What is worse: to be called a Nigga or a Slave?

A video of NYPD stop-and-frisk program harassing people on the streets got me thinking about this question. It made me realize I don’t know what it is like to be black in America. I am black in Arabia and it is a completely different thing. So I ask: which is “better”, to be feared and faced with aggression or to be treated as inferior?

Growing up in Saudi Arabia, I was made to feel different than everyone else. I faced a lot of racism and discrimination but I was never beaten up, arrested or even followed in a department store like Obama. It was a different kind of racism than what you see in America. They are not scared of you here; they just view you as lesser human than them.

It’s 2013 and people in Saudi Arabia, and neighboring countries, still call black people slaves. Abd “عبد” literally means slave. Just a few weeks ago I saw this comment from a Kuwaiti guy on ASAP Rocky’s instagram saying “U r 3abd kwy7a” [you are a really black slave].

Here’s one difference between being black in Arabia and being black in America: when someone uses slave to describe a black person, nothing happens. When someone influential (and not black) in the US uses the n-word, they pay for it.

I’m not sure if being despised is better than being viewed as a threat. I grew up with no sense of identity or belonging to a community. I thought something was wrong with me because I was alienated and the other kids in school were calling me names. Sometimes I even wished I could peel the darkness off my skin so I could feel accepted and normal.

I never really grew to appreciate my family’s Ethiopian and Eritrean heritages until I went to the United States. People treated me like one of them and I realized there was nothing wrong with me. There was everything wrong with how I was treated as a kid. Only then, I started to wish my parents had taught me Tigre, Tigrinya or Amharic. I had longed to have an identity and I wanted to get closer to my African roots.

In the Saudi Arabia I grew up in, no culture was celebrated or accepted besides Saudi Nejd culture. The people of Hejaz, where I grew up, had to suppress their identities and adapt to the Nejd identity. As a result of feeling inferior to the Bedouins, the Hejazis took it out on us foreigners. By foreigners, I mean kids born and raised in Saudi Arabia to non-Saudi parents. Yes, they label us as foreigners.

How did Saudi kids feel about world cultures? All cultures were a source of mockery. They mocked everyone from Africa to Asia for the way they dressed, the food they ate and how they acted. “Hey you ——- ” (insert nationality) was used for insult. A conversation with a Saudi person rarely passed without him reminding you that you’re of such nationality. In their reality everyone is shit and their shit don’t stank. As the Saudis have always said “Raise your head up, you are Saudi. The others are inferior and you are superior – ارفع راسك أنت سعودي، غيرك ينقص و أنت تزود”. You can imagine what it’s like growing up in a place like this.

When the issue of race is brought up in Saudi Arabia people get very defensive and dismiss the matter. They hang onto Bilal Ibn Rabah, the token black guy for muslims, so much to deny racism. Bilal’s story is indeed one of the greatest stories of Black people’s struggle for freedom, but it has very little to do with the reality we live in. They say Islamic society never struggled with racial segregation and discrimination in the way the west did and therefore should not be included in the discussion. I think the simple fact that slave is synonymous with black in today’s language makes my argument.

Only when a problem is acknowledged can it be dealt with. There is a lot of young Black Saudi people that struggle with issues of race and being made to be outcasts. I think it is very important to give those people a voice. I am not looking to ask racist people not to be racist. If black people accept racism then you can’t blame others. The attitude of a lot of black Arabs tends to be of defeat and self indulgence. I understand because I was there before.

I feel a lack of presence of black people in Arabic culture and specifically in the Saudi one. The only influential Black Saudis I can think of are athletes. There are big Saudi families that migrated from various parts of West of Africa to Hejaz, long before the beginning of the Saudi dynasty in 1744. That is too much history to be ignored. We need stories.

If you are a black Arab, don’t let your society define you. Don’t let your color define you. Don’t be convenient. Don’t blend in. Stand up and stand out. We need black Arab leaders because we don’t have those.

Lastly, I look forward to the day when if a Saudi kid called someone a slave, his mom would slap the shit out of him. 

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5 thoughts on “What is worse: to be called a Nigga or a Slave?

  1. I can relate to every word you’ve said. I am black living in an Arabic country I am a woman and this makes it harder because I am viewed as an ugly person.I can’t defend my self when am called names while walking in the street because I was never taught how to do it. The most annoying thing is that I am always viewed as stupid when people know that I am an engineer you can see the shock on their faces!!!!
    When I realized that the people problem with me was me being black, my energy was already consumed trying it go on, trying not to be defined by society. I feel I just can’t keep going. Because this prejudice and racism is practiced by all people, no mater what are their academic degrees, there religiousness.
    Good luck in your voyage.

    • Thank you for being brave enough to speak up. I hesitated to post this article, because I like to focus on positive things, but your response gives it a meaning. There is nothing wrong with you sister. I would be happy to chat if you want, hit me up on twitter @mojoiam.

  2. Moved me wallahi !
    had me in tears ,i can relate 100% i am African myself the way Africans are treated in Arab countries is worse than anywhere on earth !

  3. Love your article. I’ve been reading up on the unreported racism in Saudi Arabia recently. A lot off people don’t realise that it exists to shocking extents.

    Thank you for enlightening me through your perspective.

    I am a black guy from London, England.

  4. I really enjoyed reading your blog, you reminded me of this scenery happend infront of me at Saudi Arabia , where two kids are playing at neiborhood one is saudi other is black not sure what his nationality is, then they both decided to go to the grossery shop near by, the saudi kid said ” last to reach the grossery his mother is (Haja Sawda) you know >black old lady< Normally I waited for black kid reaction to be slapping saudi in his face , shockingly the black kid ran and ran too fast as he want to prove that his mother ain't black ( the little ….) but I won't blame him, all I wanted to do as that moment is to follow the saudi kid and say to him "how do u feel now after your mother is turned to be (Haja Sawda) u son of …." Really can't agree with you more that this Chaos must reach an end! They went for too long black must stand up high .

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