because I am allowed
to write this I am
allowed because it is
allowable to write this
it’s law because
all law’s written
for all it’s right
for all because a law is
all is all la ilaha il
allah because it’s all
right for all it’s all
otted all owed
(a rumination on identity, woven in with some poetry and quotes i like—by benbooneh, july 13, 2014)
i’m gonna quit these wanderin’ blues…
i’m always stuck on this question of home, and because i’m so addicted to searching for it in other places i’m starting to realize some thangs.
southern twang n fela7i slang / sound like cousins who married / too young / fried okra fridaze / magdoos fatoosh tartoos style / soul food leaves everyone in daze / i still wonder if we sang the same songs/ just in different shades of bluze
i definitely bought into that whole east/west split in terms of who i am and how i operate. it’s so easy for us displaced / diaspora kids to get caught up in the koolaids (the book by rabih alameddine) trope that goes somethin like:
I am Too Western for the East, too Eastern for the West
but of course, the tension that emerges is one of the primary critiques of edward said’s orientalism: without the occident, would there be an orient? does getting rid of orientalist frameworks eliminate the orient as a construction? and how do we redraw the map/ reconceptualize these splits ourselves, geographically, epistemically, particularly if we are caught in between?
i thought i had an authentic, real self that somehow I needed to “find” because it was getting corrupted by the “inauthentic” western influences. even though intellectually i could distinguish the ways those dichotomies have been created by violent academic discourse and is used to further political aims, to create and reinforce coloniality of power/ being (see Stuart Hall’s The West and the Rest: Discourse and Power, Shohat and Stam: Unthinking Eurocentrism, Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, Ramón Grosfoguel’s Structures of Knowledge, Lugones on the coloniality of gender, Nelson Maldonado-Torres) etx; i never began the processing of deconstructing how i internalized it so intimately. it seemed so clear.
There (in the wild wild East)- I wear hijab, I am a good daughter, I pray five times a day. I wash dishes, I pretend I’m going to get married. I take care of my family, I listen to lectures from my grandfather. I fold grape leaves and make kibbeh. I even wear abayas if I’m feeling really into it, everything I say is peppered with “mashallah’s” and “inshallah’s.”
Here (in the wild wild West)- I am a morally degenerate heathen, who smokes and drinks and fucks and is suuuper gay because I’ve “lost myself” to “western” values. I wear crop tops and booty shorts if I can. I go out late, I go to class hungover but I still get straight A’s. Cuz that’s how we do.
living between the worlds my whole life made me conceptualize them as “pure” and distinct in themselves based on my contrasting life experiences.
like maria lugones says in pilgramages/peregrinajes,
traveling between worlds is being a different person in different worlds & having memory of oneself as different without having the sense of there being any underlying I
i’ve read the criticisms of that typa epistemological experience, that if there is no underlying “I” then there is no real, authentic self from which one experiences the world, but on an intimate level, what lugones says rings true for me.
i have heard it over and over again from lovers. “i don’t know who you really are. you’re so different when you’re here from then when you’re there and there and there”
and that is why i am terrified when these worlds collide, when mutual friends overlap, when orbits weave into each other in inevitably dizziying waze.
sometimes it can make you crazy because you can’t get out. I have so many worlds and every world is a whole other world. But in your mind they’re totally separated, but then they’re all there in your mind together. You get to a point that you’re about to explode.
Nuha, a daughter of immigrants Nadine Naber interviews in Arab America: Gender, Cultural Politics, and Activism
i remember in arabic lessons as a 10 year old, my teacher asked me to illustrate the world “m’terjemeh” (translator). i drew a picture of myself, split down the middle. one side was browner skinned and wearing hijab, and had bushy eyebrows. the other side was wearing bright orange clothes and was lighter. my “western” side. my Lebanese teacher was confused by what i had brought to class—could you explain this to me? it seemed so obvious. “I am a translator on the inside, because one part of me is this and the other part is this. They speak different languages and wear different clothes but if I translate they make sense.”
it also reflected my formative experiences dealing with the traumas of racism in the u.s. amerikkkan South and not being able to explain exactly what i am, not knowing which binary of black and white i fit into, being a middle child bridging conflicts between siblings, parents, spaces….having an autoimmune sleep condition that swings me back and forth between waking and unconscious states, sometimes not knowing which one i am apart of or living in physically—here or there or in between. i also didn’t know where to categorize myself geographically, or culturally— i felt too brown for the Syrians, and too far back Algerian to call myself African, too temporary to call myself american either. no wonder i am so crazy now.
then i lived in Tunis for four months and finally got a glimpse of the life i am never allowed to live in Jordan when i spend summers with my family. Tunis was a life where hijabis smoke fuck and drink, one where everyone has a fiancé but has sex with 3-4 partners at the same time, one full of nuances. a nation of inside jokes- “welcome to Tunisia!” i remember my friend telling me. “The Muslim country where everyone’s drunk and no one prays!”
i think of Nadine Naber talking about hypenated identities—
the hypen does not mark a simple duality between two distinct cultural heritages, but emphasizes the multiple and local global conditions that shape identity, and happens when different narratives of nations, classes, genders, generations, sexualities, and so on, collide with one another as “interstices,” or “third-space.”
reconstructing and fusing these spaces is a decolonial, futurist, imagination infused project. i remember my mother telling me she didn’t want to get married in a white wedding dress because it was too colonial and western. but when she asked her elders what people wore before white, they didn’t know. maybe red? but what did it look like? was it embroidered with gold? no one remembered. her mother said: we’ve always worn white, that is our culture… the erasure of that memory was made less violent by the strange finality in accepting that maybe there was no “pure” pre-western past but one full of hybridity and fusion… one where the memory of white wedding dresses was so new (or old? or ours? or theirs?) that it became a part of us. this is the challenge of the decolonial project: we can’t remember the pre-colonial, so we stitch together whispers and slivers of things that may not have been real, things that maybe never were with what we envision our futures will look like.
diaspora is cleanin up yesterday’s crumbs from the kitchen floor and using them to figure out what foods your ancestors ate, is hearing the echoes of a same song in your dreams and wonderin if it’s the same one your ancestors fell asleep to, is knowing you exist here and somewhere else, in another place, and that when you sleep these worlds collide inside of you
writing is a way to do this. as a child i used to love madeleine l’engles book a wrinkle in time because it made me unravel linear concepts of time to find rifts in the continuum. i had to find the spaces between fourth and fifth dimensions, the space between third world and first, global north and south, and i usually ended up somewhere in the outer reaches of my imagination. in Alexis Gumbs’ dissertation she calls upon the project of the critical Black diaspora theorist “to undo a western lexicon of time and space,” (lorde, I love that).
because this is where queerness and futurism become sisters in the search for home.
Queer politics must be radically futurist because of the dire unacceptability of the present political situation, especially for people of color.
and from the Black queer studies anthology:
"our quareness exploded upon the ordinary life of childhood and made family and friendship all the more difficult, morphing them into the bittersweet tonic that many of us now refer to as "home"—a place of refuge and escape.
while it is painful to never know home, to feel repulsed in your own home but loved at the same time, to balance between contradictions and sip that bittersweet tonic, i find something valuable in it still. what a beautiful and joyous thing it is to be a traveler between these worlds. my subjectivity has been carved through this split consciousness, and i am just now starting to appreciate the value in its inherent queerness- which is neither here nor there, but still completely wild. Audre Lorde said “for the embattled/there cannot be home/nor is” but her biomythography is a perfect example of a decolonial imagination in motion, a futurist project that melded together her blurry early memories with the mystical yearnings of her present and futures. she did find home, in poetry, in the power of the erotic, in romantic companions, in words, in protest, in love. to me that is what Chela Sandoval is saying when she calls for social erotics and decolonial love. the erotics are the place where our “deepest knowledge is found.” it is the blurry instincts, the ancestral attractions, whispers of what coulda-shoulda-maybe-was.
if somebody asked me where home was i would say humid southern nights crossed with wavering athaan mornings crossed with shisha hiccups in pick up trucks, old roads that lead to no where special but ayeeeha bumps, more than that, dirbeka beats and bbq paper plates, shrimp scampi over cheese grits served with crock pot tajine, niqabi’d aunties and queers who are just tryna make it. this house is an explosion of displaced people strung together by wounds and fractures, we are poets, lovers, sisters, you, me, and alla the other ones of us caught somewhere in between
this is the kind of conversation i have with people a lot, even the ones that are very close to me:
"Where are you from?" I’m from here, I was born in France, I grew up here. "But.. where are you from-from?” My mother is Algerian-Egyptian, my father is Rajasthani, Bengali. “No offense, I thought you were just black.” —- i don’t answer —- ”What are you doing in France? Why are you here?” Most of my family are/were refugees, because of wars, I’m a daughter and grand-daughter of immigrants, hard loving people who cared about us so much, they left the comfort of their home. I’m trying to fully embrace it, it makes me who I am, but is it solely who I am? “This is so exotic” I’m not food.
usually the conversation ends here.