Beyond the Box ‘Other’

Amal Amaskane: Beyond the Box ‘Other’

Amal Amaskane is a member of the 2018-19 MALA Young Leaders Fellowship. Fellows participate in monthly digital seminars, dinner discussions, and other MALA events. As part of the program, Fellows reflect on their multiple layers of identities – as daughters, sons, professionals, athletes, and so much more – and share those reflections into the MALA story collection. Personal stories can be a powerful catalyst for change – challenging stereotypes, building bridges, and inspiring action. In a country as diverse and complex as the United States, the identities of Muslim Americans remain layered and contested. We all have stories to tell: stories that deserve to be collected, conserved, and celebrated. We are honored to share the stories of our Fellows here.

Three years ago, I immigrated to the United States as a young adult. Happy Immigraniversary to myself!

Relocating on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean while soul-searching and root- investigating was a tremendously impactful event in my journey of individual identity. Here I was, a Muslim French Moroccan Berber woman, adding my touch to the so-called, world-celebrated ‘American melting pot.’ I was not prepared for what was coming for me.

Even though I was very aware of the bloody past and the tense present of the U.S. racial paradigm, being immersed into it and constantly compelled to adjust to it was disturbing to say the least. To break the news for you, I check the box “Other” for every racial census associated with administrative paperwork. On paper, it is easily done. A stroke of pen and I move on to the next question.

Face-to-face conversations require more than the box Other.

Suddenly, the multiplicity of my identities is overshadowed by one and only aspect: the ambiguity of my race. People desperately need to know: am I mixed? Am I black? Am I white? Let’s take a vote! What if none of these options fit?

I could detail you countless encounters; very interesting conversations about U.S. racial and identity politics, African native tribes of North African, or post-colonial African immigration to European countries; and less interesting conversations about the surprising combination of my hair type and my skin complexion tone without mixed parents. Carrying a large dose of sarcasm, I am considering the option of charging money for people inquiring about my race. Isn’t it true that nothing is free in America? Then pay me dollars and get to know about the box “Other” and the Berber tribes of North Africa!

All humor aside, this odd, continuing sociological and almost anthropological experience progressively sharpened my leadership in own my identity on this foreign land; I do not authorize public institutions and the public gaze to roughly sketch it for me, solely based on its obsessive lens of race.

As I travel and build nests in different parts of the world, as I learn from different cultures, what stays with me consistently? Wherever I walk on this planet, three of my identities prevail in my way to embrace life: being a woman, being a believer, and being a learner.

The first one relates to external mechanisms. As I navigate and experience different societies and spaces as a woman, I lead my way as a woman. I have realized the power of defining and redefining the terms of my womanhood at all times.

The second one resides inwardly and is directly linked to my spirituality. My train of thoughts and my decision-making process are directly linked to my values of tolerance, respect, peace, and reason springing from my internal spiritual quest.

The third one is the fruit of the engine of curiosity. Questioning, observing, reading, listening, comparing, thinking, and analyzing are all encompassed in my identity of learner that accompanies me on a daily basis in my decision-making and action-taking processes, similarly to my spiritual identity.

Now, as a complex, multi-layered being, the relationships between my identities are also dynamic, fluid, and even ambivalent sometime. If we meet in a library, my google-eyed bookworm self is whom you’ll probably see. If we talk politics for a lengthy period of time, you may get a glimpse of a fierce woman with radical socialist and postcolonial tendencies. More generally, if it’s about lifestyle, be ready to meet my cultural French, Moroccan and Berber selves all at once! You could even meet my American entrepreneurial self if we do business together. And the list goes on.

Too much to fit in this tiny box “Other,” right?

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