Black Tunisian women: I don’t belong because of my skin color

Khawla Ksiksi says she is sometimes made to feel as if she is an outsider and not black Tunisian

Black Tunisian women claim that since the country’s president criticized migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, they have been subjected to more instances of racism.

Black Tunisian citizen and activist Khawla Ksiksi asserts, “In Tunisia, people are always questioning the fact that I’m Tunisian.”

Accusing sub-Saharan migrants of a “criminal plot” to alter the country’s demographics and cultural identity, President Kais Saied issued “urgent measures” in February.

He continued by stating that “a desire to make Tunisia just another African country and not a member of the Arab and Islamic world” was the source of immigration.

Human Rights Watch says that since then, there has been more violence against black African migrants. The statement has only made things worse for black Tunisians, who make up between 10 and 15 percent of the Tunisian population, according to official figures.

The slave trade was outlawed in Tunisia nearly 180 years ago, so some of these people are descendants of sub-Saharan African slaves, while others can trace their roots much further back.

Ms. Ksiksi tells the BBC that she feels like she is not noticed: Because they don’t want me to be a part of Tunisia, they sometimes answer when I speak Arabic.

Although Arabic is Tunisia’s official language, Ms. Ksiksi claims that when she speaks it, she is frequently rejected because others do not want to acknowledge a connection to her.

Even though French is a language of “outsiders” and is associated with education and privilege, using it to respond to her demonstrates that they do not believe she is Tunisian.

Ms Ksiksi, who is a prime supporter of the Voices of Dark Tunisian Ladies aggregate, needs to challenge the misguided judgment that dark Tunisians don’t exist.

Hundreds of people took to the streets of Tunis following the president's remarks

“I feel like I have a place with Tunisia despite the fact that it’s so fierce towards me [and individuals who look like me],” the 31-year-old says.

“They don’t treat us like Tunisians do, and they don’t treat themselves like Africans.”

She argues that black Tunisians still hold the colonial view that they are “dusty and unclean,” even though Tunisia gained independence from France in 1956.

“This is why Tunisia is experiencing a significant identity crisis. Although we had declared independence on paper, colonial politics persist.

She believes that the perception that there are no black Tunisian citizens is bolstered by the fact that black people are underrepresented in positions of social and political power.

Ms. Ksiksi states, “As black Tunisians, we have to constantly prove that we are enough because my skin color says I don’t belong.”

She adds, “It’s even harder for black women.” I had to always get the best grades in school because every teacher thought I would cheat because they thought black people were not very smart.

The activist claims that she has the financial means to get a good education, but that this privilege frequently makes her feel alone: You feel alone and excluded because you are always the only black person in the room.

“I generally feel like everything is white and I’m the dark dab.”

Houda Mzioudet, like Ms. Ksiksi, asserts that the issue lies in the fact that Tunisian society is based on a “homogenized nationhood” that prevents discussion of racism.

Houda Mzioudet says the legacy of slavery lives on even though it was abolished in the 19th Century

“What is substantially more rough in Tunisia isn’t bigotry itself, yet the refusal of prejudice, where you’re kept your own terrible experience from getting prejudice,” says the 46-year-old scholarly analyst and teacher.

Some black Tunisian women, including Ms. Mzioudet, participated in the Facebook trend “Carrying My Papers Just In Case” in response to the president’s statements.

To demonstrate that they were Tunisians and to show solidarity with migrants, they displayed their ID and passports on their clothing.

Although Ms. Mzioudet was born in Tunis, the country’s capital, she spent her childhood in the south, where she witnessed a “de facto form of slavery and apartheid” in the 1980s.

Although the black African slave trade was outlawed in Tunisia in 1846, its legacy lives on today.

“There has been a continuation of homegrown subjugation, in spite of the fact that they are done calling individuals of color slaves however rather workers – subsequently the Tunisian Arabic word to allude to an individual of color is ‘wessif’ signifying ‘worker’,” Ms Mzioudet says.

Despite her privileged upbringing, she discovered at school that “or something like prostitution” was the typical career choice for black women.

“It was very difficult for me to emancipate myself from that picture growing up in an environment where black women have always been objectified and sexualized,” she says.

Ms. Mzioudet thought that the president’s comments about migrants from sub-Saharan Africa were an attack on the Arab Spring and what it meant for black Tunisians.

In 2011, amid an unprecedented wave of street protests, long-serving President Zine al-Abidine Ben fled the country. After decades of dictatorship, democracy was later established, giving black Tunisians a chance to be seen in society.

Ms. Mzioudet felt more at ease referring to herself as black as black Tunisians began to demand greater equality.

Tunisia criminalised racial discrimination in 2018 but some say it has not changed people's experiences

A landmark law criminalizing racial discrimination, particularly anti-black racism against black Tunisians and African migrants, was enacted in 2018 in Tunisia. It was the first Arab nation to make discrimination based solely on race a criminal offense.

According to both Ms. Ksiksi and Ms. Mzioudet, the government has permitted the discrimination and inequality that black Tunisians face to flourish despite these laws.

According to Ms. Mzioudet, the fact that hundreds of people demonstrated their support for black African migrants and Tunisians in February is a positive sign that the younger generation is hopeful and wants to see change.

According to what she claims, “I was brought to tears to see one of the largest marches in downtown Tunis that was mostly made up of non-black Tunisians who were saying that black lives do matter.”

“And that it is a human rights issue rather than a black issue.”

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