A dive into Afro-Arab underrepresentation
C/O Yoohyun Park
How a student’s dual identity has impacted her life
By: Kimia Tahaei, Opinions Staff Writer
We tend to generalize the types of racial identities that may be found within the Black community. We often forget the diversity that exists within the Black community itself, a community filled with different cultures, ethnicities, traditions and struggles.
To gain a deeper insight on the extent of the matter, I interviewed Lina Hamed, a third-year chemical engineering student who proudly identifies as an “Afro-Arab.” She comes from a Sudanese background but was born and raised in the United Arab Emirates prior to moving to Canada.
“When I started looking for my future university, I would without exception check their student demographics to see if there were other Sudanese people like me. I craved a sense of community with other Afro-Arabs so badly,” explained Hamed.
Knowing that Lina and most likely many other individuals in underrepresented communities have to check for their demographics to feel a sense of community made me think whether underrepresentation causes feelings of doubt. Feelings of insecurity and doubt become more common among racialized minorities as they don't often see people from their culture presented in a positive light in their circles.
“It’s strange because if you see that no one who looks like you made it, you question whether you can make it. You ask yourself if my people didn’t go through it, can I truly go through it? As a woman in STEM, these are the types of questions I ask myself often that unfortunately ignite my feelings of self-doubt,” said Hamed.
“The thing is, I grew up in the Middle East. So, often, I identify more as an Arab. I spoke Arabic and was more in touch with the Arab culture that was within Sudan. However, people in the Middle East really didn’t consider me Arab and I was often labelled as African. That’s not to say I’m not proud of being African — I take a lot of pride in being a Black African. It’s just that the Black community wasn’t too accepting either since I was more in touch with my Arab roots. It wasn’t the best feeling knowing that I’m part of two communities, yet neither fully accept me,” explained Hamed.
Unfortunately, this is the reality for many multi-ethnic individuals. There are feelings of uncertainty, doubt and confusion when it comes to their sense of identity as they don't feel fully accepted by either community. Often, these feelings of insecurity heighten when stereotypes are attached to one’s ethnicity and race.
Oftentimes, multi-ethnic individuals such as Afro-Arabs will face negative stereotypes regarding the various communities to which they belong.
“As a Black woman, I’m often called unintelligent. As a Muslim Arab woman, I’m classified as a terrorist. And as a Sudanese, I’m characterized as lazy,” said Hamed.
Such deplorable labels can discourage minorities as they already have feelings of doubt due to underrepresentation.
“Identifying as Afro-Arab was something I didn’t think of until I was 16 or 17. Finalizing my decision to identify as Afro-Arab made me embrace both aspects of me. It felt as if I’m in touch with all the parts of me — that made me who I am. Even if my sense of identity gets lost sometimes and I question who I am, proudly calling myself an Afro-Arab reminds me of my roots and where I came from,” she responded.
Unfortunately, unlike Lina, many individuals who come from different backgrounds still cannot fully embrace their identity and culture as they don’t see themselves represented in academia and media. It is crucial to understand that through a positive representation of minorities as they can gain confidence and flourish. Furthermore, although many people don't see it as necessary, having essential information on different ethnic backgrounds is vital. Not only does education on different cultures help us better understand individuals who come from diverse backgrounds, but I also believe that through education a sense of empathy is formed — a sense of empathy that can help us create a healthier and safer space for underrepresented communities like Afro-Arabs. Hopefully, when we discuss inclusivity in the future, we should consider each and every sector of different ethnic groups in hopes of an all-embracing society.