Being a Somali woman at Manchester is a lot harder than you think
Enough of the pirate jokes
Being a Muslim woman with a Somali heritage, a visible minority, I felt an added apprehension staying in halls.
I worried that I might end up with the leader of the Youth Division of the English Defence League in the room next door, glaring at me and muttering something about ‘Sharia Law’ when I went to the kitchen.
I worried that my flatmates would take one look at my headscarf and think I was a crackpot extremist who would pour their Smirnoff down the drain in the middle of the night.
Fortunately, none of the above happened and my fears were mostly the sort of internalized paranoia that results from having communities you identify with consistently portrayed negatively in the media.
People in Oak House were nice. I felt included in countless games of Ring of Fire, Basics diet lemonade in hand, ready to pick out the unlucky victim should I draw the fourth King.
However, when Fresher’s Week ends, people become less inhibited around you, less conscious of what they are saying and how it may come across.
You begin to realise that Fallowfield isn’t quite the Utopia that was sold to you by the eager, now second year, resident when you looked around in February.
Your Identity becomes a problem for a number of reasons.
You’re not white
A few people just muttered ‘here we go’ reading that, but we can all agree that Fallowfield isn’t the most diverse campus.
In my own building, three out of 32 people are of African or Caribbean descent.
The lack of diversity doesn’t mean you experience overt racism or discrimination on a daily basis. You’re not chased through Owen’s Park late at night by someone in a Klan Outfit, burning cross in one hand and Kebab King in the other.
It’s more that these types of incidents would be the only type to garner much sympathy. People don’t understand why its offensive to be asked ‘where are you from?’ when you go to Chesters, as if you can’t possibly be English, just because you pronounced ‘Vimto’ wrong.
They think you’re just imagining it when you say you went to Dixy’s and a white guy in a suit, who made the exact order as you did but 10 minutes later, was served first.
When retelling these incidents, you’re met, for the most part, with eye-rolls and concern about the number of times you frequent Chicken shops. It’s unlikely that someone will mirror your frustration.
When you come from a non-English speaking home, you’re an amalgamation of two cultures. In halls, one of those is supressed.
You realise you hardly ever speak Somali anymore and that you’ve become a spectator to a community and a culture that you were once a part of.
You thought bringing a few baatiis from home to wear or making a Somali music playlist on YouTube would be enough to compensate for no longer being involved.
But instead, you end up feeling like someone who’s spent two weeks in Somalia for their gap year. The type of person who’s ridiculed on gurlgoestoafrica.tumblr.com.
A cultural appropriator who can tell you superficial information about the food and the clothes but doesn’t have the generic Facebook profile picture carrying a poor, malnourished, black baby to validate their experience.
Few want you to play Somali music at pre’s and even less want to discuss internal Somali politics.
Your practices are primitive and you’re not integrating
It doesn’t really matter what your practices or opinions are. They will be assigned to you based purely on your country, or more realistically, your continent of origin which will ultimately be decided by the way you look.
You take on many new roles, for example, the Chief Executive of the Halal Food Authority when you get approached with the off-hand ‘I’m not sure how I feel about Halal, you know’ comment from someone you know purchases their meat based purely on price and who has a complete disregard for whether it is Halal or free range.
You get the joy of reading your neighbour’s pseudo-intellectual Facebook rant about how Muslims have failed to integrate into British society and are bringing uncivilised, pagan practices to the country.
As probably the only Muslim they know, you wonder if you’re somehow responsible for this opinion, maybe you didn’t nod your head with enough enthusiasm when you passed them on the staircase.
In time you conclude however, that they’re probably just an ignorant bigot.
You don’t understand the meaning of the term ‘kicking off’
Living in Fallowfield isn’t bad. Most people are nice. The majority of the comments or incidents are ignorant rather than malicious, and so you approach it with sarcastic retorts rather than kicking off.
Then you find out that your sarcastic comments are being viewed as ‘kicking off’, a phrase you thought meant shouting and throwing things. You’re told to let things go when you thought that was what you were doing already.
On a particularly bad day, the only solution appears to be changing your name, abandoning your headscarf, slandering the culture and religion in which you were raised, all in the name of ‘banter’ and ‘integration’.
All in all, its completely fine being Somali in Fallowfield but don’t acknowledge that you are being treated differently and enjoy the hilarious pirate jokes people come up with.