Muhammad Salah | I Want to be Visible

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Country of origin: Sudan
Project location: Sudan
Program: Arab Documentary Photography Program
Year: 2016

If you ask me about my identity, I will say: “I am Sudanese.” But the more I think about it, there is no single Sudanese identity. We are made up of diverse genetic components. There is no pure African or Arab blood; all races and antecedents are overlapping.

Walking through the streets of Khartoum, or Nayala in South Darfur, or Port Sudan in the East, I see scarves wrapped around the heads and necks of women with bleached faces. In Sudan, skin color has been always associated with social class and power. There is a common belief that the darker you are, the poorer you are. The upper class do not work under the harsh sunlight of Khartoum.

Young Sudanese men learn to prefer light-skinned women from commercials that feature skin-whitening, weight-loss, and make-up products. Women want to be seen as beautiful, and also as though they are from the powerful tribes of Sudan that have paler complexions and roots in the Arab peninsula.

Colonizers thought that Arab tribes would lead the country, and the Africans would be the workers. They created a feud where the lighter is the master and the darker is the slave. The choices we make about our skin are directed not by race, but by ideology.