19 January 2018

How to be (sort of) Sudanese

rushaa young

Little Rushaa

How do you relate to being Sudanese when you are not just Sudanese, but also belong to another country and culture? When you are composed of a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, what space can you carve out for a “Sudaneseness”?

I am Sudanese. Sort-of. I think.

It’s a puzzle that I’ve been solving since my parents first moved us to Khartoum in my childhood. I’m too pale and Western to have people ever guess Sudanese when they are fishing for “where I’m from,” and it feels like when I say I am both Sudanese and British I should really add the disclaimer: TO BE CONFIRMED. Trying to figure out your own personal conclusions when everyone seems to want so desperately to assert that we are or we aren’t certain things as a country is difficult.

The trouble is, what, actually, makes someone Sudanese? Is it knowing Arabic fluently, despite the presence of traditional languages? Is it looking a particular way? Is it cultural practices? Where you live? Whether other Sudanese say you are? Is it just blood?

There are many Sudanese that defy the boundaries of what Sudanese are, not just myself. Browsing the hashtags #SudaneseMinorities and #IdentityInSudan on Twitter brings up excellent discussions about groups who have a more complicated understanding of nationality and identity – including Greek-Sudanese, Armenian-Sudanese, and the Sudanese Jewish community to name a few. Members of the diaspora also have the experience of growing up and belonging to foreign communities, and so have their own unique Sudaneseness to contend with. The reality for many in our community is that there is a chance for multiple places to call home or multiple places to feel like you don’t quite fit in.

Identity is the big question we all mull over, both in terms of our own personal journeys and in order to define what our societies should be like. In arguments over whether Sudaneseness as a whole should be shaped by an Arab or African outlook or a unique mixture of the two, we unintentionally put a wide variety of groups outside that national narrative. The trouble with identity is that at the end of the day it’s not just something you pick, it’s also something imposed on you. It is easier for me to slip in and out of these conversations – being mixed, there is less pressure to present myself in a particular way in order to be viewed as “truly” Sudanese than there is for others in groups not traditionally associated with the general idea of what a Sudanese person is like or should be.

This fortnightly column will focus on those mixed kids, those members of the diaspora, and those other Sudanese minorities who are grappling with a Sudanese identity that is not necessarily the mainstream, publicised one. In these next couple of weeks I’ll be looking at this balancing act that so many of us play, sometimes feeling a little bit like outsiders everywhere we go.


IMG_2828Rushaa is a (sort of) Sudanese writer whose work appeared in The Independent, BuzzFeed and Dazed. She’s a SOAS University of London alumna and an active member of Al-Mustakbal.




2 Comments on this post.

Leave a Reply to azza Cancel reply

  • azza
    22 May 2016 at 2:55 pm - Reply

    i think the identity is a really complicated issue . i mean even Sudanese people who live in Sudan – like me for instance – find it very difficult to determine what being Sudanese mean . is it those traditional cloths , variety of races and colors ? is it being Afro-arabs ?
    i think the issue of identity is really worth stopping and deep thinking , escpically for those minorties as you mentioned .

  • Amr
    23 May 2016 at 12:36 pm - Reply

    عن الاقليات اعتقد اننا ننطلق من اطروحة غير دقيقة لانني اظن انه ليست هناك اقليات الا بالمعنى الانثربولوجي اي عندما نتحدث عن الاعراق وحتى هذا – والان لايتحدث اغلب الانثربولوجيين عن العرق ولكن الاثنية- فان السودان به اغلبيات واضحة الاثنية الافريقية من النوبيين ( النوبة الشماليين ونوبة الجبال ودارفور والبجة ووغيرهم في الشرق والفونج والعنج في جبال كردفان ااشمالية وكل اثنيات الجنوب). ثم المستعربة (اثنية الجعليين الكبرى و) وعرب صراح من الزبيدية
    كل هؤلاء تبنوا الدين الاسلامي في الاغلب والمسيحي في جزء لكنهم تبنوا الثقافة النوبية في حياتهم اي خدث تنويب الاسلام وليس تعريب السودان

    في ولادتهم. وزواجهم ومماتهم وغذائهم وامثالهم وذكرهم وكرمهم السودانيون
    وقايل منه من حضارات اخرى
    يسلكون مسلك الكنداكات والفراعنة السود

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