Erin Byrd, Black Workers for Justice
“No there is no racism in Tunis. If they tell you there is they are lying. I have friends that are black, and they don’t mind when I call them n*gger”. This is a quote from an actual conversation I had with a Tunisian reporter at the World Social Forum. It occurred after leaving the session on Blacks in Tunisia at the forum, in the context of an interview he requested. I asked him about how blacks are treated in Tunisia. And received this stunning response.
I was told before I left to go to Africa that Tunisia would be a different experience than visiting the south or west Africa. But, even after being warned, I wasn’t really ready. I expected a sea of Blacks in Tunisia, but instead I saw only a few. Tunisia is a majority Arab country.
The WSF was held just four days after Tunisia’s first celebration of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, an event to raise awareness about discrimination against racial minorities in the country organized by the Association for Equality and Development (ADAM). ADAM is the first organization in the country to fight for the rights of Black Tunisians. It was formed in May 2012 as an outgrowth of Tunisia’s recent revolutionary transformation.
Tunisian Blacks, who make up 10 to 15 percent of the population according ADAM, confront discrimination on a daily basis. They are associated with slaves even today, although Tunisia has a history of slavery that includes Greeks, Romans, Turks and others. Slavery for others (non-Blacks, etc.) was abolished in 1816, the slavery of Blacks was not abolished until 1846.
Blacks in Tunisia have been repressed as the silent minority. This in part has been because the ratification of the constitution in 1956 abolished all forms of associations. I have always taken freedom of association for granted. Associations (organizations) like youth groups etc., in Tunisia have been outlawed and their leadership murdered in the past.
This has made it difficult to organize efforts to advance equality for Blacks in Tunisia. Currently, there are no Blacks in Parliament or in high administrative positions in the government, or executives leading major corporations. The current fight for ADAM and its leaders is focused on having language in the constitution that makes discrimination illegal and that calls for fair political representation in proportion to their population.
I left Tunisia feeling like Blacks in Tunisia are at the beginning of their own Civil Rights Movement and that the World Social Forum critical space for them to announce their presence to the world, articulate their demands, build international alliances, and seek international support. ADAM requested support from Blacks in the United States and across the African diaspora. They will need it and it’s critical that Black and all progressive organizations provide it.
ADAM can be reached via the following means.
ADAM: Association for Equality and Development
8 Rue Borj Bourguiba
+216 71 240 204
+216 71 240 201
BRIEF INFO ON GOALS:
Founded May 2012, for the equality and development of Black Tunisians.
- Defend the principles of justice, equality and tolerance between all the individuals and sections of society and fight against all the forms of segregation and discrimination.
- Combat marginalization and exclusion
- Support, in partnership with the official structures and the organizations of the civil society, the right of the Black minority on the legal, economic, cultural, and social levels.