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Who am I?

Musings about identity and how it is defined by race, color, gender, spoken language, age, sexuality, and country of origin in these times of BLM.

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A friend called me the other day telling me that a colleague who was much higher in the hierarchy called her Natalie during a meeting. 

Well, her name is not Natalie, it is Marie …So she turned to her boss who was also attending the meeting and asked the guy why he was calling her Natalie and he said bluntly 

Oh, I call all black chicks Natalie… For convenience. You all look alike “ 

My friend’s jaw dropped while her male colleague went on with his speech while everyone in the room including her boss laughed out loud without restraint. She eventually was forced to leave the company after months of humiliation and severe depression. 

So well, it seems that being black is an ID that dictates how you are treated and the level of respect people give to you. 

Being black justifies to be called ”Natalie” in this case, and how you are treated as a second class employee and citizen. 

Being black is the only thing that matters for people for who black lives don’t matter. 

Ironic, isn’t it? 

And this happened in France, Paris, not 10 or 20 years ago, last year.

Another Friend Canadian ( well not everyone agrees on her being Canadian apparently…) wrote this on a public post on Facebook and it caught my attention: 

I sat next to a woman at an event recently who I was introduced to by a friend. This friend told her I had written a book. She looked shocked and asked me if it was a children’s book. 

I told her that it was a memoir.

She then asked me if I was a refugee and if my book was about me having to flee my home country. 

Like, WTF makes someone just assume you are a refugee and fled your country? 

Why is it so far fetched to this person that I wrote a book?

When I said no, I wasn’t a refugee, I was born and raised in Canada and that I had written a memoir because I had content to write about, she laughed at me and responded with, 

“Wow, I guess I should write a book too since I was born in this city just like you. So many of you kids think you have things to write about. Everyone is writing memoirs now.”

Wow!

Super shitty and racist and obnoxious. Also, this person is a school teacher!

I asked her why she would just assume I was a refugee or not Canadian – especially since I have a Canadian accent. She responded, “Well, you look Mediterranean”

Ummmm yeah, so??? Looking Mediterranean does not equal refugee. I explained to her that my family being from Africa doesn’t mean we are less than or poor or in danger and needing to flee one of the more gorgeous and liberal and safe countries on the planet. “ 

Well in this case, again DNA was the only thing that mattered. And, again this happened recently, not 50 years ago …

Now my back to my own stories of racism. 

My name is N’dèye Fana and I am what I would call a citizen of the world. I speak 5 languages. I am a French Citizen of Senegalese descent, born in Germany raised in France from the age of 5, and who is back in France after more than 10 years in Asia. People have a hard time labeling me, putting me in a box where I fit. 

In Asia, the Singaporean taxi Drivers would always ask me where I came from and when I answered “ I am French “, most of them would go “ blah”, only to ask a few minutes later another question “ I mean where were you born ?”

I would answer the truth and say “ Germany “ and I would inevitably witness on their face this look of incredulity mixed with total confusion and stress… 

A few minutes of heavy silence or of meaningless conversation would follow and they would ask :

I mean where did your ancestors come from ?“ 

And I would reply 

Oh, Africa, they come from Africa. That’s what you wanted to hear...”

And then they would have this look of relief, contentment, and peace because they could finally put me in a box and label me. 

I would then always return the favor and ask them “ Where do you come from ?” 

And they would answer a bit offended “ I am Singaporean! “ and I would reply 

Well Singapore is obviously a Malay Land and not a Chinese land so where do your ancestors come from? “

And they would feel very uncomfortable, offended, and threatened in their core and then, I would tell them:

You see you feel bad when I ask all these questions…Well, I feel the same way when you do. So, why would you feel, it is ok to question me and interrogate me on my origin just because I HAVE to come from Africa… Because I am Black. Why do you have to make me feel like an impostor when I tell you that I am French? ”

They would always apologize but that was not the point …

I was black, but it was not enough of a criteria to be French. The only thing that mattered was my DNA … He did not make me feel like an impostor, I already felt like one deep down.

So another question also needed an answer :

Why do most people feel uncomfortable when questioned on their origins aka DNA? After all, it is just often just a genuine question of people willing to know you better…

Yes, it could… Let’s dig deeper. 

When back to France after my divorce in May 2018, and when France won the world’s soccer cup, I could witness the incredible Joy of an entire country united and happy, it made me think again about that identity trap? Even more when it started becoming a polemic around the blackness of the French team and Trevor Noah’s comments. 

I was puzzled and could not help but ask myself these questions. 

Who are we? Am I my skin color? Am I my religion? Am I my Mother’s tongue? Am I the country where I was born? 

Am I the box you want to put me in? Am I my sexuality? Am I my DNA? 

The only thing I am sure of is that people will challenge you and make you feel that you do not belong … Even if you want to feel French and maybe that’s the real problem. It had always been the case as far as I could remember…

When I was passing my level A in sciences, and living in the Eastern of France, I chose an option to increase my scoring and signed up for an advanced German course for students who could speak “Alsatian” a local language derived from German. We would not speak “Alsatian” during the class but those speaking “Alsatian” had a much higher level of German and so it was the elite class of German speakers. 

The first day of class, the teacher’s jaw just dropped when she saw me in my blackness and well her prejudices about what an Alsacien speaker should be, were just the strongest and she asked me to go in front of the class and interrogated me for one hour, only to discover to her despair that I had more than the required level to attend her class … 

Did I feel humiliated? Yes … but how to put it in a simple and clear manner. You get used to it. That’s his things are. You get used to being the only black, brown, colored person in the room. 

When I passed my first interviews for a job after my business school. The HR director told me bluntly that I had brilliantly passed through the 6 interviews and that the only problem was that I was black. I told him that I belonged to 3 minorities because I was black, young, and a woman and that if those reasons were good enough for him to not hire me, it was not the company for me. I got the job and was the first colored person they hired. He also apologized and said he had to ask because he had to be sure that I would not go on depression after one week on the field facing potentially racists clients who were still not used to see white women in the company. 

When my Caucasian friends start talking racist bs in front of me and I tell them about it, they look at me surprised and tell me:

We are not talking about you. You are different, you are like us »

When I went to study for a 6-month Erasmus exchange in Italy while doing my business school, the first day of class. The famous professor of economics asked me: 

What are you doing here?”. There was a heavy silence in the room when the question popped up. 

So, I looked at her and replied with a very poised voice 

I saw the light and I came in” 

( “Ho visto la luce and sono entrata”) – You all know the Black brother’s movie scene I am referring to, right?

But don’t be mistaken, no one has a monopoly on racism. Yes, colorism is a big thing in my own community. 

When you go back to Africa, it is the same bs. They call you white and try to con you at every corner of the city and when I ask them why they just say : 

You are not like us. You are different

Sorry? Why? I look like you

No you don’t…you look like white folk” 

It happened to me so many times (more than I can recall ) that it does not affect me anymore, that’s just the price to pay when you are a visible minority here in France or in your country of origin. 

You are only given two choices: being visible or invisible …None of them feels good. 

Being just you seem never to be an option…

Even if My DNA is human …

Somehow DNA connects us all because we are all just 6 people away from each other and well that no one should have the right to define who someone is based on their own prejudice or their own personal projection

So a big NO to spiritual bypassing and the conspiracy theory where the victim becomes the perpetrator. 

So a big NO to the xenophobic people who call them non-French because they are black. It does not seem to bother people when people have Italian or Spanish roots because they are caucasian so all good…Check your DNA folks, you would be amazed…

A Big NO too to Africans who call the French colored people Africans when they win the World soccer cup and call them ”toubab”( white) when they actually go to Africa…

An even bigger NO to the so-called humanist French Ambassador who replied Trevor Noah angrily during the world Soccer cup and insisted on calling the Soccer players French citizens and nothing else because it is written on their passport and denied them their « African roots ».

And a hell of a big NO also to Trevor Noah who calls them Africans because they are black and feels somehow that the victory becomes also his or is an African victory somehow by calling them Africans and denies by doing so the reality of their ability to be real French citizens …

No, no, no …big NO as none of them really cares about the truth, the players, about us, about me … They are French of African descent since when has this become a dirty word? 

Did any of them take the time to ask us how we do feel? Certainly not because at the end of the day that’s probably the only thing that really matters…Not your fear-based projected reality. 

I believe that we are all a WE and well that’s ok. Let me choose what I want to be and don’t question me. Don’t challenge my identity because you need to put me in a box and label me. Just don’t. I get to decide who I am and what I want to BE. 

No one puts baby in a box…

Love and light to all

Fana Gueye

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