Even though identity is affected by the external influences, at the end of the day, it’s up to you to decide for yourself who you are. – SamiraTweet
Timeline of the Chat
00:00 – Intro
00:43 – On being Black and Arab
02:28 – Samira’s experience growing up in Czech
03:45 – Creating the Afrika Kids group
06:58 – More About the Czech Kids group
11:24 – Building understanding to support others
13:03 – Activism and protests
14:35 – Facing racism
17:16 – About Samira’s other work/activities
19:30 – Sources of inspiration
19:53 – Learning to be more empathetic/anti-racist
23:24 – Talking about racism
24:59 – On being biracial
27:24 – Outro
As far as saying I’m not racist, let’s flip that. Assume that you’re racist in some way. And then investigate what ways are you unconsciously biased, racist, whatever you want to call it and what you can do about it. – DamianneTweet
How to Contact Samira
Good intentions don’t mean the consequence is going to be good as well, or you can have good intentions and do a lot of bad things. – SamiraTweet
Transcript of the Episode
Thank you for listening to this episode of Changes BIG and small. This is your host, Damianne. Today I’m chatting with Samira Jasim. Samira is a 26-year-old biracial girl born in Czechia. She now lives in London. She is in Prague right now, and she actually came over for us to have this chat. You can learn more about her or connect with her on Instagram at afrikakidsczsk and also at darealsamira. She posts in both Czech and English
People don’t understand that the things that they say or how they treat others, it has consequences.Samira Jasim
On being Black and Arab
Damianne: [00:00:39] Thank you for coming to chat with me today. So you’re biracial…
Samira: [00:00:43] Yeah. My mom is from Czech Republic . And so my mom is white and my dad is from Iraq. He is a Black Arab. So yeah, that’s the mix.
Damianne: [00:00:55] That’s interesting because I noticed you had a post on Instagram and usually when people think about Black folk, they don’t usually think about Iraqi.
Samira: [00:01:03] Yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean, there is a lot of Black and dark skin people in the Middle East. You have dark skinned people in North Africa as well. So, yeah, sometimes people forget about that. I think the education is missing about that area, but yeah, there is Black Arabs all over the world.
Damianne: [00:01:24] Yeah, I lived in Sudan for some time and it was interesting there because a lot of people were dark and people struggled with their identity a lot I found in Khartoum. People would say, no, I’m not African, I’m Arab . And so there was a lot of identity crisis and struggling as to where people belong when they may have some background that is African, but also be Arab.
Samira: [00:01:51] Yeah. I mean, yeah, it’s definitely hard because it’s not just racism in Europe or in the US; the Arab world is very racist as well. They have a word that they call Black people. The word is ʿAbd and it means slave. So I think that’s where the struggle comes from as you said with the identity because Black people are not really accepted within the Arab community, even though they’re Arab themselves. So then, I can see that on my dad as well. I mean, anyone who is of a mixed background struggles with their identity, so yeah.
Samira’s experience growing up in Czech
Damianne: [00:02:28] And so you were born in Czech Republic?
Samira: [00:02:30] Yes, I was born here in Prague and then when I was a bit older, we moved to a small town, which is in the Moravia region . And, I spent most of my life there, which was very difficult. And then when I was 19, I decided to leave the country and moved to London.
Damianne: [00:02:47] What made it difficult?
Samira: [00:02:49] The people. I mean, we all know Czech Republic is an Eastern European, 99%, white country. So if you are different, they will let you know; they will let you know that you don’t belong here. So it was just difficult. You just feel like an alien.
Yeah . You feel like an alien, the way that they look at you, they treat you the looks, the faces, the comments, the body language; 24/7 you are being reminded that you are the other, as if something was wrong with you and when you’re a child, you don’t really understand what’s going on and you don’t know how it actually affects you. So, I didn’t realize that living here was difficult, growing up here was difficult until I left the country and I went to London. Suddenly I was experiencing something completely different. It was a struggle, definitely, just experiencing racism in general.
Damianne: [00:03:41] How did you decide on London? What took you there?
Creating the Afrika Kids group
Samira: [00:03:45] I don’t even know. I was like, I can speak English, so the closest English speaking country is the UK. And also it’s the easiest cause you don’t need papers. You don’t need visa if you’re Czech to live in the UK. So it seemed like an easy option. And what I did was this thing called au pair or like a live in nanny. So I just found a family on the internet, had an interview and in a week I wasn’t leaving, so it was a very spontaneous decision.
Damianne: [00:04:16] Have you lived in London since then?
Samira: [00:04:18] Yeah, so now it’s been seven years.
Damianne: [00:04:20] Okay. So in Czech Republic, you actually started the Africa…
Samira: [00:04:27] So the Africa kids group, I started when I was already in London, because living here and being surrounded by just white people and not really having anyone, even though my dad did try and he did explain some things to us, he would always say be proud of who you are, they are racist that’s why they talk to you the way they do. But you don’t understand the historical background and you don’t see the bigger picture, which I started seeing when I went to London. So that inspired me to create the group because I was like, there’s so many mixed race and African Black people living in Czech Republic, but there is nothing for us that can bring us together or where we can meet other people who look like us. Because I think the hardest part of living here is that you don’t see anybody who looks like you, so that affects your confidence; it just affects everything. So I was like, okay, we need something where we can see ourselves, we can talk to each other and just share our experiences and things.
I was in London at the time because getting all the education and different peoples’ perspectives in London inspired me to create this group here.
Damianne: [00:05:35] So how did you get people interested in the group and to join the group?
Samira: [00:05:40] First it started as an Instagram page. So even until now, it’s not an official anything; it’s just a Facebook group and a WhatsApp group chat and the Instagram page. So yes.
Damianne: [00:05:50] Just. That’s three things that didn’t exist until you created them.
Samira: [00:05:54] I started it as an Instagram page because there’s all these pages like black love or dark skin girls, empowering pages for Black people. So I was like, okay, let me make one for all the Czech Black people. And I was posting pictures of my friends and people who I knew first and then people just started adding up, like my friends would send me another mixed race or Black people that they know they live here or sometimes I would have to do a bit of stalking and any Black person I see, I’m going to follow them.
And so yeah, they started sending me pictures. I was reposting them and then I was like, okay, we have an Instagram; now let’s do Facebook so we can communicate, we can text each other, we can share articles, videos and things like that. So we started Facebook and now we even have a WhatsApp group, so it’s getting more intimate and a lot of people have made a lot of friends and yeah, it’s nice.
Damianne: [00:06:49] Well, now we’re kind of social distancing, but also you are back and forth, coming back to visit Czech Republic. Do people meet face to face as well as online?
More About the Czech Kids group
Samira: [00:06:58] Yes, we do. We had the first meeting, I think in the beginning of 2018. Since then, I try to come regularly and any time I’m here, we do the meetings. So, what we’ve been doing so far, because you know, I live in London, so it’s hard to manage. So what we’ve been doing is just meeting up, so we have meetups and we just get together. We dance, we eat food, we have fun. Or sometimes we meet in smaller groups so somebody, if they have a free house, they invite people over. We have dinner, we chat, we play games, or we go out together for drinks or something like that. But the main thing at the moment is the big meetups where usually from 30 up to even 50 people come in and we have a lot of fun. Of course, we like to dance. People have made friendships, we even had a few relationships. People definitely meet face to face and they make friends and talk to them. People who understand it’s important.
Damianne: [00:07:58] What would you say are the demographics of the people in the group?
Samira: [00:08:01] So the age, I think it starts from 17, and it goes to like 30. So it’s a mixture, but majority is let’s say young people from 18 to 25 . But then of course I’m 26, so I bring friends who are my age, or maybe a little bit older. Then we also had people who are like 17 or they just turned 18. And then half of the people are Czech speaking who are born here and they’re mixed race or they’re fully African and they’re born here. And half of the people work here or study here, moved here from a different country. Usually it’s people who study here and we’ve got people from all over the world. We’ve got Afro Latinos, we’ve got Afro-American, we have Caribbean people, African people, we have people from the UK and then as me, people from the Middle East. So it’s a mixture of everything.
Damianne: [00:08:56] As you’ve gone through creating this group and meeting people in this group, what have you learned from this process?
Samira: [00:09:02] In the beginning I was like, I’ll just learn that everyone has a different experience and maybe sometimes I cannot force them to see things in a certain way or think in a certain way. Educating myself, I was like, okay, I need to educate others as well. They need to know this, they need to be aware of this. But I didn’t take into consideration growing up here you don’t have access to all the information that I have access to in London.
So it made me more understanding and less judgemental towards people. And maybe they don’t realize, but I can see that they really need this here. I don’t want to be like, Oh son, I feel sorry for him or anything like that, but it’s hard and it’s sad sometimes to see what they have to tolerate living here. But at the same time, it’s beautiful to see them getting together and just being so happy getting all the feedback after the meetings. And, I’m just happy I was able to create a safe space for them, where they can just be themselves and express themselves.
Damianne: [00:09:55] In the time that we’re in right now with so many protests after George Floyd and so many others, it’s interesting because one of the best articles I’ve read recently was by Imani Perry. It’s an article that talks about blackness is not the bad thing here, racism is. Let’s keep our eye on what the real issue is. And it’s unfortunate because of course you can’t untie the racism from the fact that you’re black, like it’s tied into your identity and how people judge you. But at the same time, it’s good when you can have a reminder that you’re not a bad person just because people treat you poorly.
Samira: [00:10:29] Yeah, exactly. That’s true. You can see it in the meetings because we don’t do the meetings to come together and feel sorry for ourselves. We do the meetings to celebrate and I just want them to be proud of who they are and really just know that there is nothing to be ashamed of because when you grow up in a white country around people where most of the people here are racist, whether they know it or not, whether it’s intentional or not, they are simply racist. And you internalize a lot of things and then it leads to you going against yourself or you going against your own people. So I’m just happy that in the meetings, they can see also people from different countries because when you’re born here, mixed race and not exposed to African culture, sometimes you can be prejudiced as well, even though it’s a part of you. So I’m happy that they’re all meeting new people, speaking about experiences and just really seeing the beauty in what it means to be black.
Building understanding to support others
Damianne: [00:11:24] You talked about when you went to London, you got a different perspective that you think people here don’t get exposure to, when you realized that you have to understand not everybody sees things the same way . What’s your approach then? Because it’s a balance, right, between accepting people, but you also do want to share what you’ve learned. How do you balance those things?
Samira: [00:11:46] In the beginning, I was really struggling with this and a lot of people didn’t like me for that because I was trying to be you have to know this. But then I just decided to take a step back and I was like, okay, let me just focus on making them happy.
I believe that everyone needs to learn for themselves. They need to decide for themselves okay. I want to research, I want to do this, I want to understand, I want to see things in a different way. I cannot force them. And I think as time went by and you speak to different people, maybe you get to understand different perspectives. And I think now with George Floyd and everything happening, maybe some of them realize, okay, what was she talking about two years ago. It’s actually true and maybe now’s the time when they can, when they’re like, okay, the issue is actually here.
So I just had to take a step back and just do what I can do. If there’s things that I cannot explain to them, they don’t want to hear it, let me just step back. Everyone needs to find out for themselves. That goes for everything in life. You can never force people to think the way that you think, but with George Floyd, I think definitely they’ve been exposed to more information on social media and I think they understand better also the importance of the group.
Activism and protests
Damianne: [00:13:03] I would say that with the work that you’re doing, with the group that you’ve created, as well as with the posts that I see you’re making on your own Instagram page, that you’re doing the work of an activist, basically. Do you see yourself as an activist or is it your form of protest? How do you think about what you’re doing?
Samira: [00:13:22] A friend of mine, she tagged me somewhere and she was like, yes, Samira our activists. And I was like, I’m not an activist.
Damianne: [00:13:29] What does the word activist mean to you?…
Samira: [00:13:30] I don’t know. It’s just because activists, I guess, is someone who is always there, who is always doing, who dedicates their whole life to doing the work, which I cannot say about myself, that my life is dedicated to…
Damianne: [00:13:44] Well, it’s interesting because as you talk it makes me think that there is the job of activist but then there’s also things you can do that are activism.
Samira: [00:13:55] So yeah, that’s the thing that I don’t want to have the job of an activist because I don’t do public speaking. There’s a lot of things that I am not able to do yet, or I don’t do them and there’s also a lot of things because being black or being mixed race, being brown skin is exhausting itself.
It’s exhausting to deal with all the things that we have to deal with. Then on top of that being an activist. I still want to have my life, I still want to be happy as we all do. I still want do the things that I enjoy.
You want to be able to step away when you need to, without guilt.
Yeah, so that’s why I don’t really call myself an activist because you know, Angela Davis, she’s an activist. Everything about her is activism.
Damianne: [00:14:35] You said that you want people to understand the consequences of their racist actions and the whole idea of internalized racism. What experience did you have with racism either here or elsewhere?
Samira: [00:14:45] Well growing up here and just growing up in Europe in general, in the world in general, because of the media, everything, the history is all European beauty standards. That’s all that you see around yourself, you see it in the media. So people just making fun of the way that you look even, they used to make fun of my body shapes. I would never want my hair to be curly. I was just cutting it all different ways, different colors. That was one thing that I had to learn to love, that was my hair, then my body shape? Cause they used to make fun of me because I have a big bomb and but now, everyone wants to have a big bum so it’s just ridiculous when you look back at it. I hated my body, everything about myself and all the prejudice and, the thoughts that you have about Black people or African people that you take from white people basically. So me come into London, I used to think in ways that I’m ashamed of and it’s because I grew up here and I didn’t know any better, but it’s not an excuse obviously. I had to unlearn a lot of things that I had in my head and there’s things that I would never ever say again. Or when you live here, racist jokes are a very common thing. For yourself to be able to cope with it, you have to laugh at it. And obviously you don’t want them to know that they’ve hurt you, so you laugh at it and then you start making fun of yourself. But in a way, that’s very hurtful and damaging because you’re making fun of your existence, your identity, and it’s not okay.
And I see it these days as well. A lot of the younger children, mixed race or black who grew up here, they have Instagram names, little monkey because everybody else is calling them a monkey and it’s a coping mechanism. You have to start laughing at these jokes and then it affects your self esteem and everything. Or they have names like the black this, the black that. So you definitely internalize the racism. You go against yourself and then you go against your own people. I think this is a problem worldwide.
Damianne: [00:16:39] Yeah, I heard Macy Gray in an interview and she was talking about how, if you think about the fact that society is racist, it’s as if you’re a fish swimming in the ocean, which is the racist society, we can’t help but being affected by it. And whether you’re white or black, I think we constantly have to be vigilant against the ways that the societal ideas are infringing on our own thoughts and changing the way that we think.
Samira: [00:17:14] Yeah, for sure. Definitely.
About Samira’s other work/activities
Damianne: [00:17:16] In addition to your work with your group and your protests on Instagram, what else do you do?
Samira: [00:17:27] I’m studying a course that is related to social issues and things like that. I would like to be, I would say not a teacher, maybe not a classic teacher, maybe someone who’s like a mentor or who helps young people from minorities.
Maybe I will end up as a teacher. I don’t know. That’s what I’m working on at the moment; I’m studying and getting my degree. And then, my other job is a dance fitness instructor, which obviously has nothing to do with activism.
I do classes for women, dance classes, fitness classes. I work with women. I try to boost their confidence. I also have a YouTube channel where I also speak. My audience is women, but obviously my videos are open to everyone but it’s mostly women. I speak to people about confidence, about my own journey finding my confidence. That’s another part, just helping people in general become more confident and self-loving.
Damianne: [00:18:19] What do you think was the biggest step that you took or the smallest step that you took that helped you in developing your own confidence?
Samira: [00:18:28] Well, again, leaving this country, getting out of the box and suddenly just not being surrounded by anyone but myself, just being alone and really having the time to think and explore. I think everyone should do that once in their lives. Just maybe try and go live somewhere else for awhile.
So that was it. And then just deciding to leave my hair natural. That was a big part. And, that took a long time to get to where I am today. I think the past two years, maybe year and a half, I’m really happy and taking care of my hair.
And every woman in this world experiences issues with her own body, so just learning to love my body and stop going on diets and things like that. And as I stopped worrying about diets and things like that, naturally I lost the weight and I didn’t even know about it. And then becoming a dance teacher, just again, getting out of my comfort zone, standing up in front of people and teaching them how to twerk and stuff. So that was a big, big one.
Sources of inspiration
Damianne: [00:19:30] What inspires you? Where do you draw inspiration from?
Samira: [00:19:34] I get all my inspiration is from other women, whether it’s women that achieved things that I want to achieve, friends around me or people I come across and in some way I look up to them.
I can’t really think of like a specific person right now. All the life experiences that I’ve been through they’ve inspired me, just life in general.
Learning to be more empathetic/anti-racist
Damianne: [00:19:53] If people want to learn more about how to be more empathetic, more anti racist, do you have any recommendations of something that they should read, watch, follow?
Samira: [00:20:03] There is a lot of Instagram pages, so the ones that I can say from the top of my head is Munroe Bergdorf. She’s a Black trans woman. And then you have Rachel Cargle. She’s very good. She has a book, Me and My White Supremacy. I think every white person that should get that; that is number one.
Damianne: [00:20:26] Actually she also has this online program on how to be anti-racist and it’s free, but if you can afford to pay, you should definitely pay for it.
Samira: [00:20:36] Yeah, so she’s a very good source. She’s a very good teacher and just the way she educates is very good. So that’s good quality content.
And then there is one lady, my favorite. She’s a dance teacher as well. Her name is Kelechi Okafor but she’s very harsh. So if you’re not ready for that, don’t go there. So that’s Instagram from the top of my head.
Then we’ve got lots on Netflix or I think some of them are even available on YouTube. So the 13th, which is about the American prison system. Then for the younger generation, there’s this movie called The Hate You Give. I’ve heard a lot of good feedback that was like a wake up call for a lot of people. Then what’s my favorite, The Color Purple, which is very sad. I’ve cried the whole movie. What else do you have?
Damianne: [00:21:27] There’s also the Just Mercy film, which I think you can actually watch for free right now. You can check the link; it’s streaming for free in some locations right now.
Samira: [00:21:38] Then I would just say research the keywords, like Eurocentric education, the history of racism, where it comes from, imperialism, colonialism, what are microaggressions, what is colorism? What does it mean to fetishize Black people? I have it on my Instagram, you can check my Instagram. There’s a whole list of resources so definitely look for that. I would say focus on the history because you need to understand history to be able to understand the present.
Damianne: [00:22:06] Yeah, I heard a Czech person saying what is this all about, why are people so upset. And definitely if you’re a person who’s wondering that you can find out the answer by just taking a little bit of time and looking into the issue.
Samira: [00:22:22] Yeah, exactly. I would just say that a lot of white people think just because they don’t explicitly hate somebody of a different color, that means they are not racist, but that’s not true because we all have some sort of bias. We all have prejudice against others.
So you need to explore that and it’s going to make you feel very uncomfortable, but you need to deal with that yourself. You need to deal with the guilt and the uncomfortable feeling that you’re going to get after finding out that you are actually racist because you think in certain ways, and you think things that are not okay. Just keep in mind that you yourself learning about racism and not experiencing it is a privilege itself. Try to feel how we feel our whole life, how the world makes us hate ourselves. It’s nothing compared to feeling guilty for 10 minutes after realizing what the world is going through.
So just keep that in mind and do the work. You know, it’s going to take a long time. It might take you your whole life, but it’s necessary.
Learning to talk about racism
Damianne: [00:23:24] I was talking to somebody a few weeks ago and they said, I don’t think my father was racist. I don’t think I’m a racist and I didn’t know what to say, because I didn’t know the person that well. And so after that, I actually went to do a bit of research on how to talk to people who are white about race, because if it’s somebody I’m close to, that I feel safe and comfortable with then I can have the conversation, but if it’s more of a strange environment then it’s potentially more harmful to my psyche.
And so I have found myself in the past basically shutting down the conversation and being like that is not okay, do not talk to me like that. Do you realize you’re talking about my father, brother, sister, or whatever as the case may be. And so I went and I found some documents online about talking to people about race, and then I found some interesting questions and prompts and things to talk about. For example, everyone is racist. If you’re white, you can’t help, but being racist. As far as saying I’m not racist, let’s flip that. Assume that you’re racist in some way. And then investigate what ways are you unconsciously biased, racist, whatever you want to call it and what you can do about it.
Samira: [00:24:44] Yeah. I saw this funny post on Instagram. It was like treat racism like Corona. Assume that you have it cause that’s the slogans that’s in the UK, like assume that you have it and wear are your mask and protect yourself. So, yeah, definitely.
On being biracial
Damianne: [00:24:59] What would you like listeners to know about your experience, about life as a biracial person, as a Black person?
Samira: [00:25:05] I think you’ve mentioned it already that people don’t understand that the things that they say or how they treat other, that it has consequences. And, I’m talking about white people now specifically. The way that you treat us or the way that you look at us or the way that you say things about others who look like us in front of us, thinking Oh she’s born in Czech, she speaks Czech so she’s not that black. So I I can ask her do Black men have big this and that. My dad is a Black man so do not ask me that. Seriously, it’s very uncomfortable. So they don’t know that their good intentions don’t mean the consequence is going to be good as well, or you can have good intentions and do a lot of bad things.
So just understand that, whatever you say, the people hear it, they take it in, they think about it when they get home, and it affects their confidence and their self esteem. Racism basically is bullying. So what you are doing is bullying people of color by saying things like that. And if you believe that you have a good heart, you don’t want to be a bully. Really educate yourself and watch what you say and become aware and try to make this world a better place.
Damianne: [00:26:16] As we end our conversation today. What does it mean to you to be anti-racist?
Samira: [00:26:21] What does it mean to me to be anti racist? Calling out racism wherever you see it, standing up for people of color, for Black people. If you see an injustice happening, just fighting for the cause, really just fighting for the cause, being able to give up your privilege in order to help others. So educating yourself and investing your money into black business.
Damianne: [00:26:46] The final question. If there’s anybody who is listening who is struggling with identity or trying to figure out their place in the world, what comfort or what advice, what hope could help?
Samira: [00:26:57] I would say you are not alone. You are definitely not alone. A lot of us struggle with that. If you are mixed race or if you are a black and born in Czech Republic, you can always join the group. You can talk to other people. And remember that you are the only person who can define who you are. Even though identity is affected by the external influences, at the end of the day, it’s up to you to decide for yourself who you are.
Damianne: [00:27:24] Thank you for listening to this episode of Changes BIG and small. You can find the show notes by visiting the website. If you think that there is somebody else who can benefit from listening to this episode, please share the link with them. If you have a suggestion on how to be anti racist, please send a message or leave an audio message on the website with SpeakPipe. Have a great week.
Racism basically is bullying. – SamiraTweet
- Racism Is Terrible. Blackness Is Not
- Jonathan Fields interview with Macy Gray
- Monroe Bergdof
- Me and My White Supremacy, Rachel Cargle
- The Hate You Give
- The Color Purple
- Just Mercy
- Kelechi Okafor
I had to unlearn a lot of things that I had in my head and there’s things that I would never ever say again.Samira Jasim
Contact Changes BIG and small
Everyone needs to find out for themselves. It goes for everything in life. You can never force people to think the way that you think. – SamiraTweet