Blackface, a practice that keeps appearing in modern media, was a supposed entertainment device from a bygone era. It features white or light-skinned people caricaturing those of African descent, by darkening their faces with theatrical make-up.

While across much of the western world it no longer features in mainstream art or entertainment, in the Middle East, you do not have to go back far to find examples. Blackface and caricatured depictions of black people are still seen in the media, and in most cases, they are often not even seen as offensive.

Blackface can be found particularly in Egypt, which is home to a sizeable Nubian minority - a group of Africans indigenous to present-day Sudan.

"When we watch TV shows or movies, black people are always inferior. And blackface is an inferior, negative and racist concept which should not belong in the Arab world. We almost never speak about this segment of Arab society - black people," Maha Abdul Hamid, an academic and activist, tells Al Jazeera.

"The black person is a citizen in the Arab world but an invisible citizen. Why? Because power made him invisible."

Film critic Joseph Fahim argues that many in the Arab world have not acknowledged their own racism against black people in their society.

"We would never admit that we're racist. Lebanese would never admit they're racist. The Libyans would never admit they're racist. Even people from Sudan, they would never admit that they're racist like against their own black people. And so it was only through, you know, like reading and being exposed to media that once I realise okay something really awful is going on in here," Fahim says.

Underpinning this racist form of comedy is a denial of the Middle East's history of slavery - which was not formally abolished in Arab Gulf countries until 1970.

"I am sure that when people object to the idea that blackface is offensive in the Middle East, they're saying, we are not talking about the American south, we are not talking about plantation slavery, we're not talking about the same kind of abuses or the same scale that happened in the southern United States," Eve Troutt Powell, professor at the University of Pennsylvania, explains.

"However, the slave trade in the Middle East was huge. And the cultural impact of this slave trade has everything to do with black face in the Middle East."

The misrepresentation of black people has consequences off screen and in the real world.

"People have pulled my hair, spit on me, and thrown things at me," Fatima Ali, model and writer, tells Al Jazeera.

"People talk about me as though I don't understand Arabic - as though I don't know they are commenting about me."


Maha Abdul Hamid - academic and activist

Eve Troutt Powell - professor of Middle Eastern History, University of Pennsylvania

Joseph Fahim - film critic

Fatima Ali - activist, model and writer

Source: Al Jazeera News