Racism in Tunisia: a problem of social education or an issue of legislation

Three students from Congo were harshly attacked in a metro station in Tunis because of their black skin. This incident renews the debate over whether racism in tunisia is a real issue or simply a fake problem raised by activists to draw the attention to some rare isolated cases of aggression against blacks in Tunisa.

In fact, after the Revolution, Tunisian activists started discussing problems that used to be a taboo. Among these issues, black segregation.  In the past,  Tunisians pretended to be unified but reality proved the opposite. In the time of Bourghiba and even in the era of Ben Ali, Tunisians lived under an ideology called sacred social unity, a forced ideology adopted by politicians to convince people to accept each others at school, at work, in streets and everywhere.

In closed areas or in some private spaces, people show different behaviour. They look down at black people and feel superior to them. Despite all these attempts to hide racism as a real fact,  some incidents were raised as public debate. In 2010, a TV commentator described an African football player as  “wsif” , a derogatory word in Tunisian dialect meaning negro. The commentator was dismissed from his position and most tunisians  refused such a word.

After the fall of Ben Ali regime problems of racial, gender and regional segregation were discussed as real problem that may threaten the unity of Tunisian society. In a TV program in a private television about racism in Tunisia, many instances were shown about separate buses for blacks and whites so as to divide the two races and make no possible contact between them. In some regions of Gabes and Kebili, blacks and whites cannot marry each other and once a match between people of different  coulour happens the couple faces problems and most often the marriage comes against families’ will.

In another program in Aljazeera English about the same topic, some activists talked about a pupil subjected to racial prejudice from her primary school teachers and a black football layman insulted by team supporters. The program gave testimonies of sociologists and psychiatrists about the origins of racism and its effect  on people.

Experts claim that racial segregation  dated back to old history of Tunisia when blacks  suffered from social segregation and treated as slaves. This treatment is still inherited till our modern history. As blacks, according to many activists, get only lower jobs like restaurants or café servants. No TV presenter is black or a minister according to Najiba Hamrouni, the fomer head of journalists union who passed away recently. Among the events of historical existence of racism in Tunisia is the family names in some regions like Atig and Chouchen that denote both the colour and the lower status of black people.

In Tunisia, however an old law dating back to 1846 ended slavery in the country. The act was considered revolutionary at the time as it came before the international declaration of  London in 1848 that forbade slavery in the world. So slave trade in Tunisia was ended before many European countries that are now examples of democracy and respect for human rights.

This old act, however, can never be a safeguard in front of racist practices in Tunisia. This is why human rights activists asked for a strict law that totally prevents such practices and some others asked parliament members to enact an amendment in the 2014 Constitution to ban racism and racial practices believing that the existing laws do not really act against racism. But many Tunisians still believe that racism cannot only be solved through laws and decrees but education is highly important. Children should be taught to accept different people whether they are blacks or who speak in different dialect or from different gender because even in the U.S.A. where strict laws were passed to ban racial practices, many incidents proved their failure. A number of black people were killed by the police without taking strict measures against them and everybody still remember the electoral compaign of the newly elect president Donald Trump built on racism and prejudices against blacks and immigrants.

No one can deny that racism in Tunisia is a reality and those claiming that it is a fake problem are only hiding the truth. Racism against black sub-Saharan students is only an example because Tunisians are racists even between each others. It is also very important to note that  racism in Tunisia is only a category. People also suffer from gender inequality and also regional prejudice.

In order to face this problem, it is very important to have pieces of legistation that outlaw racism. In the process of eradicating racism from Tunisian society, we should include parts of school curriculum to raise pupils’ consciousness about the origin and impact of racism and vary the arguments from religion to sociology and psychology because different fields can intervene in dealing with such an issue.

Ramzi Rhimi

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