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Critical Race Theory and the Representation of Pakistani Women


Critical race theory (CRT) emerged from critical legal studies in North America and it was used to bring to light the binary opposition of white supremacy/black oppression that was in legal and social policy structures (Price, 2009). CRT has been described to be a revolutionary and intellectual movement. CRT disrupts past and present institutional arrangements that oppress, subjugate or discriminate on the basis of race. CRT draws from number of relevant and necessary disciplines for a transdisciplinary approach of theory and praxis regarding racism in the society. Research topics that are dominated by what could be seen to be elitists Eurocentric social science are one of the targets of this transformation give the fact that, and as argued by Delgado and Stefancic (2013), any standpoint on racism and race must be based on the ability to offer resistance to racism and all its forms. This essay therefore presents an argument on CRT and its use in the representation of Pakistani women. This will be done through use of various tenets of CRT among them, color imagery, intersectionality, and counter-storytelling. Arguments will be raised and supported through review of relevant literature.

CRT has been used by the wider social sciences for examination of the permeation and entrenchment of racial discrimination in any society (Lightfoot, 2010). The theory has been critiques from some quarters for not providing an overarching theory but rather an intellectual movement and for provision of a miscellaneous analysis framework that can be utilized for studying diverse forms of discrimination. This notwithstanding, CRT has provided an essential capability to social researcher to investigate the social phenomena of marginalization and social exclusion by analyzing through a vertical dissection down a group of macro-level social policy to the micro-level personal layers that are made up of experiences. Through CRT, and in particular the vertical dissection to the personal experiences, the politico-social-spatial context of racial discrimination is brought to light with ease.



According to Delgado and Stefancic (2012), this CRT tenet indicates the multidimensionality nature of oppressions and takes into consideration that race alone is not a strong enough basis for disempowerment. There are various factors which must come into play for discrimination to ripen, and in the current context, for Pakistan women, these factors include sex, class, culture, religion, and national origin. These factors combine differently from one case to another, either at the macro-level or the micro personal level, to bring about discrimination (Bell, 1995). Under this tenet, the basis for discrimination of Pakistani women without their country or in the Middle East in general, especially in the west i.e. Europe or America, is based on not specifically as Pakistani women, but more as Arab women from the Middle East.

These various aspects on which discrimination is founded are either from the racist’s person or from the discriminated person. For example, while culture, religion, residency, and sex are aspects sourced from the person being discriminated, other key aspects include stereotyping, misconception, or pure ignorance which originate from the racists person (Said, 1995). With regard to these factors from the racists person, it is important to understand how the west, America and Europe came to know the Arab women in general and how they first perceived her. The first few travelers to the Arab world from the West, contributed enormously to the negative perception of the Arab woman, not because she deserved it, but because this view was comparative to eurocentrism (Said, 1995). As a result, the lifestyle of the Arab woman in general was not taken and understood in its own context, but as a factor to the “accepted” and “standard” western lifestyle of the western woman and her place in the society (Harris, 1993).

This Eurocentric and negative view of the Arab woman has been extended to the Pakistan woman and in the modern day, it is being furthered by the western media (Gans, 1979). Media today has a greater and important role of informing the masses, and as argued in various literatures, the media has a strong stake in creating mass opinion (Galtung and Ruge, 1965; Gans, 1979), and in this case, it created a negative and discriminative opinion of the Arab women through reportage embedded with discrimination. One of these is the misconception of the Arab culture, especially religion and its impact on the woman.

The most popular and thus the dominant religion for Pakistan women is Islam, these women are Muslims and their live in Islamic societies. It is important to acknowledge that, because of the strong Islamic stands in these countries, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan, it is popularly and wrongly so, believed that the women in these countries have to face and undergo the cultural and religious requirements of these; arranged marriage, an almost blanket prohibition from doing everything by self, and a mandatory wearing of the hijab and in general full-body cover. These are generally misconceptions of the religion for example, arranged marriage is practiced in India and their practiced and dominant religion isn’t Islam (Said, 1995). The hijab in general has been misunderstood by the western as a feature of women oppression, which is a great point of Eurocentric ignorance because the veil worn by Muslim women in public givens them privacy and freedom rather than oppression (Said, 1995), and this explains why there is not law to enforce the veil in many Islamic societies.

The other element discussed herein which is a source of racial discrimination for Pakistani women outside their country and in particular in Europe is basically their residence in Arab countries. According to Said (1995), this is typical orientalism which has been created by the first travelers to the east then augmented by Orientalists who have never visited the east about Pakistani women. As stated by Said, such Orientalists include a German poet Goethe who didn’t even travel to the east, Flaubert a novelist who never spent enough time in an Islamic society to understand the culture enough. While the problem is that these writers wrote misleading literature, the tragedy is that their books have been used by other writers as the basis for their writings, thus creating a generational misconception, which is very hard to change (Barfoot and D’haen, 1998; Behdad, 1994). Pakistani women in Europe, regardless of their purpose of visiting will be approached and viewed in a discriminative manner basically because of stereotypes that are attached to their national residence.


Color imaging

Color imaging is a tenet of CRT which has been used as a result of the fact that racial discrimination has been and is mainly, even in today’s context, based on ‘blackness’ of the person being discriminated. This is based on the fact that, the initial context of CRT was to analyze discrimination of African-Americans in North America (Crenshaw et al., 1995). With respect to Pakistani women in Europe, the aspect of color might in many occasions be not the primary cause of racial discrimination, but their culture, and in particular, the aspect of clothing. That notwithstanding and given the dynamism of racial discrimination as argued by Gates (2014) is his definition of racial discrimination that; while an African-American will be racially discriminated probably in an employment opportunity, an Arab will be discriminated as not being white in security operations.

Pakistan women in Europe are constantly victims of stereotypes that have been present. There is little knowledge of these women’s status by virtue of their being women as well as in the general context of their being Arab women from the Middle East (Behdad, 1994).  As a result of this, and other supporting factors, the image of the Arab woman in general in Europe and the west in general is usually used as a sexual symbol. As a result of this discriminative image, the Arab women has been used in different forms of western literature as bosomy belly dancers leering out their clear veils, or as disposable harem maidens closeted in the women’s quarters of palaces (Barfoot and D’haen, 1998). In the streets of European cities, the standard image for the Arab woman is one of a shapeless bundle of black that is veiled from head to toes, even at times, their eyes. While this image could be true for the few staunch adherents of the Islamic doctrine on clothing, it is not representative of the general Arab women. To counter this aspect of racial discrimination, these women have tried to change the color of their veils from black to white among other colors, to no significant impact. The Arab women have, in general, been represented in western literature as a plain image. Based on this image, the attached attributes are soundless, soulless, without identity, un-civilized (civilized being taken to be the adoption of western lifestyle), non-caring about their beauty by not bathing, combing their hair is it has been represented in the many paintings of the Arab woman in western literature of the eighteenth century, and powerless always imprisoned behind the veil and appendaged to their husbands or kin which renders them always mute (Yegenoglu, 1998).

Paintings are one of the most recognized and very important factors that are used to reflect on image, and mainly if the image is realistic enough to be easily recognized and interpreted even by the simplest person. Paintings thus are clearer in the transfer of knowledge and information as compared with text. Eurocentric orietalist paintings which were based mainly on imagination played a major function in portraying the Arab woman as a sexual figure (Barfoot and D’haen, 1998). In the majority of these paintings, the Arab woman has been shown dancing, glooming herself, or sitting in her own woman space doing nothing.

The imagery representation of the woman from the middle east can be described as being hetero because in one hand, it represents the ideal image of the woman is the harem or the belly dancer while on the other hand, it represent severity of oriental veiling that has to be kept hidden behind the mask. This contrast in the color imaging of the Arab woman is striking because they contradict themselves thus probably, an indication of the contradictory stereotypes of oriental life that is highly popular in European paintings, travel writing, and postcards of the mid seventeenth century (Said, 1995). There are stereotypes such as the harem as a place for eroticism, the oriental woman as an object of voyeurism, and veil as a repressive mask (Ku, 2006). In the case of oriental paintings, there is also contradiction because of the way they seem to expose the gap between maximum visibility and the total inscrutability of the restraining veil, a division between the profound repression of the body and a desire to indulge in comparability.

This split representation of the Arab Muslim woman is taken to be a sign for the Eurocentric imagination, the concentration of the Eurocentric Orientals on the image of the woman only, or as a clear and indication of the ignorance and purposed misleading attempt of the orientalist regarding the Arab woman. According to Ashcroft et al. (1995), some of the creators of the paintings have argued that, they were simply looking for pictures. This therefore shows an attribute of the orient as lacking personal interest to investigate and the desire to observe and represents without participating in the social reality thus conceive the meaning of the setup. This is an indication of the fantasy of the orient as a dream world where orientalist desires are realized and an image of oriental society that is unattainable, and concealed of absolute repression. Based on CRT, this could be therefore used to argue that, discrimination of the Pakistani woman in particular based on the orientalist’s perception is only a creation of the orient, thus an indication of the racial discriminative nature of the orient.

However, some have argued that lack of communication is one of the major contributing factors to the orientalist’s perception and representation of the Arab woman. Majority of the orientalists of Europe and the west in general don’t speak or write Arabic. It is obvious that the Arabic language is the main method towards understanding the mentality and the culture of the Arabic people in general (Alalbane, 1988). A supporting feature towards this argument is the fact that majority of the orientalists characterize Arab women as being mute. However, with globalization and the many networks that offer not only speaking but platforms to understand other languages, not only Arab Pakistan women but also other racially discriminated upon groups are able to tell their story for and iron out the misconception that have existed for decades through counter storytelling


Counter storytelling

Narratives as well as counter stories are used and contribute to centrality of the experiences of discriminated people. This tenet of CRT helps to challenge the story of white supremacy and continually gives voice to those who have been silences by white supremacy through discrimination (Davis, 1989). Counter stories are founded on the cultural traditions across almost all cultures of oral histories, family histories, and parables which have for long played a critical role in the preservation of marginalized groups’ experiences even when the same experiences have never been legitimized within the master narratives. Counternarratives in CRT challenge the liberalism notion and meritocracy as being colorblind or ‘value-neutral’ within a society and this way, exposes racism as being the main thread in the western and Eurocentric fabric (Williams, 1998).

Counternarratives offer three avenues as documented by scholars; personal stories which are popular in chats, other people’s stories best in taught through the media, and composite stories which can be taught through individuals or the media. Counternarratives offer great potential in challenging and ultimately neutralizing the stereotypes that have been established in Europe regarding not only the Pakistani woman, but also the Arab woman in general. These narratives can be told at also level from the media to personal level while chatting with mates in colleges, with colleges in workplaces, or with neighbors in European neighborhoods. For Pakistani women in Europe to pursue an academic scholarship is an European university, personal experiences on counternarratives is that on the first day in class during introduction, such women grab the opportunity to not only make known their names, but also create a pleasant and beautiful perception of their home country. In addition, with especially visual media broadcasting internationally, this has provided a significant platform where people are able to see and therefore make their own determination of the situation and not entirely rely on the narrative provided.

Additionally, in Pakistan, women are living contrary to the stereotypical images that have been created in the west. For example, in the modern residential estates, women are free to put on clothing other than the hijab (Lai, Chan and Chong, 2009). Moreover, the fact that the hijab is used for privacy reason and women ‘love’ to have it is a crucial part of counternarratives and so far, it has played an important role in challenging the stereotype that it is repressive attire. In addition, the color of the hijab is not restricted to black, but it can be of any color based on the class and the status of the woman. Nevertheless, due to the fact that majority of the women would want to portray a sociable, approachable, and the standard social status, they opt for the popular black. In addition, media particularly movies don’t show the various positive aspects of Arab women for example, those who belong to the Mosaic Foundation that donates millions to American hospitals. The media doesn’t make references to women like Camelia Anwar Sadat who have stood out and broken from the perceived gender based repression. Moreover, based on the fact that racial discrimination towards the Arab woman is a blanket condemnation, it is obvious that the fact that women in Syria had voting right before Switzerland in Europe is never brought to the fore (Ku, 2006).



CRT on the racial discrimination of Pakistani women especially in Europe is founded on three tenets as discussed herein; intersectionality, color imaging, and counternarrative which is one of the constructive methods of CRT to dilute the narratives that are used to build discrimination. Intersectionality and color imaging of the Pakistani women and as established, is commonly overshadowed by that of the Arab women which has been generalized in Europe. For the racists, Eurocentric orientalism is established as being the primary foundation for discrimination. Based on intersectionality, there are various factors which must come into play for discrimination to ripen, and in the current context, for Pakistan women, these factors include sex, class, culture, religion, and national origin. There are misconceived through Eurocentric orientalism. Color imaging of the Pakistani woman has been used in different forms of western literature as bosomy belly dancers leering out their clear veils, or as disposable harem maidens closeted in the women’s quarters of palaces. In the majority of western paintings, the Arab woman has been shown dancing, glooming herself, or sitting in her own woman space doing nothing. In the streets of European cities, the standard image for the Arab woman is one of a shapeless bundle of black that is veiled from head to toes, even at times, their eyes. Lack of communication is one of the major contributing factors to the orientalist’s perception and representation of the Arab woman. Counternarratives offer three avenues as documented by scholars; personal stories, other people’s stories, and composite stories. Counternarratives offer great potential in challenging and ultimately neutralizing the stereotypes that have been established in Europe regarding not only the Pakistani woman, but also the Arab woman in general.



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