Too Black to be Arab or Too Arab to be Black?

I lived my whole childhood around white people, a catholic school, in a white neighbourhood and with white friends. There is nothing
wrong with it but I’ve also felt like I was the one who did not fit in. We had things in common, as many friends do, but you
know that feeling that they couldn’t understand why my family would do or say or live the way they do?
A way that was, and will probably forever be, so different to them. I
don’t hate other races and I don’t hate people who are so different to me but not being able to fit in, really didn’t make standing out fun for me.

“Who wants to fit in when you can stand out?”

Yes, having your own uniqueness to your name, to your character and to your personality is amazing. Everyone wants something that they can call their own, something they can use to express themself. Some have fashion, some have sports, some have art, some have poetry, the list goes on. As a child, I wanted my thing to be ‘to fit in’.

I did not want to let my skin color, hair texture, bigger lips (they ain’t even that big), my beliefs or my culture hold me back. In my neighborhood and school, I had seen myself as being dark-skinned, mainly because everyone else was white. I saw myself trying extra hard to fit in with my friends. When I saw them fighting, they would forgive each other so easily and become friends again; but when it was I who was the enemy, it took so much longer, so many insults and at one-point avoidance (honestly camping in one persons house while I waiting outside confused).
Please, bear with me, I was a child when this happened, maybe under 11 years old. But it didn’t stop there. It continued but in different insults and different actions. It didn’t really matter because it all felt the same. I was somehow usually ‘too black’ to fit in. Only later in life I grew to realize that I was too far off to be called, or put in the category as, ‘too black’.

Before I continue, please share with me what ‘too black’ means to you? Dark complexion? Really ghetto? African accent? I can dance and sing and be loud all I want? To have an attitude?
Now, if you said yes to all of those or any of those, please go find yourself a black friend and be educated because many of those are just stereotypes – not true. My whole childhood was spent being the least amount of ‘too black’ or African. Unfortunately, I made sure of that because it wouldn’t help me get along with everyone else. It’s part of me now. And if I’m honest, I’m not proud of it at all anymore.

I spent majority of my childhood around Caucasians. It wasn’t until I started Uni when I had my first close black friends. I got excited because I immediately thought ‘This is it, I’m gonna fit right in’. Little did I know, I wasn’t black enough to get some jokes or understand some basic lifestyle habits for a black person. That soon turned into being too Arab to be black.

“Too Arab to be black or too black to be Arab?”

Being introduced to the black community through my college friends was interesting, the jokes they had to share, the lifestyles with their family, their strives and their beliefs. I’m not saying all black people live the same lifestyle or that they’re a different species. All I’m saying is that it’s different to what I was witnessing outside my home before this. My friends would interlink their native language with everyday speech, they would talk about what goes on in their household and if you’re black this wasn’t a thing I would do or imagine doing. But it was similar to how my household ran and went about things. I’m making it sound like it was such a huge difference. What I’m getting at here is, I fit in with this group and I didn’t have to try too hard. We first bonded that all our parents would be loud on the phones, they would ask us to pass the remote while we’re upstairs even though the remote is right next to them, we had chores where most of my white friends didn’t and we just had so much similarities. It was all the things I was ashamed of before. They thought me that I should love myself and that part of me that I kept hidden for so long.

“I felt I couldn’t be Muslim enough to be Muslim.

The Muslim community were all so welcoming too. The Masjid (Muslim place of worship) is where I felt most at peace and most myself with my friends. It was a nice, refreshing wave of relief and peace whenever I entered, after I prayed and by the time I left.
Immediately, people are greeted with peace, ‘Assalamu ‘Alaikum’, which will forever be the most beautiful thing about the people in the Masjid. But at times around other Hijabis (veiled Muslim women) or just around other Muslims, I feel a sense of being ‘too black’ to be considered Arab. Too African to be Muslim. It’s nothing that people would say, it would just sometimes be the energy that’s conveyed in the air unintentionally. I don’t speak Arabic or have the Arab culture or the Arab ethics; but why does being Muslim,
sometimes feel like I need to be Arab and speak Arabic so fluently? I believe that it’s a stereotype and a hidden expectation that all Muslims must be Arabs and all Arabs are Muslims.

Did you know some Arabs are Jews and some are part of the Christian religion?

I guess this is one thing that bothered me when I’m around non-African or non-black Muslims, the fact that I felt I couldn’t be Muslim enough to be Muslim.

“I always forget you’re black sometimes or that your parents are African”

Now to introduce myself, I’m a black Muslim, basically born and raised in Ireland my whole life but my parents are originally from east Africa.
I’m Muslim before my culture and that’s one important thing you should know about me. I used to associate myself to be dark skinned but around my friends now, I’m the light skinned or ‘not really black’. I’m not sure what put me into that category of being ‘not really black’. Maybe I’m not African enough to be black?

I didn’t know much about hair bonnets or silk scarfs or silk pillowcases and the benefits they are for textured hair. But I knew I needed to moisturize my body almost every day, so I don’t get ashy. I didn’t know much about wigs and weaves; well I knew a little because I knew that’s what people use to protect their hair, but I didn’t know how exactly a weave worked. I didn’t know this because I heard it was frowned upon in Islam, so I didn’t need to know. I couldn’t tell you how to properly take care of textured hair but all I know is my mum did her best with mine. As I got older, I had to fend for myself if I wanted my hair to be healthy (there’s actually a lot to it).

There’s so much I don’t know about my culture and about the black community. All I know is my skin tone makes me black and my hijab and my religion seem to make me Arab. I may have some Arab roots running through my blood, but I wouldn’t call myself Arab at all.

“All Muslims are Arab, and all Arabs are Muslim”

I guess this has led me to some culture identity or race identity or just some self-identity crisis. Too African to be Muslim or too Muslim to be African. I would like to replace the word African with being black, because in this case I felt a sense of colourism within my life. But that’s a whole other story…

Riya A
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  1. Bidemi
    3rd April 2020 / 4:37 pm

    Amazing!!! That described me growing up minus the Muslim part for me❤️❤️

    • 12th April 2020 / 10:57 pm

      Thanks so much for your comment 💫🙌🏾 I feel like a few people might be in this boat. The feeling of questioning their self identity growing up around people who don’t really look like them

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