The Qatari author should be more vocal about the racism in her own country
Layla Saad has now published two books titled ‘Me and White Supremacy’ — the first in January 2020, and the second in November 2020, this one described as a ‘guided journal’, and released just in time for the Christmas gift lists.
Saad — who also works as a life coach and spiritual mentor for business entrepreneurs — has received particularly glowing coverage in women’s magazines including Vogue, Marie Claire, Elle, and Glamour, and praise from white celebrities including Anne Hathaway, Elizabeth Gilbert (the author of ‘Eat, Pray, Love’), and Robin DiAngelo, who wrote the foreword to ‘Me and White Supremacy’.
The first version of the book entered the New York Times best seller list shortly after its publication in January, and experienced a surge in sales in June, following the death of George Floyd, the subject of an article that Saad wrote for The Guardian in that month:
Based on public statements like this, one would be forgiven for assuming that Saad is American, but no — as she has written in earlier blog posts, her family are originally from Oman, her mother was born in Zanzibar, and her father was born in Kenya.
Saad’s parents met while studying in Britain, where she was born. When Saad was fifteen, the family moved to Qatar because her father was “head-hunted for a job” and Saad completed her schooling at a British private school in Qatar before returning to the UK briefly to study law. She is now permanently settled in Doha with her husband and children.
In other words, Saad has no family connection to either America or West Africa. Nevertheless, her Instagram profile reveals a fascination with the black American experience, particularly the legacy of the transatlantic slave trade. Photos of foreign holidays and new clothes are interspersed with quotes from Martin Luther King, bell hooks, Audre Lorde, and other famous Americans, and Saad includes herself by appealing to a kind of Pan-African identity:
She is referring here to the transatlantic slave trade, not the Arab slave trade in East Africa which enslaved an estimated 17 million people between the 7th and 20th centuries. In fact, as far as I have been able to tell, Saad has never once commented on crimes, either historic or modern, committed in the country in which she has spent almost all her adult life.
Although Qatar officially outlawed slavery in 1952, there are estimated to be more enslaved people now living in the country than in almost any other worldwide and the Qatari government’s tolerance for the practice — which I have written about previously in these pages — has led the UN to threaten international sanctions.
It is quite possible that Saad is not directly implicated in any of these abuses. But her silence on the subject of this ongoing form of slavery is striking, given her own commitment to the idea of collective guilt.
Very few interviewers have thought to ask Saad about her Qatari residency, and it seems that her white liberal readership do not care much about her class or nationality. In fact, her false identification with black America has served Saad well, given her book sales this year, because she is responding to a lucrative and growing market that demands books on people enslaved in centuries past, but shows little interest in people enslaved today.