"Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced." – James A. Baldwin
To be a black woman is to be ever aware of one’s position as that of the outsider. One is made doubly invisible and maligned for their race and sex. This is especially in societies where white is considered the norm, if not the ideal. This was my experience growing up in New York City and it is my experience now, all the way in Amman, over 5000 miles away from my school and home. My white classmates do not worry if a local will reject them for their race, as soon as they see them. They are the default, the norm in the states and accepted here in Jordan readily. I, on the other hand, feel a need to tell people, before agreeing to meet them I am black; otherwise, they may see me in person or in a photo and are shocked that I am not white and blonde as an American. I had this experience in Morocco, where a man was surprised and hostile toward the fact that I was black. My translator had told him I was American. And to this he replied,
“American? You did not tell me she was black, you said she was American, there is a big difference!”
Mind you, this was a man, educated in Europe, who many people would erroneously assume could not ever say with such conviction, such a statement. But prejudice has no limit to any class. It can be found in every level of society, every age group and I certainly found it in Amman.
People, once so eager to meet me, see me and on the day of our meeting, suddenly have to cancel for an “emergency” or “meeting.” They do not offer to reschedule and meet on another date. Nor do they ever contact me again or respond. It has happened so many times, that I believe my being black is unattractive to some people. This is compounded by the lack of black women in Jordan in general and the few that reside here work in menial labor such as cleaning or domestic work. Thus, my blackness would be associated with servitude, inferiority, unlike my white classmates. There is little interest in me shown to me by most of the Jordanians I met, except by those who fetishize black women; they believe that they are more sexually prowess than women of their own race. A Jordanian man told me many of his countrymen would assume I must be a prostitute or otherwise have a solely sexual relationship with him. They did not fathom that a Jordanian would want anything else to do with me.
Feeling alone in ways I had not since I was a child, I am happy that I was able to hear from an Afro-Jordanian about her experience being a black woman in Jordan; she, too, had been hypersexualized by men for her skin, or was ignored for it, all while racism is denied as being pervasive. This gave me the comfort and understanding that I was not the problem or that I was overreacting. Nor was my experience dissimilar to that of other black women halfway across the world. Whether in Morocco or Jordan, I found differences but also parallels between the experiences of black women in that country. Our native tongue was different, and they were not given the right of citizenship as I was, but yet we all experienced hypersexualization of our bodies as black women, being rendered invisible and inferior for our race.
I am thus compelled to illuminate, challenged and educate people about the pervasive racism in not just U.S society, but parts of the world often thought to be free of these social ills, such as the Middle East and North Africa.
As a result of my research in Morocco, I wanted to continue learning and educating the public about this issue, especially as it pertained to the Mena region. I was particularly interested in Tunisia, which had recently passed a law penalizing racial discrimination, the second country in Africa to do so and the first Arab country. I knew I wanted to watch closely the effects of the law for future research and to talk about its significance to people who may have never heard of it. I found that opportunity to publish work about it when I came across Generations For Peace (GFP).
The internship in GFP’s communications department offered me the opportunity to write about issues of race and gender as an organization that firmly believes that dialogue is key to fostering cooperation and equality between people. Only then can conflict be transformed and peace can be built. This was in line with my mission to educate people about the importance of acknowledging racism, its negative impacts on people and how it undermines the very equality people profess to believe. Ignoring this conflict gives an illusion of peace and unity while sowing the seeds for discord and resentment when the stories of marginalized people are dismissed. Only by acknowledging our differences and accepting, or dare I say, even celebrating and overcoming them, can we truly have inclusive societies. That does not come from pretending not to see color or other differences, but refusing to use that to justify the denial of someone’s humanity.