Thursday, January 26, 2012

Beirut bar cancels event inviting guests to dress as domestic workers

This screen shot shows the event details as posted on Facebook
The Daily Star, January 26, 2012, by Olivia Alabaster

BEIRUT: A bar in the neighborhood of Gemmayzeh has canceled an event, originally scheduled for this Friday, which invited guests to dress up as migrant domestic workers for the chance to win $100.

Event details encouraged bar-goers to, “this Friday night, be Sinkara or Milenga ... be Soumatra or Domma ... create your own maid costume, speak like them and look like a Philippino [sic], Bengladish [sic], Sri Lanka [sic] or any maid you want and definitely win 100 U.S. dollars in cash.”

The details of the event were originally posted late Tuesday evening on the bar’s Facebook group. A Lebanese organization, the Anti-Racism
Movement, then reposted the event on its blog, which soon drew much online criticism. The owner of the bar then removed all details of the event.

Speaking to The Daily Star Wednesday, the owner denied that the event was in any way racist. “You just put on a costume, it was supposed to be for fun. Some people misunderstood it and thought it was racist.”

On the emphasis on foreign nationalities in the posting, she said “We hadn’t meant it in that way at all. You didn’t have to dress as a foreigner, you could have just put on an apron and dressed as your mom.”

“We took the event down after two hours, as we realized people had misinterpreted it.”

Farah Salka, of the Anti-Racism Movement, called it one of the most shocking recent examples of racism that she has seen.

“I see examples of it all the time, but with this, I was just like ‘wow.’”

While happy that the event was removed so quickly, Salka said she was disappointed the owner had not apologized for posting it in the first place.

“I would love to buy her explanation that it was not intentionally racist, but how can it not be? When you are categorizing the 250,000 migrant domestic workers in this country as ‘them:’ Who is ‘them’?”

The event details also equated the $100 award for the best costume with the salary maids receive, writing: “They ... work all the month to get it,” but that bar-goers could claim the same amount back by “imitat[ing] them and win it in some few comedy moments.” Salka said this was “completely insensitive.”

It is time, Salka added, for a redefining of the word “racist” in Lebanon. “We need to revise the definition. Even the smallest details can be racist,” she said.

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