Too Black to be Arab, too Arab to be Black

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Media Diversified

by Leena Habiballa

Within every Sudanese diasporan is an unceasing internal dialogue about where we fit in the dominant racial order. Sudan is one of the most ethnically, culturally, linguistically and religiously diverse places on the African continent. It was also home to some of the most ancient civilisations in African memory. But today it suffers from the brutal legacy of Arab slavery, Ottoman imperialism and British colonialism.

My early childhood was spent living in various Arab countries, where I learnt from a young age that my darker skin tone threatened my claim to Arabness. To be authentically Arab, it wasn’t enough to speak Arabic or have facets of Arab culture syncretised into my own. My Blackness needed to be invisible. My identity as an Arab was, therefore, always contested and fraught, though nevertheless an important part of my being and, ultimately, self-evident. When others denied my Arabness I felt…

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