The Story of “Le Petit Blanc”

I lived in Gabon, Africa for fifteen years, but I was born in Bucharest, Romania from a Christian-Orthodox Romanian mother and a Shia-Muslim Lebanese father. When I was three years old, my Mom and I moved to Gabon. I stayed there until I graduated from a French high school, and most of my culture there was French. Because France colonized Gabon, most of what I was eating, watching on TV, and learning was French or about France. When I was a kid, I didn’t know anything about the difference between other people and me. I am what is often referred to as the “third race.” I am a multiracial and multicultural person. Because of my vast diversity, I never felt like I belonged to any community.

Early in my childhood, I realized that I was different. When I lived in Gabon, people would not call me by my name. They would usually refer to me as “Le petit blanc,” or “Le petit chinois,” which means the little white boy or the little Chinese boy. It didn’t take long for my physical difference to be the only source of ridicule for my peers. Soon, the way I ate, what I ate, or hobbies I had adopted were also sources of ridicule. Often people would say, “You can’t do that or eat that, you are white!” As I grew older, the names people called me or comments people made toward me became more aggressive. “You better go back to your country, the colonial time is done!” Even younger kids than me used some profane language toward me. Once, when I was playing arcades, a young child shut the game off because I refused to let him have my credit. I couldn’t say or do anything in my defense because they had friends, brothers, and family, but I was alone. When I tried, it didn’t go in my favor.

During my childhood, I thought it is just because most black people didn’t like white people. As I grew and matured, I realized even if I could change the color of my skin, nothing would change. Being different would cause problems anywhere I went. Later I realized this was not unique to black people, but rather humanity as a whole. When I traveled back for the first time to my birth country, I realized that people changed their attitude when they heard my Arabic name. “You are not Romanian?” “Where are you from?” When I would say I am Romanian they would laugh and make jokes about me. I remember when I was in high school French students were making jokes at me through miserable pictures of poor peasants to show how poor and undeveloped Romania was. My experiences confirmed my suspicion that, wherever I go, people have a problem with me.

I have always loved to travel, and I have been lucky enough to visit and live in more than 12 countries. But my travel experiences were always mixed with a bitter taste of racism. In France, I was ridiculed for my Romanian origins. In Romania, I was stereotyped due to my Arabic heritage. In Africa, I was discriminated against because I was thought to be white. It seemed incredibly ironic because all of my years in Africa, people didn’t like me because I was white. When I came to the US, people made me realize that I was not what can be qualified as “white.” Maybe my interests for travel and learning about other cultures was for me the way to find an answer to the question, who am I? But as in most pursuit for knowledge, the more I knew, the more I felt even more lost and lonely.

I am today a product of my experiences. While many of my experiences have been tough, I think they have also made me better, if not at least more understanding of others’ miseries. I now see myself as a Westerner without a concrete attachment to any country of my origins or culture, but am very comfortable and attached to the United States and its Constitution. Despite the existing racism in the US, it is the single place in the world where I feel at home. Approximately 98% of the population will never be able to tell me that this land can’t be mine too, because like me they are all from somewhere else. The diversity of this nation has offered me a place that I can call home and where, as time passes, I feel more and more American. I have come to understand I couldn’t relate to anyone until I discovered a home, my home, and realized I was not alone.

Ali Kahil