These shows are indicative of a much deeper problem with race in the Arab world. Even more harmful is the mistreatment of expat workers from Africa and Asia through the kafala system, which gives employers broad power over low-wage workers.

In countries like Kuwait, the vast majority of the labor force is made up migrants from Asia and Africa who often work as maids and construction workers—and end up caught in a system of racial hierarchy and exploitation.  The local population often has various skin shades, but lighter skin is preferred. In Egypt, the dark-skinned Nubian community routinely complains of racism and prejudice, writes journalist Mat Nashed: “The Arabic word for ‘slave’ is often colloquially used to address black Africans in the Middle East. Just think about the uproar—and how justified the anger—when racists refer to Arabs in an equally degrading way.”

Countries without a racially segregated past will at times try to absolve themselves from responsibility for fighting racism. Or—as the Netherlands does with Zwarte Piet (“Black Pete”)—they will point to their current diversity as proof that their society isn’t racist, even when dressing up as a much-loved Christmas mascot presents a clear example of blackface. Just as China has been forced to reckon with its race relations after outcry over blackface skits and its portrayal of Africans, the Arab world needs to face up to its own prejudice.

Correction: A previous version of this article had an incorrect spelling for the name of journalist Abdirahim Saeed. 

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