Who Am I?

By Hanya El Ghetany

Ons Jabeur, a 28-year-old born in Ksar Hellal, Tunisia, has had outstanding success on the court. Her career highlights include two major finals and a title in Madrid – and Jabeur is nowhere near done with her career yet. Despite her accomplishments, though, Jabeur’s ethnicity has been a source of controversy in African countries. Some believe she is African, while others claim she is Arab. Many people have fought over her ethnicity as a result of this issue. The dispute has elicited strong comments from all involved, begging the question of why Jabeur’s ethnicity is such a difficult question to answer and why people are discussing it. 

One intriguing aspect of the debate surrounding Ons Jabeur’s ethnicity is that she has not publicly stated how she identifies herself. Jabeur has described herself as representing the nations from Morocco to Oman (the Middle East), but she has not expressed her own opinion on the matter. It is unclear whether she identifies as African, Arab, or something else entirely. The debate about her identity is largely driven by others, rather than by Jabeur herself. So why is determining Jabeur’s ethnicity so critical? And why has this argument provoked such intense reactions from both sides?

One of the reasons why Jabeur’s ethnicity has become a topic of debate is that North Africa is a region with complex and diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Tunisia, Jabeur’s country of birth, is located in North Africa, a region known for its blend of African, Arab, and Mediterranean cultures. The region has a long history of colonization, which has resulted in the imposition of new cultural and ethnic identities. Tunisia, for example, was colonized by France for over 75 years, and this colonial experience had a significant impact on the country’s cultural and social fabric. As a result, some Tunisians identify more closely with Europe and the West than with other African countries, so many North Africans have mixed heritage and often identify with multiple ethnicities. 

The discussion about Jabeur’s ethnicity has been especially heated since it touches on questions of identity, culture, and power. The question of whether Jabeur is African or Arab is not just a matter of reality, but also of identity politics. Many people take pleasure in identifying as African because it ties them to a rich cultural heritage and a common history of fight against colonialism and tyranny. Similarly, for people who feel affinity with other Arab countries and a shared cultural past, identifying as Arab may be a source of pride. It is crucial to highlight that being Arab is not a nationality, but an ethnicity. 

It could be argued that the root of the problem stems from a lack of understanding about the differences between race, ethnicity, and nationality. Over time, people may have become confused about the distinctions between these terms, which has contributed to the confusion and misunderstandings about identity that we see today. In a nutshell, race is primarily concerned with physical characteristics, ethnicity is concerned with shared cultural identity, and nationality is concerned with citizenship or geographic origin. While these terms are often used interchangeably, they each have distinct meanings and implications for how people are classified and treated in society. Clarifying the differences between race, ethnicity, and nationality may help to promote understanding and acceptance of diverse identities. 

Ultimately, the debate about Jabeur’s ethnicity highlights the challenges of defining identity in a region that is characterized by diversity, complexity, and competing power dynamics. The debate is layered, and there are no easy answers. However, the key point is that Jabeur’s ethnicity is ultimately up to her. She has the right to identify as she chooses, and it is not up to anyone else to dictate her identity. At the same time, it is important to recognize the historical, cultural, political, and economic factors that have contributed to the debate about Jabeur’s ethnicity and to engage in a constructive discussion about these issues.

It is perfectly fine to identify with Ons Jabeur or any other person based on their ethnicity, nationality, or any other characteristic that resonates with you. However, it should also be known that identifying with someone from a particular group does not give us the right to dictate how they should see themselves or how they should identify. Each individual has their own unique experiences, perspectives, and feelings about their identity. So let’s respect their autonomy and allow them to define their own identity without imposing our own ideas or expectations onto them.


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