Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Forget About Me

| 20 Comments

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Forget about me, why don’t you?

Because I never really belonged anyway, did I?

Paul Prinsloo this morning shared an article about the experience of traveling with an African passport (tag onto that being both African and Arab and visibly Muslim like me and it actually gets worse).

I am not even going to recount the indignities the article mentioned. I cried reading them and I don’t want to go back and read it all again. But some quotes here. From the very end of the article:

The problem is I saw the world, and now I feel I have a right to it as much as everyone else does. But the little injustices keep reminding me to get back into my corner and stop trying to get into your borders. We have seen the world—and we want to be fully included in it—with dignity.


It’s not funny or fun being a “passport undesirable” (term used in the article). It is exactly this:

I have never had passport privilege—never imagined I could move to your country on a whim, become an expatriate with all the trapping it brings. I have never thought of flying to another country under the assumption I would figure out how to get in once I landed. I try to sympathize when I hear you complain about how difficult it is to get a work permit in my country.

But it’s more than that. Even living in my own country where it’s most prestigious to work at an American institution, where it’s easier to get good caliber Egyptian academics and staff vs mediocre (and occasionally good or great) Americans/Westerners, you’re kinda made to feel lucky you get to make room for yourself there. Or rather “here”. But it feels like “there”. And yet you can’t go out and into the most local context or you would explode because yoy have “seen the world” and you can’t go back to THAT.

And so. Online. Where, really, if I were I any more visible than I am it would be vulgar..  Where probably to get to where I am now I shouted from the rooftops to make room for myself, to make myself HEARD… That was probably vulgar. Or borderline vulgar.

So when I am RIGHT THERE. When I am THAT VISIBLE. And you still can’t see me? I really don’t know what to do. That’s where impostor syndrome comes from. When you fight for your place RIGHT THERE and you think you have arrived. And then people who supposedly love and respect you DON’T SEE YOU. They FORGET. They FORGOT. They’re only human.

I thought I was beyond that. I thought I was at that (frustrating) phase where I no longer needed to promote myself or my work or my ideas. I thought I was at the phase where promoting and amplifying others was my place. And I still think so. And I still will and do. But for that to succeed you need to LOOK AT ME AND SEE ME DAMMIT. Not just grant me a visa. But treat me well at the airport. Treat me well on the streets. Treat me well in the shops. And forget me not.

(so much for setting our own standards of success and ignoring others’)

Because my needs, my desires? I kill those on a constant basis in my physical life because that’s what people expect of a woman with a child in my context. 

I was having a bad day before I read that article… So maybe I am exaggerating and imagining things. But maybe you just forgot me.

20 Comments

  1. Having a UK passport and being a member of the European Union, I have always known the privileges of simple international travel. I believe, in retrospect, that I have always taken this amazing right for granted. Now that we will be leaving the EU, we will (probably) go back to the days of applying for a visa before going to the continent. This is an existence that I have never known… And it’s not exactly what you’re talking about, Maha, I know, but I have never felt unwanted in other countries and now it might be that we need to get used to the idea.

  2. Thanks for this heartfelt post Maha. Your voice gives me insight into some situations I’ve never experienced and a few that chime with my own experience. When I had read your post, I thought about Sherri Spelic’s recent lovely post about incuriosity https://medium.com/@edifiedlistener/incuriosity-is-a-thing-619ad8bf45b3#.ae35rm7dk . Ever since I read it, I have been thinking about silencing and incuriosity. We are painfully aware of others’ incuriosity and how it silences us. In the case of structural inequalities such as the racial one that you describe and the gender one revealed in some media expectations of Hillary Clinton, we need big collective responses to change structures and reduce inequality. But I think that we can all experience and sometimes maybe unwittingly collude in silencing. Combatting that needs for us to be more curious and also to listen carefully. As a teacher, i found this a constant challenge but telling myself to shut up and listen made me a better teacher.

  3. No answers, Maha, no clever things to say. Thanks for writing honestly, for speaking out, for giving me/us lots to think about – not just on an academic level. I also read Sherri’s post as recommended by Frances. I think my whole life I’ve been telling myself not to be curious, to be incurious or else… consequences. It’s that look from someone who doesn’t want to hear your question, and me telling myself to shut up or else I’ll alienate people. And then lots of incuriosity about things, if considered on a daily basis, can make life unbearable. But when I read a post like yours – I know that I have to keep being curious.

    • Tania, this is an interesting point you make about telling yourself not to be curious. And it resonates. I remember being a reluctant questioner in school and only very hesitant in higher ed classrooms. I think my reservation had more to do with using my voice than downplaying my curiosity, but not openly showing curiosity was a consequence. In writing I often felt braver to ask and respond to the questions that intrigued me. And now as I work with children and receive a daily shower of questions of tremendous variety, I have to try hard not to be that person who “doesn’t want to hear your question.” So, yes, I now appreciate staying curious as a form of staying connected to the world on a number of levels. Letting go of the need to have/provide/deliver answers is another aspect of staying curious, I think too which is what I also like about your response to Maha here.

  4. So many thanks for this Maha.

    “Difference is not difference to some ears, but awkwardness or incompleteness.

    Aphasia… you who understand the dehumanization of forced removal-relocation-reduction-redefinition,

    The humiliation of having to falsify your own reality, your voice –

    you know.

    And often you cannot say it. You try to keep on trying to unsay it.

    For if you don’t, they will not fail to fill in the blanks on your behalf, and you will be said.”

    – Trinh T. Minh-Ha, Woman, Native, Other (1987)

  5. Thank you Maha.
    It is not neither here nor there that we may appreciate what living in the neither here nor there means in reality…if that makes any sense.

  6. I read your post and found myself wanting to go to Egypt and to experience your true context. I want to really understand what it means for you to BE, that is what your context is like. I would only ever understand it from an outsiders perspective, but still, the desire is there.
    I also want to shout out that I HEAR you … I listen to you … I love you …
    hugs.

  7. Passport privileged. I am one of those. English-as-native-language privileged. Check. And there are more markers which invite me and those with whom I deal on a daily basis to forget, to take for granted, to assume… which is of course exactly what we do. We practice our polite othering in so many ways and we forget.
    With this post you call us out. You see us not seeing you and the indignities you face because kind though we may be, we can also be careless, thoughtless and blind to our distinctive privilege cocktails from which we sip which may not apply to you and your context.
    Reversing this tendency is a lifelong project and we’re in it. This is why your work, your voice, your anger, your resilience, your presence are critical to getting us all to interrogate what role we play in holding the status quo in place. Innocence is no longer a claim we can honestly make.

  8. You already figure so prominently in my next blog post, and this post will be added, so really, I can’t forget you.

  9. I can relate to your observation about being braver in writing, Sherri, and I’ve been reflecting about that and have many thoughts. Often now in my school environment my questioning is interpreted as being negative or contrary whereas I’m just wondering. I like the idea of letting go of the need to have/provide answers, and sometimes as a parent and educator I’ve felt trapped by having to know something – not so much recently though.

    Sometimes I think my history of teaching myself not to ask questions is related to feminist issues and resulting in a couple (not more!) of instances when a young man told a young me I thought too much with the implication that it was not attractive to men. But I see men in the same situation, maybe for different reasons so it doesn’t have to be a feminist issue only.

    You can choose your company when you want to articulate your curiosity about things and maybe that’s another reason why it’s easier online – and more gratifying for me because, of course, there is a larger community to choose from.

    Now I think I’ve strayed from Maha’s main points and I don’t want that to happen because I don’t want her to feel invisible! So much to unpack in this post, Maha.

  10. Maha,
    There’s nothing wrong with “vulgar,” except in somebody else’s mind whoever that mysterious other is (a voice in your head that you can choose to shut up–at least, I did!). Rarely do I meet anyone at all these days who isn’t wrestling with some kind of insider/ outsider angst. Fuck that, I say vulgarly. I see you digging deep. Soul deep. Keep on doing that. That’s the only dance in town.

  11. Half a world away, I have not forgotten you. Your voice is in me. While I’ve been busy exploring my own “me-ness,” I have listened from the margins, admiring your strength and clarity of voice. Injustice and indignities for the “other” makes me weep and curse and then seek to open myself to embrace, to hold, to sit and listen and stand and yell out and shout, “What the !@#$ is wrong with you people!” I may only get to “see” you digitally, but part of you has entered me. And now I weep at the injustice and my sense of powerlessness in the face of it.

  12. Hi, I am one of the students who had i Week with Ken Bauer, I just wanted to thank you for your time and for sharing us about digital presence.Have a nice day!!

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