Written by Penelope Farthing
Alaa Salah, 22, from Sudan, was photographed by Lana Haroun earlier this year in protest of Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir’s 30-year dictatorial rule. She appears to be racially ambiguous, but headlines have been describing her as “Kandaka”, which translates to “Nubian queen”. In any case, what I’m about to discuss applies to fully black women too.
I am all for overthrowing oppressive regimes, but women should not be the ones leading the charge and gaining fame (and infamy) from invoking these powerful images.
As has been said several times by Kendall St. Charles, why do black (or, in this case, blackish) women have to be front and center, mouth open, fist (or, in this case, finger) in the air? Posing as a beautiful portrait of angst and defiance? When black women go viral, it’s more frequently for something negative – as the face of an uprising, or because of some symptom of poverty, or as a victim of violence, or less frequently, something positive like scholastic achievements or a creative innovation. There is something to be said about why negative stories seem to be more common; is it because they simply get shared more, or because the negative outnumbers the positive? Either way, it does no favors for black women and girls.
Now that her image is out there, she has possibly put a target on her back, likely placed by the very people she is trying to overthrow. The ousted president will undoubtedly want to make an example of her, and I sincerely hope any attacks against her or her family fails. If it was to happen though, would there be anyone around to protect her as she lives her life as a marked woman? I didn’t see many people in the photo armed with any weapons. Rather, there were quite a few black men on the sidelines with their phone in the air, acting as photographers and bystanders rather than revolutionaries.
Salah is a student studying engineering and architecture. What are the odds that even if she designed the first house in outer space or did some other extraordinary achievement, her legacy would be “the woman protesting on the roof of a car”? She’s now been immortalized with murals and even has her own Wikipedia page. She has been hailed as the Sudanese Lady Liberty, and will go down as one of the key players in the momentous events of recent Sudanese history. I wish her peace, safety, and success, but I can’t help but worry for her wellbeing, especially given how women in Muslim-majority cultures are viewed.
Seeing this reminded me of all the black women here in the States (the image of Iesha Evans versus the cops in riot gear came to mind immediately) who march and protest for their respective causes, while the men are noticeably fewer in numbers.
Photo credit: Jonathan Bachman/Reuters
Is this what you want your legacy to be? Marching and hollering for men who don’t return the favor?
Only a few days ago, photos of Karine Jean-Pierre made the rounds, jumping to the defense of Kamala Harris when a protestor sought to be heard I am all for equality, but on a mere physical, anatomical level, women are not built for rebellion and revolution like this. These images are consequences of being the Strong Black Woman. While we may passionately believe in a cause, we don’t have to be the face of it. We have enough negative press as it is. Black women face so many other issues without volunteering to be martyrs. There are other legacies we can create. Perpetual protestor or the face of strife and struggle doesn’t have to be one of them.