Economic Resentment, Not Racism
Throwing the words “racism” and “hate” at those worried about the large Syrian presence is wrong and irresponsible
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 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