached his family about getting married, they made it clear he would only be able to marry someone of the same race.
"They were worried for me and wanted to protect me from being rejected. My father told me 'blacks can't marry non-blacks in Saudi Arabia.' He didn't say they don't, he said they can't. This sums it all up, there are so many things we can't do because we're black. It's 2019, this must end," he added.
"Just watch how the media portrays us here and you'll get the point"
When asked about her experiences as a black Saudi woman, 29-year-old Dalia summed them up using one word: "Insulting."
"From the way I was treated at school, to the way I am treated in society and the way I am portrayed in the media, all I can say is that I am insulted and angry. Just watch how the media portrays us here and you'll get the point," she explained.
The young woman sent us a Twitter thread featuring shocking advertisements and media clips that further express her point. Every single one of them exasperates and consolidates the existing racist rhetoric permeating this region.
"We're portrayed as either, evil/scary or comic. Want to make people laugh, bring out a few black women to dance and chant. Want to scare them? Bring out a few black men. This is what we see on screens and it's not just humiliating, it's repulsive, disgusting and unacceptable," she added.
Dalia believes that Arab blacks will only start changing things for the better when they take a strong stand against the way they're portrayed in art, media, and popular culture.
"He looked at me and called out: 'Yal aswad'"
Ibrahim is a 36-year old Kuwaiti man who has lived through years of hardships because he's black.
He stresses that not all Kuwaitis are anti-black racists because Kuwaiti blacks have always been part of the population. However, he notes that some are still adamant on "degrading people of color."
"I remember the bullying I endured during my high school years. One classmate was particularly upset that I was in his class and always hurled insults at me. There was this one time when he looked at me and called out: 'Yal aswad,' which literally translates into 'hey black person.' Everyone started laughing as if it was an insult. That's what they think, that being black is an insult, that's how small they are," he said.
Ibrahim told us that things are even worse for this era's generation because they're exposed to online trolls and racist content. The father-of-one says he tries his best to protect his 6-year-old son from being affected by racist encounters.
"Me and his mother are teaching him to be accepting, loving and kind to people regardless of their differences. I think it all starts at home. Had those kids at my school been raised better, they would've known better," he added.
To Ibrahim, the problem lies in our societies as a whole and in the way we are taught to view people as inferior or superior based on their race. He believes that real change begins within communities and snowballs further.