“One is not born but rather becomes a woman,” goes Simone de Beauvoir’s famous dictum. I obviously was not born but became black when I went to England. Similarly, of course, I was not born but became a woman of color when I went to America.

In this quote from Chapter 10, Ahmed explores a feeling of cultural displacement that comes through being viewed as “other” by the dominant class in whatever culture she finds herself. In this passage, Ahmed details her dawning consciousness of what it means to be “marked” with a label and how such categorization is inherently limiting. Ahmed had faced this sort of discrimination before, during her school days, through British teachers who accused her of plagiarizing her papers and discouraged her from pursuing math or science, subjects that weren’t considered appropriate for a young Arab girl. Ahmed’s experience of this kind of labeling and subtle racism is a major factor in directing her academic interests toward advocating on behalf of minority perspectives. During the 1980s, she witnesses an academic revolution in which the fields of women’s studies and cultural studies flower into vibrant disciplines with much new scholarship.

Ahmed compares the “genteel racism” she experiences at Cambridge to the feminist writer Betty Friedan’s description of the “problem that has no name.” Just as Friedan wrote about women who predated feminism—women who were unable to give voice to their dissatisfaction—Ahmed demonstrates how minority perspectives are undermined in a pervasive and yet subtle way. The problem runs much deeper than instantly being cast as a member of a minority group, and correcting such simple categorization is a complicated task. It begins with naming the problem and offering a wealth of minority voices that, before the 1980s, were virtually unheard within campuses in England and the United States. One of the objectives of her memoir, as well, seems to be that by grappling with such artificial categories, she can transcend them. Ahmed dedicates herself to changing the status of women and minorities in academia, and this quote traces the experiences that first galvanized her.