Black American Living in Saudi Arabia

Terri in Abaya

Posing in the lobby of the Mövenpick. This hotel houses one of our favorite restaurants. Why am I wearing sunglasses inside? Because, you see a lot of women here wearing sunglasses inside. Also, when the photo was taken, I was actually heading outside. 😀

“What is it like for African-Americans in Saudi Arabia?”
“How have you been treated?”
“As a Black woman how are you accepted?”

I frequently receive emails with these types of questions. Too many really. Not in the sense that I mind answering, but in the sense that it’s a damn shame we still have to learn if someplace is; safe, accepting, tolerant, etc., of black people. So, I thought I’d take a moment to answer the questions.

The answer that I’m prone to giving is, “You won’t be treated any worse than you would be in the United States.”

My interactions with Saudi’s are limited to bureaucratic functions, shopping, and social events. But, I can still share my experience.

I can only think of one negative experience that I’ve had with a Saudi.

On the other hand, the incidents of micro aggressions by Americans is at an all-time high. Things that might not be said in the States for fear of repercussions that could lead to an altercation might be said to you here. For example, the [you know what] who when introduced to me as a fellow American, she looked me up and down and said, “Southern American” then rolled her eyes and turned her back. I was ready to tell her, “Thanks for the warning,” when I decided, “Terri, just walk away.” But, this is the kind of micro aggressive antics you may experience from some Americans. I don’t want to run down every incident, I am just giving an example.

Outside of Americans, I once had a South African guy tell me, “I don’t like black people, but I like you.” This man thought he was giving me a compliment. I told him, “I don’t view that as a compliment.” And, he tried to explain himself, but I left the conversation. And, though he was ignorant, he wasn’t being vicious or mean. That seems to be reserved for the Americans, to my disappointment. However, the thing they all have in common is that they’re Caucasian expats.

I have found living in Saudi Arabia to be an eye-opening experience in regards to so-called race relations. I have read numerous articles, blog post, etc., that discuss racism in Saudi and how negatively, Blacks, Africans, or dark skinned Arabs are treated. I think that individual circumstances determine how you’re treated. I think that black Americans have a different experience than Africans.

I conclude with surmising that as a Black American, based on my personally experience if you experience any racially related antics, it will probably be from another expat, and more likely an American.

I hope this helps and until next time….

Peace!!

"Subscribe to the blog!!"
"Don't miss any updates!!" Sign up for: ✈ Travel Inspiration ✈ Destination Information ✈ Travel Tips ✈
About Terri Lundberg

Terri Lundberg is an American expat currently residing with her husband in Saudi Arabia, but she calls Seattle and San Diego home. She’s a travel writer, an avid photographer and is a resource and cross cultural trainer to expats relocating to Saudi Arabia. She's been to 100 destinations, 26 countries, and counting.

Comments

  1. Very informative article

  2. Short and succinct! Nice. I’m a fan of your galloping exploits all over the place! I just moved from Riyadh to Dubai after living there for 3 years. Unfortunately I experienced quite a bit of ignorance. I think it is different because you/we have limited interactions with the opposite sex, which is a whole half of the society. What makes me sad about ksa is, what I perceived as an “acceptance” and nurturing of racism shipped in from anywhere. They pay people based on the country they come from with perceived “white” countries getting more. I experienced a general lack of respect or condescending, disregarding attitude that was based right off by skin color, not necessarily towards me, but towards Bangladeshies, Indians, Maylas, Africans etc. I did experience it first had, but I have one of those American personalities that quashes that BS in the bud, plus I’m 6’2″ 235lbs- I don’t play that,lol. I had a Saudi soldier fresh off the farm in the mountains near Yemen tell me that I didn’t “look” American. It was his first time to even Riyadh, which he thought was amazing! I asked him when did he last visit the US, and yeah he’d never been. Of course you can find a jackasses in the US, there’s 350 million of us, I found ksa disturbing because I encountered this ignorance more often than not, and it’s only around 29 million people in the entire country. It is also a religious monarchy with sexist plutocratic leanings- which in my opinion is a Petri dish for ignorance and intolerance. They hide behind blame and “culture”, which is laughable. Culture is not enforced with muthawa vice police- if I don’t wear lederhosen in October in German, there won’t be any fear of reprisals. If your a Saudi woman and you wish to have a conversation with a man who’s not in your family or not wear an abiyah, you can be assured something violent is going to be in your immediate future. I personally place this type of intolerance right in the same category of racism, one begets and complements the other. You rock BCnKSA, keep up your posts, great reads! TC!

    • Thank you for your comment and kind words! It’s the words of encouragement that keeps me blogging. 🙂

      You have made valid points. I too have had some interesting moments in which I have experienced such ignorance. But, depending on how it’s directed, it’s just ignorance. I was speaking with a Saudi lady in line while at the grocery story and upon my introducing my husband she said, “Oh. You don’t match.” I actually found this funny. Because our skin color does not match. I have never had anyone say such a thing. The wording was probably not the best, but English isn’t her first language. LOL She probably never sees a black woman with a white man. However, Americans know better. So, when one of them displays any type of micro aggression, they know exactly what they’re doing. They’re being mean, they’re trying to tear you down, they’re trying to point out how you’re the one who’s “different.” It’s deliberate. To me, that is worse.

  3. I just stumbled upon your videos while doing a paper on Saudi. I was a black girl, NYC girl living in Saudi as well back in 02. People are shocked to hear that I actually had fun living there. I love your blog and am sooooo happy that I found it, finally a place that I can go to and read and relive my experience.

    • Saudi Arabia can be a good place to live for some expats. My life is good, and for that I’m thankful.

      • crystal robinson says:

        hello i have a significant other from riyadh who would like me to come there and experience his country. Please talk to me about you experience as I would like to go but am i little scared.

  4. Hi Terri,

    I just stumbled on your Youtube channel which lead me here. It’s good to see someone who has and is experiening Saudi Arabia. I lived in Riyadh from 2003 to 2007 as a dependent. My husband at the time worked in avionics for the Saudi Military and I worked on an American Military base in Military Personnel. That was the only job I’ve had that I enjoyed. Mostly because of the diversity everywhere. Divorce is why I left or I would still be there, I enjoyed my stay there. I am still in touch with my old bosses, other co-workers and friends
    and a really good friend who is like a sister. She was there 9 years before I got there. I’m gone and she’s still there; she’s been there just over 19 years now.

    I was actually glad to go over there, wish I could have stayed.

    Margie

  5. Hi Terri!
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I’m considering applying for a post in Saudi Arabia, so it’s really helpful to gain some perspective.

  6. Ron middleton jr says:

    Hey living in Riyad first time out of the US..working as a SME for ACS.. Could I hang? Lol

  7. karen gist says:

    wow!!! i want to come theree. howevwer have many questions. currently im in abu dhabi……

  8. Hello Terri,
    I’m new to your blog and have enjoy reading.
    My husband is being interview for a postion and he or we will be relocating to Saudi in June or July
    We have a 10 year old daugther who maynot be down with the move when it happens
    Don’t know if you have kids or not but i was told that the school on these compound are pretty awesome
    as for me i’m still unsure of the whole thing My husband is white and me 🙂 so the looks from other people I can handle I’ll just laugh it off my concern is how my daugther will be treated in the school and around she is a caring kid and she is aware of the difference of other people.

  9. Rahmatoullah says:

    Hello! I just wanted to ask how was the process of coming to Saudi. I am American (NYC!!) and i love your videos. I just wanted to know the process of getting a house and finding a job to have a sucure place in Riyadh. Thanks!!

  10. I agree with you. Most of the racism comes from other Americans or other foreign expats. I was told Koreans were racist but they were so kind and I made alot of friends and they never once made me feel inferior. I am from Hawaii and now in KSA one older expat felt she needed to know my ethnicities and seemed so bothered by it. I couldn’t understand the big deal. So I experience more racism from Americans or other expats than any place I have been. In fact micro agressions and snooty comments are worst because they are hiding the fact theybate racist instead of outwardly saying I don’t like who you are.

    • Hello Coral,

      Unfortunately it’s sad but true. Too many of them get to Saudi Arabia and get brand new. I say brand new because a lot of them were living “not so well” and now they’re new middle class money and now they’re uppity. They get in their own microcosm (where they really only speak and hang out with other white Americans), where they can disassociate themselves from others, and build up their “specialness” in their heads. Of course, that is not all of them, and I’ve met some decent people. And, I constantly need to state that because I will get some “special” person who will take it that I’m calling out all. However, if I’m constantly getting the shitty side-eye and micro aggressions from one group of people, then I call it like I see it.

  11. I am thinking about living and working in Dubai. I am a professional African-American woman (I hold two graduate degrees). What is it like for single African-American living and working in Dubai?

    Thanks for responding to my question.

  12. Tinkerbell says:

    Hey, I was very happy to stumble across your blog. I am moving out to Saudi (Riyadh) in the summer for a minimum of two years and am extremely keen to prepare myself for the experience.
    Firstly, I am aware that there are several products I should stock up on but what about hair!
    Where do you go to get your hair done? I’m considering teaching my husband how to relax my hair and bringing out an array of wigs. Is this necessary? Or will I find hairdressers out there?
    Also, is it necessary to wear the hijab (headscarf) in public? I am aware I need to wear the abiya.
    Finally, would you advise signing up with an embassy and attending the activities organised for expats from your home country? Or are there other opportunities to liaise/socialise with other expats and locals?
    Oh and lastly, how have you found the single men, single women and married/family sections when shopping? Is it frustrating? Confusing? Or easy to get used to?

  13. Just found this blog and it looks like I’m going to spend the next few hours reading lol. I’m Saudi Arabian girl living in western region and I’m used to seeing black people here both Saudis and non-Saudis, my city is multicultural so we’re really used to all races and colors. believe Saudis are more tribalistic and as a whole they don’t care about skin color as much as social class. If there’s two black men, one poor and one rich, the latter is going to be treated better not based on his skin color rather his social status. I’m not justifying treating poor people badly only trying to share my own observations.

  14. Hi ya!!
    Glad to see you here and very excited to read your blog!!

    Talk to you soon
    M

  15. Terri,
    You are inspiring. I am a Black woman over 45 and it is a relief to see your traveling experience. It seems Saudi is not at bad as I thought. But traveling so far from America, thank you for also including your experience with folks from the West.

Trackbacks

  1. […] business in Saudi for an extended period of time then watch this video. Otherwise, keep up with her blog she is pretty […]