After the airport attack, a man called me makak—macaque is the swearing word for Moroccans. I froze. And in that experience, lies the answer to why I care.

Because deep down I want to be white and beautiful. I want to be considered a safe person, a clean person, innocent.


In this shopping street, a couple in their late forties, their cheeks dropped inwards, stiffness in the eyes, is walking towards me, holding hands. There is no space for me to pass, but they don’t unclasp, they parade like a block. I turn vertical, squeeze, touch the woman’s pale and cold arm. My normal reaction would be to shudder; a disgust. 

That feeling I had last week, when I was at the Midi station; two tall white people in comfortable Nikes and loose jeans, swaying hands joyfully. There was something fulfilled and secure in that swaying that I disliked.


A Few weeks ago, a friend picked Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt as his example of the beautiful couple.

Why?’ I spat.

‘Because they are, beautiful,’ he responded. ‘Why do you care?’

‘Why not a black couple? Why does everybody want to be white?’

He nodded, looking trapped.

That night, I wondered about his question: why do I care?

I thought of all the beautiful white couples I know and how they are served in cafés, whether they are in Belgium, Italy, or Kenya. I felt the difference in service when I was having breakfast with them. I watched them from a distance being beautiful and looking so design- and picture-perfect. Mainstream perfect. Heterosexual. The man taller than the woman, but not too much taller. Talking with a politeness of people who understand how to strip themselves of any sentimentality and drama when in public spaces. It almost doesn’t look real. It looks tempting.


One time in a fancy building in Mumbai, there were two elevators; one for the servants, and one for the upper class renters and their guests. The watchman sent my boyfriend, an Indian Hindu, to the servant’s elevator. ‘It’s because of my beard,’ he told me. ‘I look Muslim.’ He tried to hide his shame while I tried to suppress my anger.

People stare at us in five-star hotel bars, a seemingly mainstream woman, Mediterranean looking, and a shorter what… Muslim? A dark man? What do they see? They might see what a colleague once called: ill fitting. She was pointing out to a couple that looked like ‘they don’t fit together.’ I asked her what she meant.  She said: ‘it’s just,… off.’

They weren’t the same age, they didn’t have the right size, the right hair, the right jackets. Just off. Not right. Not white. Not hetero. Not innocent.

6ef1453b0abc010f940f6a7067004712When my boyfriend and I were waiting for a train in Brussels, holding a big suitcase, the military men walked up to us. That was just after the airport attack. My boyfriend said he understood. But I could see his discomfort; that shame.

For me it’s different. First, I’m a woman; they tend to identify dangerous Muslim still more with men with big suitcases. Secondly, no one knows where I’m from. Italy? Morocco? Spain? Israel?

I have a Syrian friend—a tall woman with an intense light in her big eyes who went to the American school, where she got her upper class self-confidence; when we met for the first time in a café, she asked: ‘are you Arab?’

‘No, I’m half Indian.’


She still doesn’t seem to fully believe me.

‘I was sure you were Egyptian,’ she tells me now. ‘You’re darker than me.’

‘No, it’s the sun. I’m usually as white as you.’

‘If you think I’m white, you’re blind,’ she jokes.


After the airport attack, a man called me makak—macaque is the swearing word for Moroccans. I froze. And in that experience, lies the answer to why I care.

Because deep down I want to be white and beautiful. I want to be considered a safe person, a clean person, innocent.

So I, too, believe in the Jolie-Pitt myth. I too, look at them and secretly marvel.

They look ‘worthy’ of each other. Rich, clean, and entitled.

brangelinaAnd here lies envy, a fear, because of my belief in the white superiority.

As a child, I admired my sister and father. Both very white and the most admirable people I knew. From a young age, I understood she was my half-sister, and he was not my biological father but he had ‘accepted me’ when I was born. Born from my mother and an Indian man I met once in my life. I grew up believing that to fit in, I had to be white. Everybody loves white. The blonde white kids in class were angels. The teacher didn’t forget their names; their color paintings were put up on the wall. I believed that to fit in, I shouldn’t be me. A strange child, a bastard child.

This isn’t really about white love. This is about mainstream. I wanted to be loved in a mainstream way. I wanted a family as a unity, not a family of secrecy. A goofy family on fun holidays.

And because that wasn’t my upbringing, I started to reject it. But in whatever you reject with passion, lies a dependency. And arrogance as well. Finding comfort in the margins; a place from where I can attack the privileges of the mainstream.

Because deep down I want to have a straight path, straight mind, straight desires. Live a straight story: the house, the job, the appropriate attire. Neat shoes.

Because I don’t feel straight, not clean, not cool. I can rage in grief and fear. My body, swollen with cysts, depends on a machine to filter the toxins out of my blood. Because I’m not a healthy body, a normal body, a mainstream body, maybe.


When I try to look beyond my story, I don’t find normal, anywhere. The segregating gaze lives in me. People all over the world try to shift meaning. Try to tease the culturally conditioned way of thinking. It really starts with confessing your own bias. I am trying.

I turn around and look at the couple. There is a stiffness in their walk, the tight hand clasping might just keep them safe, keep them sane. Maybe it’s comfort. Their way.

This week, my friend sent me a link to an article: Hollywood’s most beautiful couple to divorce.

I wrote back: Even straight stories can burst.



Chloé Cela is a facilitator, translator and dialysis patient.

She lives in Belgium, writes in English, and swears in Italian.


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