Has anyone experienced racism in Canada?

Aïcha, 28 years

I've lived in Constantine for six years. I came from Mali to study. It was my family who chose Algeria. I wanted to go to the USA or Canada, but my parents preferred to send me to a Muslim country. It was important to me to be free and independent.

Before I came here, I thought that Algeria was an open country where people can live well together. But as soon as I arrived at the airport, I was in shock. They stared at us, pointed their fingers at us, and someone shouted: “Welcome to Algeria, kahloucha!” I remember that word very well, I didn't know it was an insult.

It was the same on the day I arrived at the student housing estate, we were whistled. Later on on the street I wore an afro and a teenager stuck a cigarette in my hair. She burned a hole in it. An old woman came to my aid and put out the flame. Everyone laughed. I ran home crying. After that, a couple of nice girls taught me how to insult someone in Algerian.

The more I went out, the more often I was bullied, insulted, or beaten. All the time it was said: "kalhoucha" (the black, derogatory), "kahloucha zobbi" (the black my cock), "nik mok" (fuck your mother), "roh bledek" (go back to your country). I was always so scared that my stomach contracted. There was not a day on which I wasn't harassed, beaten, or pulled by my hair. I got very depressed, almost went insane. I went out armed with sticks to defend myself.

A girl couldn't stand life here; she couldn't even get out of her room and in the first year she tried to commit suicide. Her family picked her up a week later. I couldn't go home because I was ashamed and thought that my people would think I was incapable of studying. You don't know what's going on here.

Constantine is a particularly conservative city. It's much worse here than in Algiers or Bejaia. The boys harass us all the time. If they see a girl alone on the street, they go crazy. They throw pebbles at you, they stone you. It felt like everyone was trying to hurt me. So I started to answer by force. They hit me, I hit them, they push me, I push them. Throughout my studies, brawls were the order of the day in the morning, at noon and in the evening. I didn't even know there was so much brutality in me, but in Algeria it all came out of me.

In the college campus, some girls told me I was beautiful, but they only said that to make fun of me. Others were so shocked to see a black woman that they either froze or screamed and ran away. Sometimes afterwards some came to me to apologize. I also made friends who were really there for me and invited me to their families. For me, these friendships are the fondest memories I have of Constantine.

A lot of things have changed at the university because of me. In the beginning, the foreign students spoke very little to the Algerians, they kept their headphones on to be left alone. They had nothing to defend themselves, no place to complain. But I fought every time someone insulted me and went to the line. From then on, the black students were more respected. One day a girl said to me, “Thanks to you, I can now take off my headphones. I am not even insulted anymore. ”I have gained respect through violence.
We black students formed a kind of family - with a lot of solidarity. The older ones took care of the new ones. As soon as either of us had a problem, we were all there.

The management says that they are there for us. It is true that we can report those who harass us and the management sanctions them with up to one year of exclusion. But she doesn't do anything to raise the students' awareness except that she divides us into working groups so that we can mix with the Algerians. She wants us to integrate, but they don't want integration. Many girls have experienced racism among the professors. A teacher asked a girl: “Are you a man or a woman? With the blacks I can't tell. "

For me, Algerian society is closed and racist. The blacks are still seen by many as slaves, like an inferior race. The images you see here of sub-Saharan Africa are those of disease, famine and people who live in villages far from civilization. Few documentaries are on about Africa, African history is not taught, and Algerians do not see themselves as Africans. They should be taught that the people who come here belong to great countries and that they too are Africans. Apart from the Algerian Revolution and the “Black Decade”, they do not know their history. So how are they supposed to respect blacks? Society let them be dumbfounded. They are like sheep while the mighty enrich themselves.

When I got home, my mother expected that I had become religious and was wearing the hijab. I had a shaved head like a rock star. The arm nearly had a heart attack at the airport. She said to me: “Where have you been?” “Well, I was in Algeria!” “But what happened to your hair?” “Your Algerians, the good Muslims there, burned it for me!”.

about the project

The photographer and artist Leïla Saadna met six people of different origins in Algiers and talked to them about their individual experiences as migrants in Algeria and Europe. Leïla Saadna produces documentaries and visual arts. She has lived and worked in Algiers for two years. After studying Fine Arts in Paris, Saadna turned to film and artistic documentary projects that are engaging and poetic. The topics of her work and research are post-colonial migration stories, statements and struggles by people who are affected by forms of oppression across all characteristics, such as racism and sexism; and especially the experiences of women in the post-colonial context.

Translation: Sina de Malafosse
Copyright: Goethe-Institut / "Perspektiven"
August 2018

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