Bothan Ahmed Botan

‘What happens when we proceed as if we know this, antiblackness, to be the ground on which we stand, the ground from which we to attempt to speak, for instance, an “I” or a “we” who know, an “I” or a “we” who care?’1 i

‘The autobiographical example...is not a personal story that folds onto itself; it’s not about navel gazing, it’s really about trying to look at historical and social process and one’s own formation as a window onto social and historical processes, as an example of them.’2

‘It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at oneself through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.’3


When they
would put their feet at the back of my chair and kick me
it wasn’t them you talked to, it was me
When they
would make fun of my name
it wasn’t them you they talked to, it was me
When they
would mock me for the tone of my skin
it wasn’t them you talked to, it was me

When I
stopped talking
stopped smiling
stopped laughing
you didn’t understand why
didn’t want to understand why

When you
brought my parents to talk
it wasn’t them you blamed, it was me
When you
sent me to a therapist
it wasn’t them you blamed, it was me

When you
didn’t know what to do with me
it wasn’t them you blamed, it was me

When I
stopped eating
stopped learning
stopped coming
you didn’t want to understand why

Why? Because
I was different

The door opens during class. I do not turn my head. I never do, because if I do not see the mockery on the faces of the others, it does not feel as bad, even as they kick my chair and mock me in gleeful whispers. A womanly voice says my name. Now, I must turn my head. She is not a teacher. I must come with her, she says. I look up at the teacher in front of the class, one of many who have failed me so many times throughout the years. The teacher nods briefly, then continues talking. There is relief in his eyes.

I get up, my head down, and walk to the hallway. The woman introduces herself. I nod and stay silent. It is a trick I have learned through the years. The less you say, the less they can say about you. When you look different, everything you do is different. It does not matter if you actually act different. The choice is no longer yours. It has been predetermined. It does not matter that I do not have an accent, that I speak their tongue fluently. I look different, so I talk different, walk different, breathe different. Eventually, if it goes on long enough, you start thinking that maybe you really are acting different. And when you are at home, you practice your walking, look in the mirror to see how your lips move when you talk, smell your breath and touch your hair and your skin just to find something, anything that can fix all this. ii

The woman walks me to a small office and sits behind a desk. She begins to talk, and I finally understand that she is a therapist. A therapist for children.

And then it begins.

Every week, we meet. She asks me questions, gives me compliments, makes me solve riddles. Every day is different, but they all start the same: I am pulled from class and led to the office for a one-hour talk. And now, there really is something different about me, and different is bad. So the mockeries intensify.

The woman is trying to figure out something, and they are trying to figure out something because she represents the school. My school. I am too young to understand what it is they want. I do not know what is wrong with me, what I did or what I did not do.

When I became older, I understood. They wanted to know why I do not talk to their sons, their daughters, their grandsons, their granddaughters. The fault cannot lie with them. They are our children. They are like us, look like us, talk like us, have names like ours. We raised them well. The fault must lie with you. You who are different and have a different name, different hair, different skin. Different is bad. You must not make our children feel bad.

They do not understand. Could not understand. Did not want to understand. If they understood, forced themselves to understand, it would have ruined them. It would have been an admission of guilt. They would be guilty – the children they created, their fathers, their mothers, their grandfathers, their grandmothers, the society they all wrought together.

Six months later, they bring my mother in for a talk. Including the therapist, the dean and the principal, five people in one tiny office. Their excitement is palpable. The riddle has been solved, the mystery revealed. Triumphantly, they tell my mother I am on the spectrum. Asperger’s. They show us the papers, the files, the folders. My mother does not understand. She does not speak the language well. She thinks they have decided I am insane, that I will be sent to an institution. It catches them off guard. They did not know. So I have to explain to her what I do not understand myself, what they have decided I am. I have to read what they have written about me, how they have dissected and studied me: ‘Responds normally to compliments’, ‘Withdrawn, enquire about home situation’, ‘Grades failing, cognitive inhibition?’

I am not a child but a subject, a difficult question to be approached from different angles to figure it out. And they have figured it out, so they say. Their minds are at ease, their consciences at rest. They have not borne the iniquities of their forefathers. It can all be put to rest now.

Now, they can ignore the name calling as it happens right under their noses, the kicks, the insults dressed up as jokes, the mocking giggles and laughter. It is no longer their responsibility, no longer their fault. They have solved the problem. He is not normal, as our children are.

He is different.

Themes: Wounds of Ruptures, Spatial Claims

Methods: Intimate, Experimental


[1] Christina Sharpe, In the Wake: On Blackness and Being (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016), 7.

[2] Sharpe, In the Wake, 8.

[3] W. E. B. Du Bois, ‘Strivings of the Negro People (1897)’, in The Problem of the Color Line at the Turn of the Twentieth Century: The Essential Early Essays, ed. Nahum Dimitri Chandler (New York: Fordham University Press, 2015), 68.

[i] For another piece on space, knowing and anti-Blackness, see: ARCHITECTURES OF THE (UN)INHABITABLE by Ola Hassanain & Egbert Alejandro Martina

[ii] Another text telling a story of a Black self is: AN ODE TO INCOHERENCE: ANNOTATIONS, UNDERCURRENTS by Nasra Abdullahi

Bothan Ahmed Botan is a twenty-nine years old writer who moved to the Netherlands at the age of two when his family fled the war in Somalia. His family was placed in the little town of Someren, which is virtually entirely white. He lost his father to cancer when he was in the fourth grade and was raised – along with three siblings – by his mother. Bothan studied Literature at Leiden University and currently works as a translator. He is currently working on a novel about his mother’s life.

︎ Bothan Botan