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How Randa Abd Al-Aziz, a Black Iraqi, Had an Unexpected Career in TV News

BAGHDAD – Randa Abd Al-Aziz was relaxing in a cafe in Baghdad, making her friends laugh as she read aloud a cosmetic pamphlet in classical Arabic, the exaggerated formal language of speeches, official decrees – and TV anchors.

Overheard by a talent scout, Abd Al-Aziz quickly receives a completely unexpected and life-changing offer: How will she feel when she reads the news on television?

Abd Al-Aziz recounted the story of her discovery as she prepared for a recent broadcast. She tilts her face so a makeup artist can apply foundation and armor-like eye makeup to transform what she describes as her “baby face” into a stylish female anchor, a who not only present news but also make Iraq Mon history.

Abd Al-Aziz, 25, is the first black Iraqi to work on state television news and news channels at least since the United States toppled Saddam Hussein nearly two decades ago. (Television executives say they believe there were no Black state broadcasters during Hussein’s decades-long rule.)

Abd al-Aziz, who has no prior television experience and is only curious about the media, said: “I think it will only be for a few days and they will find it inactive and I will leave. She took her mother to her initial meeting with the network.

Ms. Abd al-Aziz’s journey from a cafe to an anchor chair has been a difficult one, with more than six months and 10 hours a day giving voice lessons and immersing herself in Iraqi and regional politics, topics that were previously uninterested.

“I worked on it. I tried to speak up, taking the time to follow the news,” she said, adding that she learned from every negative comment her tutors made to her. “This is what has made me progress.”

On a recent morning, she arrived on set early, selected her scripts for the noon main news, and read them before she confidently slid down her chair in front of the telephoto camera.

The comfort she feels now is a far cry from her first live broadcast in September when she said she was frozen with fear.

“I didn’t make a single mistake but when it was on the air, I burst into tears,” she said.

Her hiring last year came after a nationwide search by the head of the state media agency, who added her to the network’s roster of about 100 presenters, reporters and news presenter.

“We have at least 1.5 million African-Iraqi in Iraq,” said Nabil Jasim, 51, president of the Iraqi Media Network. “They need to see themselves reflected on TV.”

Mr. Jasim said her hiring shocked and upset some staff members and viewers, a negative response that highlights the deep-seated racism in Iraq, a country of about 40 million people.

In the country’s tribal-dominated political system, Black Iraqis have essentially no political representation. The Iraqi parliament does not have a single Black legislator. There are hardly any high-ranking Black officials in government ministries. As in other Arab countries, many Iraqis casually use racial slurs.

Most members of Iraq’s Black community are descendants of enslaved East Africans brought to the south coast of Iraq beginning in the 9th century, a slave trade that dragged longer than 1,000 years and ended in some Arab countries just a few decades ago.

In Iraq, slave labor was concentrated in the south, where there were reclamation jobs in the salt fields and date plantations. Much of Iraq’s Black population still lives in the southern part of the county in severe poverty and little formal education.

Abd Al-Aziz’s background is atypical for a black Iraqi: She grew up in a middle-class family in Baghdad, where her late father was a businessman and her mother now owns a shop. stationery goods. Ms. Abd Al-Aziz has a degree in agricultural economics and was working in an import distribution business when the network approached her.

Despite her hesitation, the recruiter convinced her to take the opportunity.

“He told me that there was an experiment, that they wanted to see all the colors on TV Iraqiya,” said Abd Al-Aziz, referring to the state broadcaster, where a poll by the University of The Baghdad study shows that the Iraqi network is the most widely monitored. The network features Turkmen and Kurdish and Syriac channels, in addition to programming mainly in Arabic.

Abd Al-Aziz said she had to first convince her mother to agree, and then accept the offer, thinking she might take a week before the network realized she couldn’t do it. .

“At first they said, ‘There’s no hope for her,’” Jasim said, describing the reaction of the producers assigned to work with her. “I said, ‘Just put her in front of the camera and leave the rest to us.'”

In a profession that relies heavily on looks, he’s sure Abd Al-Aziz has a look just right for television. And the makers of the networks agreed with their boss: The camera loves her.

When Black Iraqis appear on television, they are often musicians, dancers or in comedic roles. Mr Jasim said he wanted to dispel those stereotypes and was considering a political program for Ms Abd al-Aziz to host.

While the Black Lives Matter movement has spread over many parts of the worldIraq only had a new movement for black rights.

There is no consensus among black Iraqis even what to call them. Some dismiss the terms Black or Iraqi African as divisive. Many have settled with the Arabic term “asmar,” or brunettes.

When asked what she considers the best term, Abd Al-Aziz said, simply: “Iraqi.”

“Iraq is about diversity. We have more than one origin. Your nationality is enough,” she said.

Abd Al-Aziz was the only black student in her class in high school, but she said she didn’t feel a lack of opportunity growing up. When asked about the discrimination faced by the broader black community in Iraq, she said she doesn’t know enough yet to feel comfortable commenting.

“I just love talking about what I’ve seen,” she said. However, she added, she is determined to learn more.

“In the past, I was not interested in political realities,” she said. Now, she is questioning race and power in Iraq.

She said some of her Arab friends use skin-whitening creams and have suggested she do the same.

“I always say love myself. This is me and this is my color, and if you have any questions about it, ask God,” she said.

If Ms. Abd Al-Aziz did not feel deterred by racism, it would have held back hundreds of thousands of other Iraqis.

Slavery was officially abolished in Iraq in 1924; In Saudi Arabia, it was 1962. In Oman, slavery was legal until 1970. Throughout the Arab world, Black people are still commonly referred to as “abeed,” which means slaves.

Although the word also refers to the servants of God and is part of many Muslim names, using it to describe a Negro is derogatory.

Abdul Hussein Abdul Razzak, a Black journalist and co-founder of the Free Iraqis Movement, an association founded in 2017 to defend the rights of black Iraqis, said: “Other Iraqis treat us as if we were still slaves.

Despite years of writing for government newspapers as a freelancer, Mr. Abdul Razzak, 64, said he was never employed by any of them.

“I was a good journalist but no one gave me a chance to work,” he said.

Black rights advocates say that many black students drop out of school because of bullying by students and teachers. A 2011 survey reported an illiteracy rate among black Iraqis of 80%, a figure more than double the national average, and believed to have remained virtually unchanged since.

Thawra Youssif, a black Iraqi living in Basra, said: “My aunt could not read or write but she often told me that our school diploma would be the weapon in our hands.

Ms. Youssif, 62, who holds a doctorate in theater, said she was one of the few black Iraqis in Basra, Iraq’s second-largest city, to hold a graduate degree.

“If you ask them about Malcolm X, no one will know him,” she said. “If you can’t read, you can’t search the internet for your roots. My people need education to overcome the legacy of enslavement.”

Having mastered television, Abd Al-Aziz said she is now slowly coming up with the idea of ​​​​becoming an inspirational role model for black Iraqis.

“I am trying to show that my example can be a hope for people,” she said. “That the color of our skin will not stop us.”

Nermeen al-Mufti contributed reporting.

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/04/world/middleeast/iraq-tv-black-news-anchor.html How Randa Abd Al-Aziz, a Black Iraqi, Had an Unexpected Career in TV News

Fry Electronics Team

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