Writing by Fatima Bouzidi. Artwork by Kate Granholm.
You walk into the bar, the familiar throng of white faces burns into your skin, you sit, and you wait. You trace the droplets on the glass and wait for her arrival. You think about how the wall art reminds you of the pictures in your mum’s living room and see no one that looks like your mother. She arrives, you make niceties and you observe: white, posh but not posher than usual, Edinburgh shifted the goalposts. You are burdened by the force of your existence, the blood that runs through your veins, the language she wouldn’t be able to understand, how home is a city comprised entirely of immigrants and how you miss cheap pints. She tells you about her family, middle class, she grimaces, slightly racist but not intentionally so, she grimaces again. She tells you how her father leans more towards the perspective that immigrants are comparable to cockroaches and her mother bats at his childish sentiment with tightly laced laughter. She tells you that she did have Arab friends growing up and you wonder if she’s lying and if they need saving. You could’ve sworn you heard Nancy Ajram begin to play but you realise she would’ve definitely said if it wasn’t just a figment of your imagination.
We discuss politics. She says the situation in the Middle East is complicated and she can’t believe racism still exists here. You laugh with her, how could you not, in fairness maybe you wouldn’t have known about racism if she hadn’t told you. She tells me that sometimes when she walks into coffee shops she doesn’t think she looks gay enough and wants to add more rainbow laces. She tells me that sometimes she wishes she’d be on the receiving end of a ‘dyke’ strewn across a street so she’d feel more like she could be angry at the world for something. She asks me if I could help her solve a riddle that’s been really bothering her. She tells me that she complimented one of her brown friends on their caramel skin and invited her friend to family dinner but couldn’t comprehend why she didn’t want to talk to her anymore. I tell her I’m not sure and maybe her friend didn’t really like caramel. We leave, we perform a brisk hug and she says she’ll text me. When I get home I find the message: Great date, was so good meeting you, you’re so interesting we should do something again soon x
You’re in a seminar, this week’s speciality is race, you’re tired, your mum called you this morning: someone told her to go back to her own country and we discuss the decline of the labour government. Your head is weighty, not just with a headache but with apprehension for the next two hours. We begin. You hear from your white tutor how her ancestors participated in slavery but she vehemently posts black squares and hashtags and she can’t comprehend how anyone could ever partake in such brutality. Fair point, I guess. Your tutor describes immigrants, she’s mixed up the ethnicities though. Easy enough to do, I mean how can we expect white people to differentiate between a mocha and a latte. You wish you’d smoked before class and not saved it for after so you could ignore the eyes boring into the back of your head when she begins her monologue on diversity in the classroom. You wonder how many diversity points you could collect if it was a game show.
Now you’re at a meeting, they’re discussing colonialism at the university. You refrain from laughter when the sea of white faces describes how much they hate racism, imperialism and god how disgusting the UK is. You interject to ask if any of them have tangible experience of racism. I think they miss your question. They move on to discussing communism next. One of them tells her tale of arrest, she echoes her activism to the group, her harrowing tale of the met police asking her where in Surrey her parents were from and to please stop causing civil disruption on campus because she has such a bright future ahead of her.
Now you’re in a protest, you wonder what your body represents at that moment, brownness? Otherness? Lesbianism? Arabisation? Diaspora?
You don’t have time to consider, the activists have taken to the stage. They shove in front of you, standing shoulder to shoulder with their white comrades. They clap at the appropriate times and shout power to the people, fuck the government. You’re wondering what people they mean because you don’t see any of yours. You watch them get up in turn, it starts. You hear about racism, microaggressions, tone policing. You ask the white comrades who keep shoving past you to have an awareness of their surroundings and they tell you not to be so aggressive. They gleefully discuss the revolution, they’re leading of course. You text your friend and ask if her body also feels like a war zone and she says yeah, it’s more like bullets being fired at it repeatedly though whilst they collect my bruises and display them to the world.
You’re in your room, you think of your time here and Nancy Ajram returns again. Maybe you’re going mad. Actually maybe you’re just uninformed, that’s what they would say, read more of our infographics. You post an angry story because you want to step out of your skin, to stop the burning of your brownness, to be simple, not encumbered by your oat latte reality. You receive the responses: I’m so sorry I’ll do better at checking my privilege, let me know if there’s anything I can do I can’t believe people are still racist.
Fuck, my body isn’t mine, it was always theirs.