Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

10 Reasons You Can’t Tell Me I’m Not African (Enough)

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I recently got a comment from another academic questioning my Africanness after she read my poem I’m Not Angry at You, which people were tweeting quotes from as part of the Equity Unbound Twitter Scavenger Hunt (happening this week until Monday morning). I’m actually not sure why the poem triggered a questioning of my Africanness because it was more about my position as a postcolonial, really, and there are parts about “my continent” (what, you’re gonna deny Africa is my continent) and colonization of my people and my culture (what? Are you gonna deny Egypt was colonized?)

I tweeted about it, that I wore my South African colors the next day… and I admitte that it’s a controverial thing, that we discuss it in my class this semester a lot (probably because my recent visit to South Africa has made me feel more connected to Africa than before?)

But anyway. Someone I don’t know at all with a non-human-looking Twitter account (yes, I am biased against those) chose to educate m about all the ways I am *not really* African.

Someone asked me to blog about this a bit more. So I’m challenging myself to come up with 10 reasons. Keep in mind that I insist that I am not ONLY African. I am Egyptian AND Muslim AND Arab AND Mediterranean AND African and other less obvious identities like born-in-Kuwait-but-they-dont-give-citizenship (but I still have a sense of belonging to that). Like I have a PhD in education but I still remember being a computer scientist and it’s still part of what makes me who I am. Identity is hybrid and personal and evolving. And I don’t know everything about every African country, but…

Here are my 10 reasons

  1. Geography. I don’t get the point people make here. Yes there are different ways to categorize Egypt as Middle East (not our own naming, because middle of what and East of whom?) and North Africa. And I can tell you that while I share the Arab and predominantly Muslim cultures there, I don’t understand the Arabic dialects of Moroccans, Algerians or Tunisians. My kid doesn’t understand Gulf or Levantine accents (but I do because I grew up in Kuwait and most Arab adults eventually do)
  2. Colonialism in our history. Like, I don’t understand how anyone can be denying this. Really, how? And we don’t have the kind of resources South Africa had to be plundered..but our pharaonic history and artefacts and all that…
  3. Coloniality in our present. Neocolonialism is right here, everywhere, all the time. In our everyday media and interactions, and in our curricula and in our technology.
  4. Corruption all around us. To varying degrees
  5. Economic struggles (thanks to # 2,3,4 and more). Egypt is an Arab country, but we don’t share much economically with Kuwait or UAE, do we? And i understand we may be better off than other African countries, but still!
  6. When I talk about decolonizing knowledge with colleagues from South Africa, Mozambique, Cameroon, Namibia – it resonates; it is more commonly talked about there, but still resonates. We have common ground. When I read or listen to people from Nigeria, Kenya, it resonates. When my students read and listen to them, it resonates. Way more than Western authors, obviously. But also sometimes more than some Arab authors. And look, I share this with people from India, Pakistan, Iran, Argentina, Venezuela. Fine. But I also share in it as an African.
  7. The technology situation has many similarities. I work in edtech. So it always helps to talk to people who live in countries with unequal distribution of internet
  8. The education system problems have many similarities
  9. If you look at any one country in Africa, you might find mixtures of ethnicities (e.g clear in originally Indian/Muslim populations in Kenya and South Africa. You can’t deny their Africanness because several generations ago their ancestors came from somewhere) and the colonial divisions means some countries (like South Africa) have a variety of groups different from each other with different languages. In the same country. Historically, Egypt and Sudan used to be one country. Now they’re three. So there are differences within countries and among countries. So what? Aren’t Scandanvian countries European, and North Mediterranean countries, and former “East” and “West” Europe? And UK even if Brexit goes through? Aren’t people any ethnic origin who immigrated and bore children in Europe also European if they choose to identify as such?
  10. Difficulty in getting visas. This is one we REALLY share in common. And yes, I share this with Iranians, Pakiatanis and others. And Egypt does this to other non-Western people as well.

I am gonna stop here. Perhaps the person who posted originally on my poem thinks Africa is a country or something 😉 Plus I never mentioned Africa. I mentioned slavery in my continent ONCE. And I have every right to empathize with this. I never said it happened to me or my family or to Egyptians.

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