This is me.
Last year, I was walking out of school with my best friend, my headphones on, music drowning out all the commotion around me. I had noticed that someone had come up to her from behind us, but I had not seen who it was. I felt a tap on my shoulder, and my friend signaled at me to take my headphones off. When I did, I finally took a look at the person who was walking with us.
"Yo "__", your white friend won't talk to me because I'm black? Is that it?", he said.
I looked up, stunned. I thought he was kidding, but his expression was serious, a little offended. I felt a little disoriented from the music I was listening to, and his words took a while to sink in.
"Are you racist, or something?" he went on.
I didn't have the chance to respond, he ran off to join his friends right away. I wanted to tell him that, first of all, I hadn't heard him the first time, and that second of all, I'm not white. I'm Arab. There was a big difference. I found his comment about racism a little ironic, but looking back, I can understand the confusion. I looked like I was white, so I had to be white. There was no other explanation. We lived off of these constructs of race, of religion, of everything. We made assumptions about people all the time. Was this Muslim in a bad mood because they were a terrorist, or were they just having a bad day? Was this black man committing a theft, or was he just picking up his little girl's lost toy? The world isn't as black and white as we think it is, and I've come to realize that people tend to form their judgments of others based on race, religion, or whatever else they saw on the news. Was this Muslim acting out because of what their religion demanded of him, or was he just mentally unstable? Is this man ignorant because he is Arab, or because he wasn't given a chance to an education? There are many layers to people's stories, their identities, that went beyond the superficial constructs of race. I think we’re all so afraid of being stereotyped that we’ve begun to stereotype everyone around us. We just need to be brave enough to stop assuming we know everything about everyone, to realize that we’re all just a bunch of idiots stumbling about, thinking that if we beat others to it our own identities would be kept safe from the demeaning accusations and the racist affiliations. People are more than what you’ve seen on the news, or what little you’ve accumulated on their religion, race, or culture. I understand that culture, race, and religion do factor into a person's identity, but when people start holding you accountable for them, that's when these constructs start to blur reality. My little anecdote does not compare to greater, more pressing issues out there, ones that were the results of cowardice, of prejudice, all because we were too afraid to ask people for their names, instead, we’ve assigned it to them. I am not ignorant because I am Arab. I am not a terrorist because I am Muslim. I am not a thug because I am black. I am not who I am because of what you’ve seen on the news. I am who I am because of what I've been through, and what I have become.