The Neo-Arabs Issue

Abdullah Al-Ameeri: The Afro-Arab Tackling Racism One Poem At A Time

'It’s not an issue that people normally talk about.'

By Sharifah Alhinai

Bahraini poet Abdullah Al-Ameeri. Image courtesy of Abdullah Al-Ameeri.

32-year-old Abdullah Al-Ameeri, who is more well known as ‘Digital Abdullah’ on social media, is one of the Arab world’s young emerging poets. Like many of his generation, the Bahraini national publishes his work, which centres on themes of love, mortality, nature, mental health, social activism and personal growth, on his social media channels.

In 2019, Al-Ameeri published a poem titled ‘I Hear You,’ which revolves around the racism he experienced on the hands of his teacher, amongst others, when he was a child. The poem is dedicated to Al-Ameeri’s younger self, whom he tries to comfort and console. ‘I Hear You,’ which is published in the literature section of this issue, marked the first time that Al-Ameeri opened up about this topic, and several other poems that revolve around racism and black identity followed, such as ‘Untitled’ and ‘Invitations,’ to positive interactions from his peers. Tackling racism and expressing pride in one’s black identity through poetry has become one of the things that Al-Ameeri is known for today to his growing readership.

I spoke to the young poet about his literary beginnings, the challenge of opening about the racism he experienced growing up and the responsibility he feels today as an Afro-Arab poet. This interview has been edited for the purposes of length and clarity.

Describe the beginnings of your literary journey. What first sparked your interest in expressing yourself through literature, and why poetry, in particular?

AA: I think I’ve always been a good writer, from my early days in school, I was that one kid in the class who would ask for an extra paper during writing activities, but somehow it took me till my mid-20’s to be fully dedicated to writing. Before poetry, I used to write news for gaming websites, but after that path came to an end, I found myself equipped with new skills, a lot of free time, and infinite thoughts and ideas to express. In real life, I’m a man of few words, I would describe my way of communicating as saying more with less, and that led me directly to poetry, because it is a craft where not only you say more with less, but also say it with carefully curated words that deliver sonically pleasing results.

Who are some of the poets and writers that you look up to? Why?

AA: The first poet that comes to mind is Robert Frost. Many of my favourite poems are written by him and I tried mimicking his style early on. Another would be Gil Scott-Heron. When my writing was growing, I found him as a great inspiration because of his way of tackling social and political issues beautifully. I’m also heavily inspired by Hip-Hop. I consider rappers to be the best modern-day poets, the ones that I look up to the most are Tupac Shakur and Rakim, they both revolutionised music with their incredible storytelling and powerful delivery, skills that I want to get better and better at.

Why the name ‘Digital Abdullah’ on social media?

AA: The idea first came to me while studying binary systems in computer science. The word digital came up a lot in the books and I picked it up from there. The reason I thought it suits me is that people have referred to me as robotic or robot-like since I was a kid because I only said a few words and rarely laughed or showed emotions. You could say that Digital Abdullah is an alias representing how I was (and still am) seen by others.

A number of your poems revolve around racism that you experienced for being black, and about black identity. How challenging did you find it to write about these topics (if at all), and why do you think it is important to do so?

AA: Writing about racism and anti-Blackness is challenging for many reasons. The first one is personal, what I experienced since I was a child was soul crushing, it affected me in many ways. The first time I wrote a poem about these issues was in 2019, through ‘I Hear You.’ It was the first time I found myself crying not only while writing the poem, but also while performing it at a poetry night and afterwards. It was then when I knew how deeply hurt I am by the things that happened to me and continue to happen to other Black people around me. Which brings me to the second reason why it’s a challenge to write about it, it’s not an issue that people normally talk about, and I’ll go as far as to say that the majority of people deny the very existence of racism and anti-Blackness in our societies. It became my mission to speak about it in my work, share the stories and experiences that society keeps sweeping under the rugs, and show that these issues are so deeply rooted in the Arab world.

This article is part of The Neo-Arabs Issue. To continue reading the article, click here to buy a digital copy of the issue. To read the entirety of this article in print, click here to order a print copy of the issue.

The views of the authors and writers who contribute to Sekka, and the views of the interviewees who are featured in Sekka, do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Sekka, its parent company, its owners, employees and affiliates.