'My Sri-Lankan is Lebanese': using humour in the fight against racism

 
Racism directed at black and Asian domestic staff is common in Lebanon. In an attempt to change people’s attitudes, our Observer broadcasts short, funny and offbeat amateur films dealing with racism on the internet.
 
The scene shows an ordinary moment in the life of a middle-class Lebanese family: the lady of the house is sitting in front of the television being served coffee by her maid. Raising her voice, she shouts at her maid to return to the kitchen. Nothing exceptional except for one detail: the mistress is Sri-Lankan and the maid is Lebanese!
 
It was by inverting these two roles that Wissam Al-Saliby, director of the short film "Sirlankiyti lebnaniyeh" ("My Sri-Lankan is Lebanese") chose to tackle the problem of racism in Lebanon. A  Blogger and activist in the fight against racism, Wissam made this film two months ago as part of a workshop organized by Shankaboot, an interactive website that broadcasts amateur short films and videos made in Lebanon. The film was broadcast on ShankabootYouTube and the blog of the "Anti-Racism Movement".
 
Lebanon is home to more than  200,000 foreign workers,  most of whom are Sri-Lankan, Philippino and Ethiopian. Nevertheless, a number of associations have been rallying against this influx through campaigns and online petitions.
Contributors

“Humour is a weapon that can turn out to be very efficient when fighting for a cause”

 
Ali Fakhry is an activist within the antiracism movement.
 
 
Ten of us attended the workshop, including the young Sudanese man whom we see in the video, and the Sri-Lankan who plays the role of the lady of the house. In fact, it’s about a maid who has worked in Lebanon for 10 years. She’s called Dolika. We included mobile phones in the film because we wanted to show that anyone can support this cause, using whatever tools they have access to. Similarly, these films are only broadcast online in order to show how the Internet can be used to support important causes. 
 
The director’s use of role reversal aims, in a humorous way, to reveal how domestic staff are treated. But there is also a criticism, conveyed through the title and the dialogue, of the Lebanese stereotypes of black and Asian people. For many Lebanese “Sri-Lankan” is synonymous with “domestic staff”. As a result, every maid is, by extension, a Sri-Lankan. No longer associated with the nationality, the word has become a synonym of maid. Hence the title of the short film, “My Sri-Lankan is Lebanese”, and the question asked by of one of the protagonists: “You're Sri-Lankan. What nationality is she?” [1’16].
 
Human Rights Watch has already produced some sarcastic short films for their campaigns against racism. Our videos are just amusing. Humour is a weapon that can turn out to be very efficient when fighting for this type of cause, as it enables people to underline the absurdity and the ridiculousness of racist behaviour.”

The short film "My Sri-Lankan is Lebanese"

 
This article was written in collaboration with Sarra Grira, a journalist at France 24.

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