Being Black is Bad..Even in a Black Country

When I was in fifth grade, our Jordanian professor asked all students to search for the origins of their home countries’ names. The assignment was interesting; it had never occurred to me before that, that the word “Sudan” could have an inherent meaning other than referring to Sudan, my North African homeland. Intrigued and excited, I went back home and told my mother about our teacher’s request, but she was not nearly as excited about the question as I was. In fact, for some reason, my mom was offended. “Is your teacher trying to say that Sudan is from “Soud” meaning black? Is she trying to tell you that your country is named after your color?” She asked defensively. I hurriedly assured her that the question was not personal at all, and everyone in the class had to answer it too.

No matter how my mother felt about that assignment, the fact is the word Sudan indeed comes from “Soud” the Arabic word for black. Years later when we returned to Sudan, I realized that my mother’s defensiveness is a common reaction. The mere hint of any topic including skin color would bring out the defensive side of most Sudanese people, no matter what the context is.

Sudan literally means “the land of the Soud”, so for Sudanese people, skin color is both an identity and a nationality.  Sadly, though, somewhere along the lines of slavery, racism, and imperialism, the color black has become a stigma.

As in any African country, the “blackness” of Sudanese people’s skin color varies; and it is so highly emphasized that each tone has its own description. Starting from the darkest skin color to the lightest, people are labeled in colors: Bluish, greenish, dark brownish, brownish, yellowish, and then, the purest of all- whitish. Statistically speaking, light skinned Sudanese are a minority in quantity, but far from being a minority in quality. Quite the opposite, the lighter the skin the more prestigious and beautiful the person is considered to be.

But how is it that in a black country, being black is a shame? Why are girls constantly looking for the new hit product, the one that promises a cleaner, “whiter” skin tone? Why are comments such as “your skin color is lighter now!” or “You’re face is cleaner!” considered the highest form of compliments?

Unintentionally, society has decided that clean and white are synonyms. And while using products in attempts to have a lighter skin is a widespread trend amongst females generally, it is frightening to note that in a country where the majority has dark skin color, black is considered ugly and dirty.

Naturally, these beliefs about skin color and self-worth did not stem from nowhere; they all date back to the time of colonialism. Ever since the British, “the white people” colonized Sudan, feelings of inferiority were successfully passed down one generation after another. In the eyes of the powerless, dominated black man, the white man had privilege, status, and power. Those few Sudanese who were lucky enough to work with the British were considered powerful too, just by associating with the white man, because the British would often put them in positions of authority. Now, more than half a century later, the British are gone, but these beliefs remained. Dark skinned people are still unfairly denied well deserved job offers, and mothers continue to urge their sons to choose a light skinned bride so the grandchildren will turn out “beautiful”.

Why is this still happening? It’s simple: ignorance. Society is so unaware of how powerful these beliefs have nested in the minds of individuals, from the simple and uneducated to the high profile and sophisticated. Unconsciously, through our everyday language, we are breeding racism among our generation and the ones to come.

Blaming imperialism and Western media gets us nowhere. We need to make a conscious group effort to slowly eliminate these concepts from our society. Some Sudanese would say it is impossible; that these beliefs have hung around for far too long that they have come to define us. That’s not true, it is possible. However difficult it may be, if we improve our language we can improve our culture. The future generations shape their perceptions on what they grow up observing and absorbing, and that’s why we have to at least try.

Start. Tell your dark skinned daughter that she and her light skinned cousin are both beautiful, because beauty is not confined to a color. Explain to your son that girls with all skin colors are worthy of love. And most importantly, make a conscious decision to stop using derogatory racial judgments yourself. This way, slowly but surely, all Sudanese people will start to see themselves as they truly are: Beautiful.

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Homesick, but fine thank you.

If you ask me “how are you” whether it’s out of common courtesy and politeness or on the rare occasion that you actually want to know, I’d probably answer with a “fine alhamdulilah” or maybe drop a few complaints about something insignificant like exams or the weather. But if I were to be honest, I’d answer every how are you question I get daily with one word every time- homesick.
Now, whenever I tweet or post a status about being homesick, most of my Sudanese friends readily jump to reply with the same answer I’ve been getting since I came to the UAE: “You miss Sudanese people, not Sudan.”
False.
People are often surprised when they know I plan to go back to Sudan after graduating. They tell me that I’m just being sentimental, that it is not realistic or smart. They remind me of how lucky I am to have gotten out in the first place.
I don’t understand that. Am I only to love my country from afar, until it somehow decides to become “developed”? Is it so farfetched and unlikely that I love my country right now, just as it is?
Well, I do.
I love my country with its uncountable downs and few ups. I love it with –not despite- the unconstructed streets, the electricity cuts, the water running out, the people’s bluntness, the rakshas noise, and the crowded buses…till the end of the very long list. I love it with all that, and if I don’t love it, I can’t help change it.
I love the people, yes, but I also love the land, the air, and the Nile, and I would never trade any of it to live anywhere else in the future.
So yes, I live in a constant homesickness because I am here in the UAE studying for my Bachelor’s degree. The UAE is definitely a “step up” from Sudan, and it’s a comfortable, entertaining and beautiful place to be. But for me, it is no home.
When things get tough, I remind myself that I am here because I’m trying to become a better person through education and solitude. I try to remember that by endurance and hard work, I can become someone who would eventually do something for their country instead of just tweeting about it. And that gets me by for the next day, to when someone asks my how are you, and I say great, alhamdulilah.

To feel is human..to not is peace of mind.

For once, she won’t talk herself out of it. For once, she is going to allow herself to BE sad, to FEEL hurt and ACT out the anger.

More than often, she questions her feelings. Tries to justify them, but this time she will allow herself not to.

She excuses herself from the dinner table and heads up to her room. Slowly, she closes the door and deliberately heads to the drawer beside her bed. She takes out her journal and finds a comfortable position.

If she is going to feel, she might as well do it right.

11/9:

He’s irrational and unfair.

He has this ability to get under my skin and irritate me to the extreme. With only words, he can bite into my skin and push me to my breaking point.

I wish there was a projector that can show people exactly how their words affect everyone around them. Maybe then, everyone would really start paying attention. Not just to their words; but to the tone, attitude, and subtle yet clear feelings that they attach to them.

I HATE feeling things intensely. Some say it’s what makes us human, but feelings are SO overrated. I always like to remember that episode in The Fairly Odd Parents when he wishes for his feelings to be removed and becomes a much relaxed cool kid. That episode strikes me as pure genius.   

Feeling things intensely means giving someone else the power over you. I want to not give him so much power over me. I want to NOT care.

But I know I do, because I hang up on every word he says. I admire and despise him at the same time. I love and hate him at the same time. I miss and fear him at the very same time. A roller coaster of emotions.

His presence echoes inside my head. I hear his words over, over, over and over again. Ringing. Ringing. Replaying. Like a song. Over and over again. 

 

She closes her journal, takes a deep breath and stares blankly ahead feeling eerily relaxed. She makes a mental note to one day write about writing, and how it can soothe and numb humans just as powerfully as drugs. Not today though.

As she lies down staring at the ceiling, she wonders if feelings things intensely could count as a sport, because she is exhausted.