“This sounds strange, but I’m not quite one or the other, like I’m sitting there on all those CollegeBoard things like “What is your race?” and I’m like, “White, black, multiracial, other, I don’t know!”
Where are you from? What’s your heritage?
My family are sort of mixed, let’s say ¾ of my family are from Sudan, but my grandmother is English. My parents immigrated to The States together, so I was born in Virginia, lived there until I was nine, then I moved to Sudan, then I came back two years ago, then I spent time in New Mexico, and now I’m here.
What was your experience growing up? Did you face any difficulties with identity or racism from others?
Not necessarily. This is probably also due to the fact that I went to Sudan and racism plays itself out very differently in different countries, in that, it wasn’t necessarily the more white-black divide that we have in the States, but there was definitely sort of ethnocentricity that you could see going on in Sudan, with light skin being considered better, or being considered worse, it really depended. It was really interesting to see that in terms of colorism.
This is going to sound strange, but, I think what happened in terms of identity was, coming back to the states, people expected someone from Sudan to look “black." And even though my grandfather looks like Bill Cosby, and then my close family members, and even my brother, would be considered, “black,” because of my mom and my grandmother being English, I look fairly “white." So that makes for a really weird little divide, where I’m not quite one or the other, like I’m sitting there on all those CollegeBoard things like “What is your race?” and I’m like, “White, black, multiracial, other, I don’t know!”
So, that’s interesting. Especially the idea that if you’re African, you must necessarily look very, very black, which is just not true, especially in Sudan, which is a country that really, really surprises people because it has humongous color range. You can be as light as I am, or you can be midnight dark, and still be considered Sudanese, so that’s always been really interesting for me to negotiate.
Since coming to Duke, have you experienced ignorance from those who perceive Africa or Sudan to be a monolith, where you’re supposed to look a certain way?
Oh yeah, definitely. It’s a really weird thing for me to even try to discuss with people, because when you’re talking about Sudan, you encounter this very far, "Fox News" idea that it’s entirely this humongous war zone in the middle of nowhere that we need to save, you know, Bush-era administration style, and to try and bridge that gap of being like, no, this is a humongous country with loads of history and tradition and fantastic people, and I lived there for seven whole years, it’s often very very hard to try and explain and come across.
Could you talk about your experience wearing a hijab?
The fact that I’m Muslim is very interesting when it comes to race because, looking at me and seeing that I’m lighter, people think that I’m Arab, and that, "Oh, she’s Muslim, oh she looks kind of white, she must be Arab." I think there’s very few people who think Africa and think Islam, and so, there’s definitely that little thing where people get weirded out and they’re like, oh I don’t see how those two identities can be combined, so that’s interesting.
Have you faced any negative stereotypes due to the fact that you wear a hijab?
Honestly, I’m an oblivious person, so if I have, then I probably haven’t realized. I don’t think that I’ve experienced anything directly negative; I might realize that people just don’t know how to behave around me, because they’re not sure how religious I am or what I believe, or all of that, and that’s the main thing that I’ve seen.
At Duke I haven’t exactly had much direct prejudice as of yet, or so far, but definitely outside of Duke I’ve encountered people having fairly bad stereotypes of what it means. Like, there’s this idea that someone who wears hijab must be some violent, oppressed person. I’ve had some nasty experiences with people asking really intrusive questions. My mother has been yelled at and been told to go back home, and that sort of thing. So, yeah, I’ve seen bad things outside of Duke, but not necessarily in Duke.