They Say

Myriam Bestowrous

June 27, 2020

They say my father’s people come from Naqada. 

They say my mother’s people come from Abruzzo and Calabria. 

 

Naqada is in southern Egypt. 

A place with a history older than the pharaohs. 

They call the south Upper Egypt because the Nile flows north. 

Es-Sa3id. 

 

People from there, the Sa3idis, are the butt of jokes about dumb, country people. 

Even Sa3idis themselves trade in these jokes.

Why is that? Is it because the skin runs darker there? 

Is it because the line between Egyptian and Kushite  is blurry there? 

That those lines used to be malleable before European imperialism? 

That there was exchange between peoples? Sometimes war? Sometimes enslavement? 

We cannot know some of those answers, Nasser flooded Lower Kush for the Aswan Dam. 

As if the Nile only belongs to Egypt. To the light of skin. 

An act of willful forgetfulness.

 

Be careful you don’t get too dark, the aunties say. 

Dark like the Sudanese, invisible domestic workers now instead of slaves. 

Or displaced Kushites with the same plight. And why? Darker shades of skin?

Or the reminder that Egypt is in Africa. That we are African. 

That we enslaved our neighbors for generations. Still keep them as cheap labor.

And many of us, the descendants of people who were vulnerable to the desires of their employer. 

Their owner. 

Their 3omda.

 

There are people in my blood who scream mutely at me of injustice. 

They are nameless, their stories forgotten. 

 

Calabria is in southern Italy and Abruzzo the north. 

My grandparents met in Libya during fascist Italy’s attempt at colonialism in Libya and Ethiopia.

They say they were able to have land there, to prosper. 

This prosperity came at a cost to the Libyans and Ethiopians, of course. 

Thankfully, they did not bear that cost long before they finally expelled the Italians in revolt.

There are people whose blood remembers the crimes of my ancestors. 

The ones who knew their names may still live.

 

My parents came to the US where I was born. 

A place built on the violence of genocide and slavery, where I have more privilege than they had. 

Where I can pass for white as a mixed kid. 

 

I am the sum of generations of both privilege and strife. 

Much of this history has moved beyond living memory or is shrouded by shame and secrecy. 

It roils in me sometimes. 

If I do not heal it, it will roil on in me: that shades of skin are cause for harm or help.

 

Remember with me. Look into the faces of those you fear. 

Who do they remind you of? What silent memory roils in you? 

Who is speaking to you in that land beyond time? 

 

The underworld. 

The left bank.

 

Down with the imperialist/white-supremacist/capitalist/heteropatriarchal state, everywhere.

Heal the world, heal yourself.

 

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   Nubian is what the Greeks named them

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Myriam Bestowrous (any pronoun used respectfully) is a facilitator, educator, writer, ex-social scientist, and the co-founder of The Turn Left, a forum for harmony between society, the economy and the environment.

I have struggled with mixed/queer/Coptic-ness for many years. As time passes, it becomes clearer that these are modern divisions of the self. I am what I am, it is notions of imperialism, class and race that fracture the world.

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