Black and Proud
Down town Cairo, in a café near Al-Tahrir Square where the January revolution first sparkled…we met; Fatima and I… She told me that discrimination is a big challenge that she faces in the streets of Egypt on daily basis. Racial harassment, frequent biased questions about her nationality; discriminatory insults are types of the challenges she has to deal with only because she has a different skin color.
While Fatima was holding her coffee in a distinctive way to keep her fingers warm, I was busy trying to comprehend those staring looks from the people on the adjacent tables. Brilliantly, Fatima noticed my speculations. She laughed and explained:
– I’ll tell you what those looks mean. To them, I’m more of an alien who is coming from some faraway place, not an Egyptian just like them. They cannot believe that there is a black Egyptian… Yes, I am black”.
She said that simply and instinctively.
Fatima feels that avoiding the description of her skin color is treason. Moreover, she thinks that if she uses some alternative expression such as “suntanned” for example, that would be some sort of covering up for a challenging problem in a society with a majority of lighter skin color. That would be humiliating and insulting. She emphasizes her idea saying “I am a black Egyptian”. She accentuates it in a special way showing pride and self-confidence.
I was astounded when she suddenly asked me:
– Do you get offended when I say that you are white-colored??!!
Without waiting for my answer, she continued:
– Why then would you consider the word “black” insulting?
Fatima is a freelance journalist who writes on freedom and liberation. Through her writings, she tries to disseminate the values of human rights that are lacking in her society, according to her.
– I’m here to allow those weak choked voices to speak up for themselves.” Do you know that one of the statistics posted online on sexual harassment map shows that 99.3% of Egyptian females have been through different kinds of sexual harassment.
Sarcastically, she laughed and added:
– Let me tell you something interesting; when I go out, I put my earphones on and listen to music so that I may not have to hear the ridiculous discriminatory comments; ” oh, you are black but beautiful” , “I love the Sudanese girls”, “I would love to make love to a black girl, they are very hot”. The offensive words never stop. Many times, when I step into a place I hear them saying:” “Oh,God protect us from the evil one” as if I were the devil just for being black!! I have every right to walk in the streets without being exposed to such discrimination and harassment. I have every right to be regarded and treated like a common Egyptian not like an alien. Those people have no idea how much I get hurt.
A young lady in her twenties interrupted us, handing out a form. On top of it, printed the word “REBELL” in large bold black font. It’s a campaign to vote no confidence to remove president Mohammed Morsi from office and to call for early presidential elections. I picked a form. In her turn, Fatima asked for a form but the young lady seemed to be uncertain. Fatima surprised her saying:
– I swear, I’m Egyptian.
After she had showed us her national ID, she started filling out the form in clear hand writing, adding her address and saying “I live in Ein Shams, yes, Ein Shams not in a compound for the black people.”
Fatima took another sip of her coffee, coughing, to clear her voice and saying:
– “About seven years ago, I was in college studying computer science but I found out that I love the field of media and would like to be a TV anchor. I kept looking for a chance, but all channels wouldn’t take the initiative to hire the first black announcer in Egypt. They all dealt with my dream discriminatorily. One of them told me that good-looking is an important requirement for a TV presenter and for me being black, this was not the case… Can you imagine how bad I felt at that moment?
Fatima was about to finish her coffee, when she said:
– I was once in the underground Metro when a lady said to me:
– Welcome to Egypt
– Actually, I am Egyptian, I said smilingly
– Oh, it’s my first time to know that there are black Egyptians.
She said it frankly
I’m now used to that. It doesn’t surprise me anymore. Illiteracy, poverty and the educational system produced a large percentage of the population who do not realize the demographics of Egypt. They are unaware that the demographical map of Egypt is filled with racial and cultural details.
Fatima put her cup down, bending with her head forward, as if telling a secret:
– In March, 2013, an Egyptian NGO contacted me to speak about discrimination in our community. After the symposium, the NGO representative and organizer of the event stated that she had no idea that “there were black Egyptians”. She had always thought them to be Sudanese…What a shame for a lady ,whose organization is concerned with equality and human rights, to not know that there are black Egyptians. I felt severe pain.
Fatima’s experience helped her to differentiate between those who look at her in wonder because of ignorance or unawareness of the diversity in Egypt and those who look at her discriminatorily because she is black. She deals with the later type firmly and seriously. It’s self-defense, she believes.
– I want those people to think a thousand times before they offend others. Eventually, they should understand that I’m Egyptian, not an alien coming from another world. Moreover, they need to realize that they suffer lack of knowledge and they have to pay for that ignorance.
Fatima believed she should do her role to change the typical idea about people with black skin in Egypt…She explains:
– I know that a good percentage of Egyptian human-rights’ organizations embrace much corruption. They work only to enjoy being financed by different donors. To them it’s a matter of business. So, I decided to be an independent activist, away from any corruption. Individually, I do my best to contribute to the change. All my writings aim to spread the idea of accepting others and respecting human rights.
She really believes in what she’s doing!!
A homeless child interrupted, trying to sell us tissues. Fatima embraced him with her eyes and smilingly caressed him. He left, but her eyes didn’t leave him… Nodding, as if returning back to me, she seemed to have more to share:
– You know, on the streets… even children take part. A ten-year old boy called me “messy black”. Though his family was there, they did not react to their child’s offense. I told them: “you should raise your child to respect others”. His mother beat me up with the help of three other women. Passers-by didn’t intervene until they felt that I could get killed. The little child held scissors and came towards me. They probably wanted to cut my hair… I filed a police report.
Fatima wouldn’t leave before sharing her favorite song with me… “No matter what your name is… no matter what your address might be…Regardless of your skin color and your birth place.. All that matters to me is the human part of you”
Watching her leave self-confidently wearing her earphones, I keep humming that song between me and myself.
Her optimistic expressions, mingled with a soft spring breeze and the non-stop noise of Cairo inspire me to write this story, remembering Fatima’s last words:
” Tomorrow is a new hope”.