HOW CAN I…
Share my story?
Welcome back! Last month was the 7 year anniversary of being racially profiled. This week’s blog is sharing my story about the racism I have experienced in my hometown.
I want to start off by saying that this is my own experience. I cannot speak for any other Turkish or Middle Eastern people. I can only speak for myself. My intention in sharing is to shed light on the fact that racism exists everywhere. It’s not just where you hear about it on the news or in Facebook posts. Racism is everywhere. What is racism? The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) defines racism as “the marginalization and/or oppression of people of color on a socially racial hierarchy that privileges white people.”
The first time I experienced racism was in first grade. Kids are very observant and they say what comes to mind. My classmates noticed there were things about me that made me look different from them. They would tell me that I had a mustache, unibrow, and very hairy arms, which I knew of course!
The teasing about hair on my face and arms continued throughout elementary school and middle school. But in my freshman year of high school, things got more serious. I was bullied by two boys who rode the same bus as me. They would call me a terrorist, call me a cannibal because I am “from Turkey and I eat turkey,” and tell me I was part of the Taliban. One day I got on the bus and sat down beside my friend. One of my two bullies grabbed ahold of my head and smashed it into my friend’s head. I blacked out. After I was able to see again, I asked the bully why he had done that to me. He replied, “You’re just a terrorist.” I suffered a severe concussion, missed two weeks of school, and I was scared. I was only 14 years old. My harasser suffered a two months suspension and came back to school unscathed. Later that year, I asked my Civics and World teacher why Turkey was not part of the European Union. One of my peers said, “It’s because they are terrorists.” Everyone stared at me until I started to cry and my teacher did nothing.
During my sophomore year, I was sitting in English class and we were discussing the Boston Marathon bombers. A girl in my class raised her hand and informed the class that “They are terrorists because they look like terrorists.” I couldn’t help but notice that those brothers look like me. I look like them. We all have darker skin, big eyebrows, dark brown eyes, and dark hair. That girl was basically saying that anyone with those physical traits looks like a terrorist – that I look like a terrorist. Once again, the teacher did not say anything.
During my junior year, I was sitting in study hall and someone in a grade below me wanted to get my attention by calling me “Pocahontas.” I ran into the office and the Vice Principal spoke to the boy who called me that, he faced no consequences.
During my senior year, someone in my Spanish class said they wanted to join the Marines to kill terrorists in the Middle East. I ran to the office again. I found this offensive because there is such a huge stigma around the Middle East being full of terrorists. The truth is that anyone can be a terrorist, a specific skin color or religion should not be the signifier as to who a terrorist is.
All of these experiences that I have faced, have shaped me into who I am today. Don’t be afraid to be proud of who you are and where your family came from.
Being judged by what you look like is an experience many people face in this country and the world. Looking different should not change the way you are treated, everyone should be treated equally in this country, no matter what they look like.
By sharing our experiences, we have the power to inform the conversations about race that are taking place across the country. As I mentioned above, there is a tendency for people to believe that racism doesn’t live here. But it does. It’s everywhere. By using our voices to educate others, we can help them to understand other perspectives.
So, are you ready to share your story? Here are a few tips to get you started:
Write it down and practice reading it aloud.
Practice with a small group of friends.
Be ready for a response, people don’t always like what they hear.
Here are some on campus resources for anyone who might want or need support: