“Being black is one thing, but being a black AND female is another. I feel like every girl can relate to the struggle of fitting into a beauty standard growing up, but for black girls it’s a constant battle to fit into your own skin.”
Despite her young age, Feker Yibeltal is a stunning and bright mind on the scene today. (Who wishes to keep this post without pictures of herself or a social media link). When she asked me to attend the Black Lives Matter Rally in Sydney July 16 – I was incredibly humbled. It always feels a little wrong as an outsider in specific social issues to just jump up and offer my support – when sometimes it might not be needed. I have always been very weary of crossing boundaries, so for Feker to ask me to come along and be physically present to a cause that affects her daily life – I couldn’t imagine a kinder gesture in the world.
It has been exciting seeing Feker grow up in the bubble of high school (many years my junior) and now the open field of public life. I can’t wait to see all that she will achieve after high school and beyond. She is a very inspirational person to know and be around, which I became completely aware of when I saw her sisters in solidarity. Arm in arm she had about five other Black girls, some wearing hijabs, others dressed wonderfully in uniform black clothes. For a moment, I was scared for these girls considering the racial disaster we exist in today. However, when they all stood together, I knew that girls like Feker would be able to change the world, one word, one march, one extension of solidarity at a time.
Not that she will need it from me, but if I could give any words to Feker it would be to read Malcolm X’s Autobiography and Ilyasah Shabazz’s Growing Up X.And as Malcolm X says: “[h]ave no mercy or compassion for a society that will crush people, and then penalise them for not being able to stand up under the weight.”
You got this girl, and I’ll be behind you whenever you need me.
In comparison to Feker, I’m old, tired looking, and very slow in my understandings of social justice. I wish I could have been as strong minded and aware at her age. Because I am not Black and have a plethora of socially structured internalised-racism, it didn’t feel right for me to talk about the rally. So instead I sent Feker a bunch of questions about herself, solidarity with Indigenous Australians (which is also what the rally was about), and femaleness.
These are her thoughts:
- What was it like growing up Black in a supposedly ‘multicultural’ Australia?
Growing up black in a ‘multicultural’ Australia was a pretty unique, but good experience. Being surrounded with people from different ethnicities and backgrounds, you learn new things, which is pretty cool.
- Did you experience racism at a young age? If so, how and why?
Yes. Constantly being made fun of because of the colour of my skin, and being told how ‘funny’ my hair looks. Most recent experience of racism was being told I have ‘aids’.
- Do you see yourself as part of the Black community? Who is part of this community?
The term ‘black’ can be branched into many different categories as we come from different ethnicities and nationalities. I’m Ethiopian, so for me personally I grew up in an Ethiopian community.
- Why did you attend the rally at Town Hall? What was the best/worst thing about it?
I attended the rally to show solidarity for my people. The best thing was seeing everyone unite together and show support, but the worst thing was that we had to unite for such a horrific cause.
- Do you empathise with the racism/killing Indigenous Australians face? Would you call your experience of racism the same?
I can’t compare my personal issues on racism to others, especially Indigenous Australians as they are constantly going through a brutal battle.
- Have you experienced any other forms of oppression such as queerphobia and/or islamophobia?
- Despite your social oppression do you consider yourself a Young Australia? If so, what does that mean to you; if not, why?
Yes, I do consider myself a Young Australian, although I wasn’t born here, I was raised here- and Australia will always be my second home, as it has welcomed me with open doors and new opportunities in life that I wouldn’t have gotten if I was still back home in Ethiopia, so I will always be thankful for that.
- What is it like being a Black female?
Being black is one thing, but being a black AND female is another. I feel like every girl can relate to the struggle of fitting into a beauty standard growing up, but for black girls it’s a constant battle to fit into your own skin. The media plays a huge role in this as we often see European beauty standards that are being displayed as true ‘beauty’. Our image is represented poorly in film/tv as there are hardly any black girls and if there happen to be one it would often be a ‘stereotypical’ character. This is where people generalise and misinterpret what a ‘black’ girl is and start labeling us. We’ve always been undermined, and told that our hair is too ‘kinky’ or our skin is too ‘dark’. Nevertheless, black girls are made of melanin and magic, and we will continue to prosper and flourish in this derogatory society.
- What are your own goals/careers/passions and do you feel Western Sydney/Sydney/Australia is a safe space for you to achieve these goals?
My goal at this point is to finish High School and go to University. I also want to go back to the motherland and help my people that are struggling. No matter where I go in this world today, I will always be exposed to racism. So whether I live in Blacktown, or Bondi, there will always be obstacles I need to overcome, but if I have the right mentality there is no doubt that I’ll achieve my goals.
- What does Australia need to do in order to dismantle the roots of racism?
I think it should start with education system. Education is the root of knowledge, if we teach the youth about this arising issue; we are bound to see a change in the next generation.