“Dubai I can do it like a sheikh. Top floor n*gga, Burj Khalifa!”
From Rick Ross’s ‘Devil is a Lie’ to Nicki Minaj’s ‘Looking Ass N*gga’, when rappers aren’t bragging about their fancy homes, cars and Basquiat paintings they are name-dropping the most exotic countries on the map. Aside from Paris, Milan and London, Dubai is one of the most talked about cities for the hip-hop elite. Arab money, materialism, luxury goods and extreme architectural monuments leave stars in the eyes of many. But all that glitters is not gold and Dubai’s reputation as an exclusive luxury destination has become the world’s worst kept secret.
Expats and foreigners make up about 85% of Dubai’s population so native residents are greatly outnumbered and somewhat marginalized. With porous borders, tax free living and extreme wealth, the lure of negative influences is ever-present, but hidden in plain sight. Where wealth and materialism are glorified, sexuality and the objectification of women are not far behind.
Our story begins at the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa, at celebrity hot spot Armani Prive. As our private driver escorted us, twelve African American women, past the magnificent dancing fountain and up the circular driveway bustling with Maseratis, Lamborghinis and Ferraris, visions of ‘lifestyles of the rich and famous’ danced in our heads. Like any excited group of tourists, we launched a mini photo shoot next to the Burj sign, giving seductive poses in our skin-tight club dresses. Eventually, my travel roomie Britt and I became bored with the shoot and decided to walk ahead to the entrance. The hostess asks if we’re on the list – we’re not. She asks how many – we say ‘two’ and she steps aside to let us in. One quick glance behind to see what was delaying the others, before we stepped onto the short red carpet and into the dimly lit entrance.
When the other ten girls finally arrive at the door, a male bouncer bars them from entry. We watch, out of earshot, as confused and agitated expressions emerge on their faces indicating something foul was brewing. I whisper “Walk away! Pretend you’re leaving, split up, and then come back.” By now the Jersey girls are arguing with the bouncer. Bad idea, very bad idea. He is convinced they are troublemakers and adamantly announces “None of you are getting in.”
This is where we cut our losses and leave right? Wrong.
The allure of pulsating electronic beats, flashing lights and curiosity pull Britt and I deeper and deeper into the club. Before long we’re chatting up a random Greek guy and he’s buying our drinks. We only went in to look for a promoter who could coax the almighty bouncer into allowing the girls to enter, but selfishly, I’m in Dubai and I want to party. So, the young Greek’s friend, an employee at the club, agrees to plead their case to the bouncer, as two of the girls manage to sneak in unnoticed. After a brief exchange with king bouncer, employee Greek informs us that they don’t let prostitutes into the club.
He explained “a group of Black women, unaccompanied by men, attempting to gain access to the hottest club in Dubai is a huge red flag.” There’s nothing he can do. Clearly ‘black women’ cannot possibly be on vacation in Dubai – we must be selling something and the idea that women are considered second class citizens in the Middle East suddenly became very real. This discriminatory incident could have been dismissed as an isolated event, however later that night at another nightclub, a European man approached us to ask “How much?” while rubbing his fingers together to signal money. We laughed in his face and shooed him away. How absurd! Do we look like prostitutes? But two days later, as we left an outdoor restaurant at WAFI Mall, a table of Arab men attempted to get our attention by hissing as we hurried past to catch the sightseeing bus.
On return to the United States, I decided to do some digging and uncovered the thriving sex trade in Dubai. What seemed like undue attention given to young, attractive women turned out to be another booming industry within this hyper capitalist society. In a traditional Islamic country, where public displays of affection are punishable offences with jail time, prostitution is a lucrative business. Prostitutes are allowed to ply their trade in licensed nightclubs for up to $1,000 US dollars a night and the authorities turn a blind eye. As one man put it in an undercover journalistic interview; “Every woman has a price and the men here can afford to pay it.”
It is no wonder that tens of thousands of women voluntarily leave India, Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia and the African continent each year to sell their bodies to the highest bidder. Many of them are not being forced into prostitution against their will – it is viewed as a profitable business that pays much more than any menial job back home. Each race has a tiered pricing structure, with Arab women garnering the highest value due to scarcity. Just do a quick internet search and you will find them ready, willing and waiting against the backdrop of a typical night out on the town in Dubai. It is simply the economic principle of supply and demand.
In any major city around the world where cash is king, sex is not hard to find. So ladies, if you are ever at a nightclub or bar in Dubai and a strange man walks up to you and asks ‘how much’ you can do one of two things; tell him to ‘eff off’ or give him your best price. The choice is yours.
Subira Willock is the creator of Black Travel Snob, a travel lifestyle brand for the hip-hop generation that connects music with world travel. Follow @blacktravelsnob on Twitter and Instagram or visit btsnob.com for more stories.