Photo Credit. Historical photo of a Nubian.
Egyptians range in skin color from the palest European to the darkest African, and every shade in between.
A bad thing happened on Friday. My Sudanese nanny, Suzy, was the victim of a pretty serious racist incident. Suzy is south Sudanese, of the Dinka people. She was on the bus to Rehab to come to work on Friday morning. It being Egypt, only one side of the bus had curtains. The older Egyptian lady in the seat in front of her told her to give her the whole curtain. Suzy said no, she would prefer to share the curtain.
The older Egyptian lady told her that she did not need the curtain "because she was black." Suzy asked her why she was being so rude. The lady replied "F#$^ your black mother. You Sudanese have no right to be in Egypt. I can make your day blacker than your face."
Suzy had the self restraint to just ask her why she was being so outrageous. The lady responded by hitting her in the face. Suzy, to her credit, did not hit back. Only one person on the bus came to her defense. A man behind her offered her his curtain. The rest did nothing.
Then, after suffering these ridiculous indignities, Suzy was detained by the Rehab security guards, who demanded to see her passport. She did not have it on her, so they held her for 45 minutes. She came to my house, apologizing for being late. I heard her story and was furious. I packed all the kids and her into a taxi. I went to the security location at the bus stop in Rehab.
As a woman of color, an African-American woman, a woman of African descent, I have been in Suzy's position many times. I have been called n*&%(%& and mulatto. I have had fist fights many times. Some times I won, and sometimes I lost, but I always fought back.
As I have mentioned, Egypt is very very hierarchical. I am not. I do not like hierarchy, and it makes me feel sick to benefit from it. But, this particular time, it came in handy. I wore my American University in Cairo ID. I asked Suzy, and my fabulous Egyptian taxi driver (who only speaks Arabic) to translate for me.
I said. "I am a professor at American University in Cairo. This is my employee. She has been mistreated. An Egyptian lady hit her in the face, but you detained my employee, not the aggressor. That is racist, and I will not put up with it. President Sadat's mother was Sudanese. There is no reason to treat the Sudanese badly. They are our neighbors, and our brothers and our sisters."
The guards replied that they knew I was a professor. They also pointed to their skin, and said how could they discriminate, they are dark too. I said, "That is fine, and perhaps it is not your fault. But my employee was called racist names, and she was treated badly because she is Sudanese. You did not help her. Instead, you gave her a hard time. I never want to have a problem like this again, and if I have one, I am pressing charges against everyone involved." The security guards were duly chastened. Suzy told me that they did not ask her or her sister for their IDs in the following days. If only I could ensure that she and her sister would not face discrimination in Egypt again.