We’re not racist, but she’s “black”
Her face was bleeding; she was sitting on the stairs at the entrance of a retail outlet in the Dekwaneh area. She was innocently waiting for the police, having thought that the outlet’s manager had already called them after he severely beat her. She had blood all over her face and clothes, but she didn’t allow anyone to come near her to check her injuries or wipe the blood from her face. She wanted the police to see the situation she was left in after she fell victim to racist violence.
Nafi – who came to Lebanon from Abidjan, Ivory Coast, 5 years ago – was not a thief. She was only shopping for training clothes with her sister in a well-known retail outlet store like most people do; she was getting ready and excited about going to the gym the next day. She almost forgot that some people in Lebanon could only see her as a potential thief, just because she has dark skin. Yes, to some people, she is only a “black” woman.
Beaten up on the street
“It was last Sunday. I was trying to find affordable training clothes. Malls in Lebanon are expensive for people with the income I get paid,” said Nafi. “I went to this shop – where I am a regular customer – because it sells name brand items at a lower price. I went inside holding a bag from a different shop. Nobody stopped me at the door. After a few minutes, I needed to use the bathroom, so I went there. Only few minutes later, one of the customer service employees started banging hard on the bathroom’s door. I opened the door to find a few employees waiting for me and accusing me of theft. Though I was very angry, I let them check the bag I had on me. Obviously, they didn’t find any stolen objects. I made sure to let them know that this was an act of racism and had I been Lebanese or ‘white,’ they would not have suspected anything.”
Accusing them of racism angered the store’s employees, specifically the manager. Nafi and her sister decided to leave. The second they walked out the store, one of the employees followed them and requested to check their bags again. Again, to avoid any trouble, the sisters let the manager invade their privacy and go through their bags. Once again, nothing stolen was found.
“You are a bad racist person,” was the last thing Nafi said before she was beaten up by the man. She was later told that he was the manager, or the supervisor. “When he hit me the first time, I fell on the floor. He kept beating me till I was all blooded. The blood scared some people. They took me inside to wipe the blood. They told me they called the police, but apparently nobody did.”
When I got to the store, Nafi was waiting for the man who beat her – who had disappeared after the incident – to show up again. She wanted to memorize his face before leaving, and she refused to leave before the police arrived.
The second beating
Some employees just wanted her to leave. Others were trying to calmly convince her to leave, as she was being helped by some customers who also wanted to avoid a new incident, until one racist employee shouts at her in a very demeaning way: “Yalla, leave now or I will cut you in half,” followed by a stream of insults and accusing her of being a “black prostitute,” before trying to hit her again.
Nafi and her sister went crazy. This time, they decided to fight back and not let this woman lay her hands on Nafi. They tried to defend themselves and hit her back before all the other employees joined their colleague and attacked the two ladies who were already blooded enough.
(The video of the incident was not published out of respect for the customers who did not want their faces to show, including Nafi.)
Beaten up again, this time by a group of angry racist employees, the two victims decided to leave the store and wait for the police – who never showed up – outside.
Cleaning up the mess
Consequently, the manager needed to clean up his own mess; he needed to make sure that the two ladies did not report what happened. He began conducting his own investigation to know who they were, their names and where they live. Unsurprisingly, the cleaning lady at the shop – who is from Sri Lanka – should have known them because, of course, they are all “black.”
The Sri Lankan lady did not know them because, one, Sri Lanka is not the same as the Ivory Coast, and second, not all foreigners in Lebanon know each other and have secret meetings where they all gather to conspire against the “pure” Lebanese race. Despite this, they definitely threatened her many times to speak up or else they will “call the police to arrest her and investigate with her.”
Suspecting that one of the customers already called the police, the manager had to do something. He called the police and we overheard him saying: “They were drunk and on drugs. They tried to make a mess in the shop, we stopped them and things calmed down. The problem is solved.”
Of course, he came back to me trying to convince me not to write anything about the incident because they “are not racist and this did not happen because the ladies were black, but because they were rude.”
It’s true, a store manager in Lebanon is allowed: to beat up a woman on the street, accuse her of theft, let his employees call her a “prostitute,” insult her and beat her up again; to call the police to tell them that she was drunk and on drugs; to threaten people who did not help him silence her and try to prevent her from getting justice. However, this is still not considered an act of racism and discrimination.
Myra Abdallah tweets @myraabdallah
Editor’s Note: The incident took place at Brands for Less. Our intention was not to protect the retail store. We have received inquiries from our readers about the store and hereby we are mentioning it.