While I was preparing to study abroad, there were only two black students who have previously studied in Jordan. The majority of students who have completed my program are white women, who frequently discussed how it felt to be a woman in Jordan. Though I received helpful narratives from students, I was left feeling unprepared for how I would be perceived in Jordan as a black woman.
My first weeks of Jordan have been a time to discover how my racial identity is perceived. I am a black Muslim woman who wears the hijab, so my experience differs from my fellow black women who do not wear the hijab. Nevertheless, my friends and I often share our experiences with one another. I talk about how some taxi drivers will not offer me a ride even though their car is empty. We all agreed that we received stares while walking around, and to some extent receive hyper-sexualized comments such as, “hot chocolate.” For my two black friends, in particular, they experience stares and comments pertaining to their hair.
During the beginning of the semester, our program provided a session on race, led by a Jordanian-Sudanese activist. Though her mother is Jordanian, she does not have Jordanian citizenship since citizenship is passed down paternally. Since her father is Sudanese, she does not receive the privileges that come with citizenship, such as reduce university costs. Her dissertation discusses Blackness in Jordan and interviews people who have ancestry to the African continent. I was thankful to hear her speak about her struggle with her black identity and the experiences she faced as someone who was born and raised in Jordan but oftentimes isn’t considered Jordanian. Afterward, I was able to reflect with my friends on how we can navigate this shared identity and how to unpack these situations with one another.
An interesting point that was brought up during the race talk is how some Jordanian may think that race is not an issue since Jordanians come in all shades or the fact that Jordan is not like the U.S. when it comes to racial tensions. The speaker brought up a great point on how calling out racist incidences is not akin to placing a stereotype on Jordanians as racists. However, it is important to have conversations on race with Jordanians who may or may not hold these sentiments.
As I continue to navigate my black identity in Jordan, its important to know that racism manifests differently in different regions. Being black and abroad has helped me grow through self and group reflections with my friends. If you are a black student reading this (whether you will/are studying in Jordan or elsewhere), I advise you to research on this topic and how it relates to your region of study. Reach out, not only to your program staff and friends but also try and locate the community that holds a shared identity and/or reminds you of home during your stay. To my black peers, remember that your experience abroad will differ from other people of color and white peers, so take some time to reflect on your time abroad, as this is an experience of growth and experiences.