Agoum Monydhel is a former classmate of mine from high school. Monydhel uses she/her/hers pronouns. She is 18 years old and identifies as a Black South Sudanese woman. Both of her parents are South Sudanese immigrants. Monydhel was raised in Lincoln, Nebraska in a family of 5. She then moved to Omaha at the age of 14. Both of her neighborhoods in Lincoln and Omaha were predominately white. Monydhel faced racism and colorism during her years at grade school and high school. Monydhel is now a student at Creighton University as well as an advocate for racial justice at Marian High School.
Before she took on advocacy, Monydhel was constantly involved in racial affairs at her high school. She was a part of the IDEAS club which stood for Increasing Diversity and Equality Among Students. She also was the spearhead for several diversity-related events.
I first asked Agoum about her experience as one of the only people of color at her entire school. She paused for a moment and went into detail about her experience. She felt as if she was alienated in a way. Besides being Black, being the daughter of South Sudanese immigrants gave Agoum an added feeling of “being different”. However, she didn’t fully realize that her race and complexion played into it until high school:
I think I knew the difference when gonna say grade school, I can love this elementary school and middle school, but I didn’t really understand the complexities and the actual difficulties behind being darker-skinned probably until I was in high school. But I always knew that I was different then lighter-skinned women. I just didn’t know what defined those differences.
There were so many problems rooted in colorism and race until I actually entered high school, and I experienced some of that, and I probably did experience it in grade school and I just didn't know what was colorism was until I got to high school that some people like pointed out to me the differences and some of it I noticed it on my own, but that's it. I probably had that understanding since I was a child, actually.
Agoum made sure to relay to me that racism and colorism will always be connected. One cannot face colorism without there being some form of colorism involved. This reminded me of an article written by Ralinda Watts titled “The School Experience: What It’s Really Like Being the Only Black Student in the Room”. Watts talks about how there is always an underlying loom of distress that comes with being Black at a PWI. It seems as if that constant feeling of being different is always there and inescapable. This also reminds me of “La guera” by Cherie Moraga. Although Moraga describes herself as a lighter-skinned Latina, there are so many parallels. It seems as if both women feel as if they don’t belong in White spaces and are just trying to feel “not different”. This has led to Agoum, like Moraga, having to change their ways in order to avoid racism/colorism the best they can.
I think now that I'm in college because I go to the PWI as well. I'm able to catch it, because of my bad experience in high school. I kind of have a certain disposition. For people like to scout, especially like black students or POC students with lighter skin, I feel like I have a certain disposition when I approached them, you know, are they going to judge me for my dark skin or are they going to treat me a certain different way because aware, because of the way I talk or something like that but I'm understanding that if I think, going to the PWI almost all my life. It didn't really hit me until high school. So now that I'm in college, I have a full understanding of what it is, what it entails and the danger behind it. And now I take precautionary measures. Now, even though I really don't want to, but that's just the way. It's just the way it's been set up in my life.
Agoum went on to discuss more about her experience as a darker-skinned woman. She talked briefly about how social media can affect Black, or just darker-skinned people in general. This phenomenon is also seen in Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture by Marita Sturken and Lisa Cartwright. Although this book does not explicitly talk about colorism, the way in which they explain the effects social media has on image is applicable to this situation. Another way that this applies is through the notion that all POC go through the same experiences and are connected. On social media, it seems as if all non-white people are grouped together as a means of “being the other”. Agoum discussed how this wasn’t the case at our high school.
I feel like the woman of color my high school, and this is me being really honest.I really did not feel as united or connected with other students of color in my high school besides the black students. I feel like in my high school year, it was the PWI and there were students of color, not just different races but also different religious backgrounds, but I feel like we weren't able to connect the way we wanted to connect because I don't know, because we were afraid or did we were to differ from each other but I really don't feel like we connected the way we should have. And I think that's part of the problem which my high school still has, we don't. We're not providing students opportunities to truly connect with each other. And I think that was a big problem I have school and I think for students of color. It was such a division among us. I don't want to say the black space but there was such division among students of color in school, whether it was the Asian students, and the black students or the Hispanic students, or even. There are students that are Muslim, there is never really unity among all of us, we were all really much divided. And you're partially our fault but I think it's partially also because we will never be provided the opportunity to really connect on a deeper level. So I feel like during my time in high school there was just a lot of conflict. As soon as a primary school, mostly it was mostly unspoken out but there was some conflict and my high school, sort of kindness kind of sad for me to say that, but that's just from like observed, I don't know what other students observed but for my observations, I really didn't feel like we neither the way we should have.
POC unity is something that isn’t active right now, but Agoum believes could happen with more effort. The main issue is lack of understanding and less advocacy for other groups. Advocacy seems to be something of utmost importance to Agoum. She dedicates so much of her time to it. As we closed the interview, I asked her more about her advocacy and how others could do the same. She mentioned how advocacy shouldn’t feel like a job and that anyone can put their time and effort into a marginalized group.
That's discussing something like racism or something like Islamophobia that's advocating. And I don't think it takes so much energy off your day I really don't think there should be out there should have to be a balance you know you can balance your home life and your academics or something you can balance but in terms of like advocating you advocate from home, from school, you can advocate, from your sidewalk, you navigate from the car- really you could put a sign on your car, sign on your door you could, you know make you can attend a conference, a conference call, talking about gender equality, or gender inclusive, say that word gender diversity or something like that.
I learned a lot from this interview. Being a darker=skinned South Sudanese woman myself, I related a lot with the issues Agoum faced during her lifetime. I still have much more to learn about it, seeing as I’ve had it much easier than others due to things such as featurism. Talking to Agoum helped me realize how important advocacy and talking about racial justice can be. A simple discussion can help people unify in achieving a common goal: real peace, equality, and equity.
Listen to my full interview with Agoum here:Works Cited
Moraga, Cherríe. “La Güera.” This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color. Eds. Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa. 27-34. London: Persephone Press, 1981. Print.
Sturken, Marita, and Lisa Cartwright. Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture. 2009. Print.
Watts, Ralinda. “The School Experience: What It’s Really Like Being the Only Black Student in the Room.” POPSUGAR Smart Living, 24 Mar. 2021, www.popsugar.com/smart-living/what-it-like-being-only-black-student-in-classroom-48231988.