I am not a terrorist.
Since December last year, I’ve experienced many instances of open racism. Shot at by words that have left me so bewildered that I’ve laid awake at night pondering every moment in my life. Searching it, combing through every detail trying to see if this stuff has been happening all along and I’ve only just woken up to it.
I found a few bullet holes from years past that have been trying to heal themselves.
First, there was the time that I was walking out of class and an older kid that I really looked up to sniffed the room and commented to his friends that the room stunk. He screwed up his face in disgust, looked straight at me, turned and said, laughing to his friend as I left, “Oh its the Arab”.
Second, there was the time that students at my school accidentally let it slip that it was obvious that I would be given a scholarship because of the colour of my skin. Tokenism was all the rage and apparently, I would be good to have on the brochure. It apparently had nothing to do with hard work on my part.
Third, there have been the times that people have told me that I haven’t “looked” like I would be a good singer. The only thing that really stands out about the way I look in New Zealand is my ethnicity.
Fourth, there was the time that a parent of my best friend told me and my bandmates that no one would think that I was the lead singer in the band because I wasn't blonde or blue-eyed. Apparently, where I’m from, people can’t sing and they’re created to be in the background to the white man.
Fifth, I remembered the countless times that I have been labelled a terrorist, both explicitly and implicitly. The way I look suddenly becomes a reason to justify hating me, to make me the worst of humanity.
I started to realise that these moments had influenced the way I carry myself now. When you’re growing up, your difference is hard to accept. But if its an intrinsic part of your identity it's even more difficult. I am self-conscious as to how I am perceived when I walk into any room. I am scared that I will “smell like I look”, that I’ll look like I’ve been made to feel. I wonder whether people see me, or all of the negative stereotypes that the world has given me.
I realised too that the self-consciousness made me want to be exactly like everyone else and growing up where I did, that meant being white. Every day-dream I had, every goal I imagined achieving, featured a “white me”. I looked and sounded nothing like me. The feeling of wanting to change things about myself that I would never be able to change was demoralising. It defeated me.
When I came to all these realisations, I felt angry. I felt like so many happy and exciting moments had been stolen by the racism that I had experienced. I had been crippled by a lack of self-confidence for a lot of my life.
But it's not something that we cant overcome. If I look back on my life as a whole, hate is far out-weighed by love. I don't believe that responding with anger or hate or aggression is the answer. I don't want to be angry anymore. We must speak out courageously but we must also listen compassionately. I am not the negative stereotypes that the world has given me.
I am not a terrorist.