Opinion: Overcoming racism


Photo by Sarosh Ismail

It has been said that elementary school is important in developing every child’s education and setting up their foundation for the future. Studies show that a student’s time in elementary school is pivotal in developing social skills and building self-esteem, but for me, elementary school was quite the opposite.

It was around third grade that I had started noticing the unusual behavior from some of my classmates. The look on people’s faces when they found out I was Muslim is something I can never forget. The expression on people’s faces was a mix of fear and disgust. Most made stereotypical assumptions about me being Muslim. My religion was always associated with the tragic incidents of 9/11, which shaped a stereotype of all Muslims being terrorists. 

I always wondered what I did wrong that led to that reaction from my peers. Growing up in a highly judgemental learning environment was painful. I internalized my peers’ looks and reactions and became ashamed of my racial and ethnic identity. I grew up facing the guilt and pressure of my racial background, and it took time for me to realize there was nothing actually wrong with me. 

When I was young, I didn’t exactly understand that people were being racist toward me. It felt normal for me to get treated the way I was and that I just had to put up with it. I felt that I needed to become a certain way to feel equal. Those few years in elementary school led me to become more conservative and conscious as I grew up, because I wanted to be someone who fits in with society.

The sad fact is that racism has been normalized by many people in our society. What’s even worse is that I normalized changing myself to fit in. I stopped applying henna on my hands, stopped putting oil masks in my hair, stopped bringing my mom’s homemade lunches to school, refused to wear anything ethnic, and much more. I did all of this because I didn’t want to incite problems at school. I became a master at wearing a mask and putting aside my feelings.

As I grew up and encountered more hardships and experienced more in life, I realized that it wasn’t me who really did anything wrong, but that our society is judgemental. It was a long process for me to understand that I shouldn’t have to change myself to be treated equally. I learned that racism should never be condoned, and I hope no one makes the mistakes that I made of accepting inequality. 

Our communities should work to prevent the liberty our nation promises from being denied. It’s sad to see our society rejecting ideas of equality in a world where everyone is supposed to be ‘equal.’ At the end of the day, the color of a person’s skin does not define them. I realized there’s nothing wrong with me, and I am who I am. I learned to embrace the fact that my identity may never fit in with people’s standard view of our society, but over time, I realized I no longer have the desire to be ‘normal’ and accepted by others.