Trigger warning: this article and the associated campaign may contain phrases or words that may be categorized as disturbing, hurtful, and humiliating. 

Everyone is proud of their heritage, so we take pride in showcasing our traditions and our cultural inheritance as a way of life. Especially as Africans, who are strictly raised within the domains of their heritage, and expected to represent the “we” before the “I”. A problem arises when this pride becomes a competition of who is best and thus, more worthy of better life opportunities. When that happens, pride turns into a hierarchy – often fueled by racism and tribalism – and we no longer have a united community; we have divided identities.

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A refugee from Sudan's western Darfur region - Source: Boston.com

The concept of culture – a word that originates from “cult” – defines a group of people who share the same beliefs, ideologies, and in most cases the same appearance. It’s cultural communism. In a country like Sudan, filled with diverse skin tones, languages, and practices, the shade of a singular culture-umbrella that promotes one unilateral identity is quite unique, and for some, it doesn’t seem to be enough for everyone. Thus, the elimination game begins and the biased social hierarchy pushes out seemingly nonconforming subgroups one at a time. Hence, we descend into division, war, conflict, and even hate.

The exact roots of this matter are unclear but perhaps it is another prejudice learned by observing slavery. One group of people, dark Africans, were robbed of their humanity and traded as goods. Hundreds of years later, their descendants speak the language of their abuser and flourish in the land of their suffering. It is an impossible evil to erase and it seems slavery remained the fundamental resource for today’s injustices with speech as its guide. The result? Hate speech. Hurtful, offensive, and demeaning words concocted to abuse a targeted group who share the same beliefs, origins, orientation, or even appearance.

In Sudan, there are a variety of hate speech terms that fall under different categories and are used to single out various groups. Some are used on a daily basis, in person, on social media, while others are peculiar to rural areas in Sudan. In April 2020 and in partnership with PeaceTech Lab, Andariya conducted surveys to gather the most prominent hate speech terms used in Sudan. After collecting over 200 responses through online and offline surveys in Khartoum, ElFasher, and ElDalang, the primary list of terms was verified through multiple workshops across Khartoum, El Dalang, and ElFasher to understand the origins and meanings of the terms.

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Sudanese Nomad - Source: Boston.com

In our findings, the data showed that racially charged terms were the most frequently cited, identifiable, and popular subclass of hateful vocabulary. Overall, the three words with the highest frequency among survey respondents were: “Nigger/Slave, Maid/Servant, Westerner(referring to the West of Sudan)” all of which are racial slurs targeting persons of perceived African descent in Sudan.

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These results are horrific, but they reflect our flawed reality in many ways. Sudanese of perceived African descent, more common in the Western and Southern regions, have been prejudiced against and marginalized for many years. A system drenched in racial bias has ensured that these regions are not as developed, accessible nor as involved in government decisions and strategies.

The fundamental misconception at the heart of hate speech and its users is that one individual is better than the other based on some characteristic that defines intrinsic human value like ethnicity, religion, or customs. There is an underlying notion that “Arabs” and Arab descendent Sudanese, who are lighter-skinned, are better than their “African” darker-skinned counterparts. Perhaps the reason why a monochrome culture is difficult to attain in Sudan is that essentially the Sudanese identity combines two warring groups who were once “slave” and “master”.

Despite the abolishment of slavery many years ago, the shame associated with possibly descending from a slave exists today and is proven by the results attained. The fact that dark-skinned individuals are dehumanized and called “slave” or “servant” eluding to times of slavery in this day and age is unbelievable. Equally troubling is the habit of referring to a person by their region of origin which shares the same racist connotations of inferiority and sub-tier citizenship as being called a “slave”.

So when did identity become an insult?

Aside from racially charged terms, ethnically motivated slurs were discovered in the data as hate speech. For example, identifying a person as “Al Jazeera Arab”, “Southerner”, “Ethiopian” and even “a member of Zaghawa tribe” is no longer an ethnic association but an entirely negative judgment of that person’s character, abilities, and potential. Individuality is erased and all that remains is the preconceived and, sadly, accepted image of the said individual. The use of these terms not only propagates false, negative sentiments but it also reinforces the invisible hierarchy of one group being superior to the other. What’s worse is that plenty of others begin to use and recognize these labels are insults. Identity is re-written as an insult. Today, being called a “Westerner - a person from West Sudan” is synonymous with being called a slave; being called a “Bedouin” is synonymous with being called barbaric even though these are all unfounded offenses to a third group. Such labels perpetuate destructive stereotypes and sow discord among the different ethnic groups; hence, promoting division, toxic ethnic pride, and intolerance.

How can we fix it?

If all groups are treated fairly, given equal opportunities, and showcased like any other, there won’t be any conflict. At the end of the day, people are people. No matter their ethnic background, religion, or gender, everyone wants the same basic thing: to live a dignified, good life.

While the introduction of laws condemning hate speech has been a great step towards a more tolerant Sudan, they are not the solution. Hate, hate speech and cultural conformity are emotions and social issues that need to be solved in a humane and community-based approach. No, we don’t mean to gather a few random faces and discuss equality – even though that is beneficial – instead, there needs to be a covert social re-education mission at play. We need Sudanese of all backgrounds in positions of authority, managerial posts, and nationwide media. We need to celebrate, enjoy, and engage everyone’s culture because it is our culture too. Most importantly, there needs to be the assurance that Sudan is large enough for everyone to live and thrive equally. A Sudan where people interact with one another as fellow human beings first, then unique individuals second, their fellow countryman third, and then their ethnic or religious affiliation.

For more insights on the terms discovered by the study, download the Lexicon of Hate Speech and Terms to read more on the analysis of Sudanese hate terms and types. If you feel strongly about the matter of hate speech, join our campaign ما_تناديني# and share with us your thoughts!

 

 
 

This post is also available in: Arabic


Marrian Haileselassie

Marrian studied electronics engineering and specialized in control systems at UMST. Despite the technical nature of her studies, she’s always had a passion for writing and human rights issues. She can always be found reading a news article or watching a documentary. In her free time, Marrian likes to watch classic movies like The Godfather series or listen to undiscovered music.