The Unbearable Affront of Colorism

30 November, 2020

Painting by the late Jean-Michel Basquiat,


Col­orism in Syr­i­an Com­mu­ni­ties is Tied to Cen­turies Old Endem­ic Anti-Black­ness and Inter­nal­ized Colonialism


Banah Al Ghadbanah


I am eleven years old, stand­ing in an ele­va­tor at a U.S. Mus­lim con­fer­ence. I am going upstairs to help my mom’s friend with some babysit­ting. One per­son in the ele­va­tor asks, “Where are you from?” In a con­ge­nial kind of mutu­al Mus­lim-recog­ni­tion way, some­one else sug­gests “let’s all take a guess!” One per­son says “Pak­istan!” The next per­son says “Mex­i­co!” Anoth­er per­son says “You must be Egypt­ian?” I respond, “Good guess­es, but I’m from Syria.” 


The author at age 11 (r) with her cousin, at the Muslim conference.

“Syr­ia? There’s no way you’re from Syr­ia! I’ve nev­er seen any­one who looked like you from Syr­ia. There’s no way you could be a real Syr­i­an.”


I used to get this a lot: “there’s no way you’re from Syr­ia!” It is code for: “I’ve nev­er seen a brown-skinned per­son, a non-lily white per­son, who is from Syr­ia.” The dom­i­nant rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Syr­i­ans is that we have some kind of peachy-skinned, green-eyed, light brown hair phe­no­type. Even oth­er (lighter) Syr­i­ans would not believe I was from Syr­ia. “You must be Indi­an! Egypt­ian? Moroc­can? Not Syr­i­an.” These guess-her-eth­nic­i­ty debates always con­fuse me, because I know plen­ty of brown-skinned Syr­i­ans, brown­er than me. But why are we nev­er rep­re­sent­ed? Why is there an image of the “Syr­i­an” as want­i­ng-white, close to white, and what does it mean about class, race, and the con­text of our migra­tions, par­tic­u­lar­ly those of us who come from exile and forced migration? 


I served once as a vol­un­teer for a refugee relief pro­gram in Amman, Jor­dan. A group of white women played “guess where she’s from” in Eng­lish, not real­iz­ing I spoke Eng­lish too. “Wow, she could be Afghan.” “Do you think she’s Syr­i­an? There’s no way.”  “She’s so beau­ti­ful.” “I won­der what her sto­ry is.” I turned around and spoke in Eng­lish to them in a mid­dle-Amer­i­can accent and it scared them shit­less. In those days I wore hijab, which added to their shock. Anoth­er time I was vol­un­teer­ing for a refugee orga­ni­za­tion in Greece when one of the white women said, “Imag­ine if you had blue eyes. I want my daugh­ter to look just like you, have your skin col­or, but with blue eyes. That would be so beautiful.” 


Grow­ing up as some­one whose skin ranged from deep tan to light caramel, life as a big bel­ly brown girl was pret­ty care­free until some­one made com­ments on my body and it not being accept­ably “Syr­i­an” enough.  To make mat­ters more com­pli­cat­ed, I rarely saw oth­er Syr­i­an Amer­i­cans who came from fel­lahi (farmer) back­grounds such as my father’s, or whose fam­i­ly had to flee because of the regime. I did­n’t grow up around much Syr­i­an com­mu­ni­ty oth­er than fam­i­ly, and was often sus­pi­cious of oth­er Syr­i­ans because they could have pro-regime ties that could endan­ger my family.


As a Syr­i­an, I nev­er find myself in rep­re­sen­ta­tions of Syr­ia, in lit­er­a­ture, in poet­ry, in movies. Even our chil­dren’s rhymes praise white fea­tures: “Sha’ra wa bei­da min tar­toos, mab tak­il ila mak­doos—She’s blonde and white and from Tar­tus, does­n’t eat any­thing but mak­doos.” There is a hyper-obses­sion with want­i­ng a Syr­i­an bride who is “white” (“bay­da”) and not “sam­ra.” “Sam­ra,” like “more­na” in Span­ish, means dark­er, used as both an affec­tion­ate term, an exalt­ed term back in the 1950’s-60’s in songs by Abdel Hal­im and Fairuz to praise the beau­ty of the “dark skinned” Arab, and also as a deroga­to­ry term. 


When I lived in Tunisia for a peri­od, a man on the street asked me where I was from. I said “Syr­ia” and he respond­ed “how much?” Mean­ing how much is my price for sex work, because dark­er skin com­ing from Syr­ia with no hijab com­bines the gen­der and racial fetishiza­tions into the asso­ci­a­tion that I could only be a “sam­ra” Syr­i­an woman if I was a sex work­er. It is impor­tant to not per­pet­u­ate any form of stig­ma against this line of work, as sex work­ers are con­stant­ly under attack. And in fact there are cen­turies old pre-Abra­ham­ic ways of being in our cul­tures that under­stand and revere sex work as a beau­ti­ful com­mu­ni­ty role and as a spir­i­tu­al prac­tice. But in this con­text the man’s com­ment was root­ed in racism. In North African coun­tries, Black women com­ing from Nige­ria and oth­er West African coun­tries are often at risk for human traf­fick­ing and sex traf­fick­ing as part of a deeply racist anti-Black sys­tem that hyper-sex­u­al­izes dark­er-skinned women and lit­er­al­ly prof­its from their bod­ies in ways to which they do not con­sent, with social atti­tudes that do not both­er to dis­tin­guish between con­sen­su­al sex work and hor­rif­ic human traf­fick­ing. To this man, I was­n’t a “prop­er” (“white”) Syr­i­an woman, who would be con­sid­ered in the top rank in the Mid­dle East­ern hier­ar­chy of gen­dered racial white­washed “pref­er­ences” for marriage.


In Tunisia I was stopped at a check­point. The mil­i­tary police did­n’t believe I was Amer­i­can. “Clear­ly she looks more Arab than me, there’s no way this pass­port is real.” It was Iden­ti­ty 101 and these men with guns were a bit dense. It was past mid­night and I was scared. I called the direc­tor of my pro­gram and he vouched for me but they want­ed to con­fis­cate my pass­port any­way. Anoth­er time, my sib­lings and I were trav­el­ling alone to Jor­dan when the offi­cials harassed us, “There’s no way you’re Amer­i­can. Clear­ly these are fake. You’re lying. In the pho­to you’re not wear­ing hijab, but in per­son you’re wear­ing hijab.” The sub­text is that light-skinned Syr­i­ans can be believed to live abroad, but there’s an assump­tion that brown­er-skinned ones don’t have that mobil­i­ty and there­fore are “lying.” Because of our U.S. pass­port priv­i­lege, we got past the out­er check­points but were still harassed by those inner bor­der offi­cials. They brought the super­vi­sor who mocked our Syr­i­an accents and final­ly they let us through. My cousin who does not have our U.S pass­port priv­i­lege, was stopped at the out­er gate of the air­port while drop­ping us off. The guards assumed his iden­ti­fi­ca­tion was fake, and detained him under­ground in the creepy air­port prison for a week. He too is “asmar,” or darker.


Is there any doubt that racism remains a disease in the 21st century? Philadelphia's street mural


When the Syr­i­an rev­o­lu­tion began in 2011, the regime’s dis­place­ment would even­tu­al­ly cause over 13.5 mil­lion peo­ple to flee. As a result for the first time in my life, I began to meet oth­er Syr­i­ans, out­side of my fam­i­ly, who were just like me. I met so many brown-skinned Syr­i­ans. And maybe the rea­son I could­n’t find them before is, in part, is because of which side of the strug­gle against the regime that Syr­i­ans came from. Many of the more resourced dias­po­ra Syr­i­ans to whom I had pre­vi­ous­ly been exposed were from cities, mid­dle class, and bore lighter-skinned priv­i­lege. And while there is no sim­ple cor­re­la­tion with skin col­or, the upris­ing began in rur­al areas such as Der­aa and was strong in north­ern regions such as Idlib and Raqqa, and many of the refugees I saw were dark­er Syr­i­ans. In fact, while I was work­ing with dif­fer­ent groups of recent­ly dis­placed Syr­i­ans, Syr­i­an moms would come to me and ask to speak with the daugh­ters about the col­orism they faced, to affirm them, and to val­i­date their experiences.


At the same time, there are refugee/migrant peo­ple in my own fam­i­ly who had to flee, and who have the palest skin and blue eyes, who sur­vived chem­i­cal weapons attacks, and that expe­ri­ence is still also very Syr­i­an. So it’s much more com­plex than a bina­ry. There are a lot of unspo­ken class lines where many Syr­i­an doc­tors and pro­fes­sion­als who left on stu­dent visas tend to come from upper mid­dle-class fam­i­lies with light skin. But my fam­i­ly also ben­e­fit­ted from the stu­dent visa move­ment, so again the bina­ry is not all black and white. Anoth­er lay­er is that many Syr­i­an women who have endured impris­on­ment and all kinds of hor­rif­ic treat­ment in Syr­ia are dis­mis­sive­ly called “white,” as a way to under­mine them when they bring up issues with­in the move­ment. This label is deployed against them by white-look­ing Syr­i­an men who would still nev­er lis­ten to brown-skinned peo­ple like me even though they mobi­lize my phe­no­type for some kind of authen­tic­i­ty mea­sure­ment to inval­i­date others. 


For the longest time, in the wake of an ongo­ing rev­o­lu­tion and sub­se­quent geno­cide, I felt like address­ing oth­er prob­lems with­in the Syr­i­an com­mu­ni­ty, such as col­orism, would be a “dis­trac­tion.” With chem­i­cal weapons attacks, the Assad regime and its Russ­ian allied airstrikes bury­ing chil­dren in the rub­ble of bar­rel bombs, the ongo­ing protests and court cas­es against tor­ture in pris­ons, I nev­er felt like it was a “right time” to bring up col­orism. But the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment sparked impor­tant con­ver­sa­tions across the world about deep-seat­ed col­orism root­ed in anti-Black vio­lence. I know now it is all connected. 


I think it’s impor­tant point out that, on the spec­trum of peo­ple of col­or, I still deeply ben­e­fit from non-Black priv­i­lege at every turn. It is impor­tant to remem­ber that. Light-skinned peo­ple are more like­ly to receive job inter­views, and receive pref­er­en­tial treat­ment in every facet of life. 


In non-Syr­i­an con­texts I have been mis­tak­en for white, Native Amer­i­can, mixed-race/bira­cial Black and white, Central/Latin Amer­i­can, Jew­ish, Indi­an, and so many oth­er things. My racial­iza­tion often depends on who is look­ing at me. I want to share what my sto­ry is like in a Syr­i­an dias­po­ra con­text where it has­n’t been spo­ken about enough, and I hope that oth­ers feel called to share, but I know that racial ambi­gu­i­ty is also a deep priv­i­lege root­ed in anti-Blackness. 

Syrian refugees at the Jordan-Syria border await transport to Za'atari refugee camp (Photo


From 2011–2015, I attend­ed a his­tor­i­cal­ly Black col­lege where Black stu­dents stood in sol­i­dar­i­ty with Syr­i­an lib­er­a­tion. Thanks to Black fem­i­nist vision­ar­ies like Bev­er­ly Guy Shef­tall and M. Bahati Kuum­ba at the Wom­en’s Cen­ter at Spel­man Col­lege, we stu­dents did projects in sol­i­dar­i­ty with Pales­tine, and cre­at­ed the first Stu­dents for Jus­tice in Pales­tine at a his­tor­i­cal­ly Black col­lege. Each sum­mer, in my fam­i­ly’s micro­cosm of a Syr­i­an soci­ety in Amman, I would have impor­tant con­ver­sa­tions with com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers about white suprema­cy, colo­nial­ism, and anti-Black vio­lence in the U.S. And yet sum­mers with my extend­ed fam­i­ly always began with the ques­tion, “Why are you so dark? You’ve been in the sun too much. How are we ever going to find you a husband?” 


After that first round of “Why are you so dark?” from my rel­a­tives, neigh­bor­hood women would come in and ask the same ques­tion. Last time I was there, I had a con­ver­sa­tion with two of my aunts that the rea­son those con­stant com­ments both­ered me so much is because they are root­ed in anti-Black­ness. I told them it remind­ed me of things white peo­ple in my south­ern home­town in the U.S. would say to me grow­ing up about my skin being “dirty.” I also felt frus­trat­ed because on a con­cep­tu­al and intel­lec­tu­al lev­el, peo­ple I know in the Mid­dle East seem to under­stand white suprema­cy and police bru­tal­i­ty, but still police each oth­er on skin tone internally. 


“But I faced racism as a Syr­i­an in the UAE and I know what that’s like,” one of my aun­ties replied. “They would line us up, non-Emi­rati nation­als, and the oth­ers. Syr­i­ans would always get sin­gled out. We’re not racist against dark skin at all! We have so many African friends. Their skin is so beau­ti­ful. But God made us orig­i­nal­ly white, you’re an excep­tion, but if you stayed out of the sun you’d be white too.” 


Anoth­er aun­tie retort­ed, “there’s no way we can be racist, you are Amer­i­can and we are Syr­i­an. We’re only com­ment­ing because you should take care to be out of the sun.” 


I told her, “You are col­o­nized in the mind, 3mto. You always talk about Israel and how they col­o­nized us, but you are being the col­o­niz­er right now. You are show­ing me that you val­ue white skin, even if you have token Black friends to prove oth­er­wise. And I get to live my life and be in the sun.” 


“What? Me? I have to think about that one. Col­o­nized in the mind.” She actu­al­ly began to think about it. Recent­ly she sent out a video on our fam­i­ly What­sApp group by Afro-Pales­tin­ian actress Maryam Abu Khaled who shared how col­orist com­ments can be deeply psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly dam­ag­ing and are root­ed in anti-Black­ness. I’m glad she’s final­ly com­ing to under­stand this, at the expense of years of my girl­hood self-esteem and her deep-seat­ed unex­am­ined privilege. 


Lat­er that same vis­it, my grand­moth­er, brown her­self and expe­ri­enced from decades work­ing in the fields and har­vest­ing in the sun, was grind­ing kishik on the roof. My aunt com­ment­ed, “Oh no mama! Look at how dark you’ve got­ten.” My grand­moth­er winked me and said, “it’s Banah who we have turned brown. Samoo­ra [brown girl]! And we’re bring­ing her back to her roots.” For Teta, our skin col­or is a source of pride, to come from a peo­ple who work in the earth and spend time in the sun. Teta always tells me, “you’re the far­thest from the farm but you look the most like a vil­lage girl.” But my grand­moth­er is in the minor­i­ty, espe­cial­ly in her gen­er­a­tion. I have a ran­dom ances­tor with red hair and white skin whom my fam­i­ly on that side points to as proof of our “white” look­ing “source.” One sum­mer, a group of fam­i­ly mem­bers lit­er­al­ly stood around me com­ment­ing on how dark I was and how I look more like a refugee than the actu­al refugees in the fam­i­ly. My uncle’s Ger­man mom took me aside and said, “In our cul­ture, we sit in the sun all day just to be dark­er. I wish I looked like you.” At every turn there’s nowhere con­struc­tive to go. I want­ed to say, you don’t know what it feels like to be me, so please stop wish­ing you had some­thing you’re not. Just be you and be that.  


To the oth­er side of my fam­i­ly, who are mid­dle-class Dam­a­scenes, the big­ger issue is my “fellahi/peasant ten­den­cies” that clear­ly come from my dad’s side. Some­times a “coun­try” word would slip into my Ara­bic, and my grand­pa would say, “nev­er say that again around me.” The way I made my hum­mus was like a peas­ant, or the way I inflect­ed cer­tain words. My grand­fa­ther is out­spo­ken against anti-Black­ness and admon­ish­es any­one who did­n’t under­stand that African Amer­i­can peo­ple have been though 400 years of ongo­ing slav­ery. He was edu­cat­ed by Black Mus­lim men in his com­mu­ni­ty when he first came to Amer­i­ca, and their labor of edu­cat­ing him on these issues is impor­tant to acknowledge—he became politi­cized in new ways and taught his chil­dren the lessons they taught him about anti-Black­ness and police bru­tal­i­ty in this con­text. My grand­moth­er on that side is Alger­ian-descend­ed and she has light skin and green eyes. I nev­er was explic­it­ly made to feel “dif­fer­ent,” but it was still made clear that I was. I don’t know how to put into words what it feels like when you are con­stant­ly sur­round­ed by peo­ple who are whiter, thin­ner, and con­sid­ered nor­ma­tive­ly attrac­tive, and there are very few peo­ple like you on one side of your fam­i­ly. Even though I was­n’t mixed race, I felt kin­ship with those who were, as a brown-skinned “Oth­er” in a fam­i­ly of white-pass­ing peo­ple with Syr­i­an and North African ances­try. It’s hard when no one thinks you’re your moth­er’s daugh­ter. When you want to look like her grow­ing up and have her green eyes and light brown hair. When peo­ple say “I wish you looked more like your moth­er.” When all the brown-skinned Syr­i­an men are mar­ry­ing whiter-skinned women. A par­ent can do every­thing in her pow­er to affirm her brown­er daugh­ter, but one or two com­ments from com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers can make it all come crash­ing down. 


I remem­ber being five or six years old and my cousin and I were jump­ing on my aun­t’s bed and look­ing in the mir­ror at our­selves. “Why did God make me ugly?” I said to her. “Every­one says you’re pret­ty but no one ever says I’m pret­ty. It must be true. God gave me these bags under my eyes and I’m cursed.” 


I don’t know who told me, because my moth­er def­i­nite­ly tried her best, but I had already heard I was ugly and inter­nal­ized it from some­where that the col­or of my skin was a prob­lem. Most like­ly it was the white dom­i­nant Amer­i­can soci­ety I was shuf­fling back and forth between, but it was cer­tain­ly com­ing from the Syr­i­an com­mu­ni­ty, too. Today I see younger cousins with brown skin in the sum­mer­time being admon­ished the same way I was a kid (“why are you so dark?!”) and it fills me with rage. I want them to feel proud of the way they look and know they are part of our her­itage and part of our cul­ture. I want them to feel like they have a right to speak. 


Some of us in the Syr­i­an com­mu­ni­ty have always been the butt of jokes, social­ly made to feel unac­cept­able, through “light” com­ments that over time, we are told are “not a big deal.” They are deeply inter­twined with region­al­ism, clas­sism, and which side of the Syr­i­an strug­gle we stand on. The irony is that I am very priv­i­leged on the spec­trum of Syr­i­an expe­ri­ence, hav­ing US cit­i­zen­ship, which many do not, and hav­ing access to high­er edu­ca­tion. It’s not a sim­ple bina­ry. And yet no amount of priv­i­lege eras­es my brown skin. I have been thrown out of dress shops in down­town Amman because I was told I was a “dirty Syr­i­an” who would­n’t buy any­thing, and told I’m a “dirty Mex­i­can” by white girls while grow­ing up on the oth­er side of the ocean, in the U.S. 


My non-Amer­i­can and my Amer­i­can-based Syr­i­an rel­a­tives are both always telling me I’m obsessed with racism as a result of being in Amer­i­ca. They tell me we don’t have race in Syr­ia in the same way, which is true—it’s dif­fer­ent: we have region­al­ism, clas­sism, sex­ism, sectarianism. 


But if we don’t have race, then why do we have racism? If there is no race, then why is it a prob­lem that I’m dark­er? Why are brown and Black Syr­i­ans rarely shown on Syr­i­an media? Why is the “white” Syr­i­an bride so cov­et­ed as a beau­ty stan­dard? There is so much “racial” ambi­gu­i­ty when it comes to Syr­i­ans because our ances­try is at the cross­roads of thou­sands of years of migra­tion between Africa and Asia. There are uncles in my fam­i­ly with 4B hair, white skin, and wide noses, and ones with blue eyes and rich bronze brown skin, lit­er­al­ly broth­ers in the same fam­i­ly. One of my grand­moth­ers could be mis­tak­en for Nubian, and uncles in the fam­i­ly have been racial­ized as African Amer­i­can while nav­i­gat­ing the streets of DC. I have cousins whose par­ents don’t know how to take care of their hair and began straight­en­ing it at age three. I have cousins with pale skin, straight blond hair, and blue eyes. I have cousins with deep brown skin, uni­brows, and brown eyes. Because my skin col­or var­ied so much grow­ing up, I could tell right away as a child that I would be treat­ed bet­ter when I was lighter. When I was a few shades dark­er, I would be dis­ci­plined more at school in the U.S., seen as dis­rup­tive, made more of a token. I knew ear­ly on that this was fucked up and I could phys­i­cal­ly feel the dif­fer­ence. I have been mis­tak­en as Mex­i­can, Indi­an, Moroc­can, mixed-race, Native Amer­i­can, white, bira­cial, but nev­er Syrian—because no one knows what that is yet. 


At the same time, despite the flex­i­bil­i­ty and com­plex­i­ty of our racial­iza­tion in my fam­i­ly, our lived expe­ri­ence is not that of Black Arabs in the Mid­dle East, nor of Black non-Arab Mid­dle East­ern­ers, who are con­stant­ly put at the mar­gins of dis­course on the Arab world and sub­ject to a hor­ri­fy­ing range of anti-Black treat­ment while in the Mid­dle East. There are impor­tant con­ver­sa­tions com­ing to the fore­front about the treat­ment of Afro-Iraqis and Afro-Pales­tini­ans as a results of years of their protests and advo­ca­cy. What I expe­ri­ence is only a frac­tion of that as a brown-skinned Syr­i­an. I still expe­ri­ence and deeply ben­e­fit from light skin priv­i­lege in the spec­trum of peo­ple of col­or, at every turn.


In our rev­o­lu­tion, we must work towards dis­man­tling the oppres­sor who lives with­in each one of us. We have these con­ver­sa­tions so that one day we may rebuild a Syr­ia that cel­e­brates every mem­ber of its soci­ety. In Syr­ia, part of our rev­o­lu­tion is to dis­man­tle oppres­sive struc­tures that cor­re­late with the inter­per­son­al microag­gres­sions that enforce them.  We must envi­sion a future Syr­i­an soci­ety that is no longer obsessed with light­ness and that does not praise some­one for being clos­er to white. In a future Syr­ia, I hope that lighter-skinned Syr­i­ans may under­stand and speak up when they notice col­orism against their dark­er-skinned sib­lings, the way my mom, sis­ter, and some of my cousins have always done. We will build a soci­ety that fun­da­men­tal­ly ques­tions the premise of a pro­grammed fear of dark­ness. There is so much we can do once we address these issues.  We can build a Syr­ia where Black and dark-skinned peo­ple don’t get exo­ti­fied or made to feel like an excep­tion. Where Kur­dish, Alaw­ite, Ismaili, Turk­man, Yazi­di, Cir­cass­ian, Druze, Armen­ian, Assyr­i­an, and all oth­er sects and eth­nic­i­ties are not erased, dis­re­spect­ed, or pit against each oth­er in the name of pan-Ara­bism. In a future Syr­ia, we will build a soci­ety with­out author­i­tar­i­an­ism, and more impor­tant­ly, among our­selves, we will decol­o­nize our author­i­tar­i­an atti­tudes and polic­ing towards each oth­er. In order to build a bet­ter world for our chil­dren and their chil­dren we must first acknowl­edge that these things exist and they cause harm, not just on an inter­per­son­al lev­el but on a struc­tur­al lev­el too. 


As Audre Lorde put it in her 1980 essay, “Age, Race, Class, Sex: Women Redefin­ing Dif­fer­ence,” each of us must begin the dif­fi­cult work of reach­ing inside our­selves and remov­ing the loathing of dif­fer­ence that lives there. I want a future Syr­ia where dis­abled peo­ple feel wel­come and cen­tered, where chil­dren are safe, where all eth­nore­li­gious groups and races are rep­re­sent­ed, where queer and trans peo­ple can have an active voice in shap­ing our soci­ety, where women can par­tic­i­pate and be val­ued, where young men and women heal from the trau­ma of prison bru­tal­i­ty, where we learn each oth­ers’ his­to­ries. I want a future Syr­ia where we acknowl­edge our own par­tic­i­pa­tion and prox­im­i­ty to cen­turies of anti-Black­ness in the Mid­dle East via the Arab enslave­ment of East African peo­ple and the Indi­an Ocean economies of enslave­ment, and the present iter­a­tion of that in the kafala sys­tem where­in Indi­an, East African, and oth­er migrants are in forcible servi­tude with lit­tle free­dom in the Lev­ant. I want a future Syr­ia where we dis­man­tle the regime, and every­thing like it. One where we no longer weaponize con­structs of “West­ern” and “East­ern” to inval­i­date each oth­er’s lived expe­ri­ences, but rec­og­nize the com­plex­i­ty of our lives as a com­mu­ni­ty that is now dis­persed around the world in a new way. I want to see lit­tle dark-brown-skinned Syr­i­an girls feel tru­ly accept­ed and encour­aged to play in the sun and live out their fullest, brownest lives.



Banah Al Ghad­banah is a poet and mul­ti­me­dia artist from Syr­ia raised in the U.S. south (pro­nouns: She/they/zhe). At the age of 16, she was declared want­ed by the Syr­i­an regime for US $1 mil­lion for a viral video she cre­at­ed where she told her fam­i­ly’s sto­ry of dis­place­ment from Syr­ia. Her work has appeared in Sukoon, Aunt Chloe: a Jour­nal for Art­ful Can­dor, Afghan Punk Mag­a­zine, Voice & Verse, Her Words, The A Project, the Pas­sage & Place Anthol­o­gy on Home, and Act­ing Up: Queer in the New Cen­tu­ry Anthol­o­gy, among oth­ers. She won the Ham­sa: Dream Deferred Essay Con­test for Civ­il Rights in the Mid­dle East and has coor­di­nat­ed arts ther­a­py pro­grams for dis­placed Syr­i­an chil­dren. Al Ghad­banah attend­ed Spel­man Col­lege where she grad­u­at­ed sum­ma cum laude and received her bach­e­lors in Com­par­a­tive Wom­en’s Stud­ies and Soci­ol­o­gy.  She is cur­rent­ly a PhD Can­di­date at UC San Diego work­ing on her dis­ser­ta­tion about Syr­i­an wom­en’s cre­ative work in rev­o­lu­tion and war.


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