Economic Resentment, Not Racism

Throwing the words “racism” and “hate” at those worried about the large Syrian presence is wrong and irresponsible

— Not out to get her —

There’s a little war of YouTube videos going on in Lebanon right now. The first one is by Annahar newspaper, where Lebanese citizens on the street were expressing concern about the amount of Syrians in the country (a topic that I wrote about in my previous article), and our country’s inability to cope. The second video is a response to that video, basically shaming the people in the first video for being a bunch of racist haters (read the update below). As I watched the second video, I realized that although there are some causes for concern, critics are confusing economic resentment with racism.


The kind of economic resentment expressed in Annahar’s video is an international phenomenon. It is happening in the USA (resentment of cheap Mexican labor and resentment of outsourcing to places like India). It is happening in Europe (resentment of cheap Turkish and north African employees), and it’s even happening in Africa, where people are beginning to resent cheap imported Chinese labor.

This phenomenon happens when a country with relatively well paid workers gets an inflow of “foreigners” who can do the same jobs of locals but who get paid much less. The resentment happens when people begin to realize that the government’s salaries and services are becoming scarcer. The X amount of dollars that the government used to spend on free schooling and health care will now have to be divided among a larger group of people. Salaries go down and services begin to deteriorate as schools get more pupils and hospitals get longer waiting lines. Employers begin laying off Lebanese employees in favor of cheaper –and sometimes better– Syrian employees. This creates resentment, and people will start saying that they are more deserving of the government’s limited resources.

The key here is to understand why people think they deserve the government’s money more than the foreigners. It’s not because they are racist, haters, or chauvinists. It’s because unlike the foreigners, the Lebanese pay taxes to the government, and it is those taxes that pay for services that are now being shared.

Ironically, the people who are most enthusiastically sharing the second video on facebook are the same people who support the union movement, a movement that would declare war on the government if it decided to employ Syrian teachers instead of Lebanese ones in public schools. Would that make the union movement “racist?”.

Real racism

Real racism is when people fundamentally believe that they are better than other people for superficial reasons like skin color or accent. For example, banning dark-skinned people from swimming in Lebanese pools is a real form of racism. Not all the people in Annahar’s video are innocent (some exhibit a real racist discomfort with the other), but complaining that you couldn’t get a job or government service because of others is not racism.

Update: I was informed that the second video was not a response to the first, but an older video that was repurposed in social media as a response to Annahar’s video

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  • Salim

    Who cares what I’m being called. Lebanon cannot support Syrian or any other refugees.

    • asasdq

      Buy Syria can however support you when you escaped the Israeli war on Lebanon in 2006. Lebanon is a cut part of Syria if you don’t know stupid !

      • Mustapha

        This blog doesn’t tolerate name-calling, but there are reasonable responses to your points.

        Point 1: Syria is larger than Lebanon, and the Lebanese were guests in Syria for just a month during the war. The Syrians have been in Lebanon for two years now, and only now did some complaining begin.

        Point 2: Lebanon may have been cut-out of Syria, but maybe Syria was cut out of Iraq, and all were cut out of the ottoman empire. Bottom line, we don’t care about history. Borders are borders, and the present matters more than the past..

  • TAC

    Mustapha, it seems to me as if a big part of argument boils down to ” it happens in the state and Europe too, so it is not racism. ”

    I do believe it is racism (more specifically Xenophobia) even if the same happens between the USA and Mexico or other countries. And I totally understand that it is caused by Economic Resentment.

    Saying ” the government should tax syrian workers entering the job market” is *not* a racist comment caused by economic resentment.

    Saying “other countries must re-open their borders and allow refugees ” is *not* a racist comment caused by the same concerns ….

    Saying ” we should close the borders and not care about the Syrians trying to escape war” is a xenophobic comment caused by economic resentment.

    Saying ” Syrians are not allowed out after 8 pm ” is a xenophobic solution caused by security concerns.

    it is possible that all four statements above sound the same to some people but to they seem completely different to me.

    And you are completely right some people in the annahar video expressed some legitimate concerns without being racists and other were not so innocent.

    Unfortunately and i think it is interesting to note, lots of people in the annahar video are just school kids that are just mirroring their parent’s sentiments and words and learning hatred without having the economic worry in the back of their heads.

  • Sareen

    Thanks for this post. I’ve been struggling to explain to people the difference between “racism” and worry about the economy for a while now but you put it more eloquently. I don’t like it when people throw around the word “racist” so easily when they don’t know the actual meaning and implication of the word.

  • Beirut Drive-by

    A few summers ago, that one summer when things were good in Lebanon…when was that…maybe 2009….anyway, at that time, lots and lots of Lebanese expats and gulf tourists showed up. Economically it was great but the phrase i remember reading was this: “Lebanon is creaking under the weight….”. You could almost hear the floor of Lebanon’s delicate infrastructure(a word used loosely) starting to give way. That was then and here we are now under greater strain just to keep the lights on and at a very high price. The struggle to keep the water flowing and the power on is making its way up the economic ladder as well as it becomes more expensive and scarcer. The struggle of daily life is one that most Lebanese have gotten used to and have somehow adapted to the total disregard of their government. It was with sadness and silent relief that we said farewell to our guests in 2009 but it seems there’s no relief in sight for our current guests. I agree with you, Mustapha, it’s not racism, it’s just that the cupboards are bare.

  • george g

    the vast majority of tax money comes from VAT, which means all people in Lebanon pay for government services, citizen or no. your argument is null and void.

  • Craig

    The kind of economic resentment expressed in Annahar’s video is an international phenomenon. It is happening in the USA (resentment of cheap Mexican labor and resentment of outsourcing to places like India).

    I think that’s part right, when it comes to “undocumented workers”, which we have many millions of in the US, especially in the southwest of the country. It’s not just that it’s “cheap” labor, it’s illegal labor which means neither employer or employee is paying taxes if they do it on the sly. If the illegal worker is using fake documents to work then they are paying taxes, at least, but at the same time they are happy to have a job where nobody looks to closely at their credentials, so they will accept very poor pay and atrocious working conditions that no American would be willing to put up with. And at the same time a large number of un-assimilated living and working off the grid has a very detrimental impact on neighborhoods and quality of life for the average citizen.

    And yeah, American companies outsourcing American jobs to foreigners in foreign countries just because they can turn a bigger profit margin exploiting cheap labor in countries where workers have extremely low standards of living and very little, if any, workplace regulation on how employers can treat them… not much to like about that, is there? The good news is those greedy corporations end up losing big in the long run when the foreigners they are taking advantage of learn how to produce their wares without them. But that’s not really good news for either American workers or American companies, is it? It just means the perps end up eating a shit sandwich, too, in the long run :)

  • Lebanese

    What the helll….in lebanon if you are dark skinned you are not allowed to hit the swimming pool ……oh my fucking god…….ok reminder the president of the most powerful and advanced country in the world is BLACK ….guess what lebanese…..animals u will stay