Frustrated with the Concept of Race

Riad Nassar
Austin, TX

Up until 9/11 race wasn’t something I ever thought. I didn’t look at my Hispanic friends as Hispanics nor were my Black friends as Blacks. Being Egyptian was just a thing and they accepted me for me and not my race just as I accepted them for the beautiful people there were. Then 9/11 happens and my race was a problem. Not for my friends, mind you, but rather for other people. And for a fifth grader who had just read a book about the interment camps in the US during WWII, it was scary. Going into middle school and all the way through high school, I started meeting fewer minorities and more White people and my race was now my identity. It wasn’t because they were inherently racist and wanted me dead but because I was exotic and different. But it was isolating. I felt like everyone was studying me. I had to work hard to show them that I was intelligent, athletic, funny and not just an Egyptian. That I was a multi-dimensional, that you couldn’t give me one label. And that seem to make things worse. Because they couldn’t label as anything else. I did too many nerdy things to be a jock and too many jock things to be a nerd. They had no choice but to give me that one label. Many of them say they don’t see me that way, but that’s not how it felt. So I started joking about the stereotypes of my race. And then every year I would try to stop but would ultimately fall back to that comedic farce. And when I went to college, I swore to be different. Those who had been through high school and middle school with me and went on to the same college with ended just bringing it back out. I tried hanging out with other Muslims in college, but there too I found my race standing in the way. There were mostly Pakistanis, who wanted to talk about Pakistani things. Of course they also talked about Indian things with Indians, since the countries do have a lot more similarities than they are willing to admit, (Perhaps they should try using those to foster a friendlier relationship, but I digress). So even when my religion says race shouldn’t matter, it still seems to impede my life. And that’s not even the scary stuff. Walking down streets, my family members and I will sometimes get looks. Most of the time it’s not in Austin, but it still happens here. And I think, “Is it going to happen today? Will my family be targeted today? Are we going to be attacked?” 12 years after 9/11 and I still have this fear. I hate this. Why does my race matter? Why do people care? I go to Six Flags to spend the day with my friends. Why do I have to be pulled out of the line to be asked questions about my age and if I’m a US citizen? Why is it when my roomates are asked “Where are you from?”, any city in Texas will do. But when I get asked that question and I answer with Austin, a city I’m proud to call my home, they say, “No, I mean where were you born?”. I was born in California and that still isn’t a good enough answer. “What’s your nationality or where is your family from?” is where I give up and say I’m Egyptian. But I shouldn’t have too. I should have to worry about being attacked for having a beard. I shouldn’t have to worry about my sister or my mother being harmed for having their heads covered. My race shouldn’t be my identity. I would take being called an idiot for the rest if my life if it meant that I was being measured by my aptitude and not being labeled simple because I look different. I already have to worry about the same things as other people my age worry about. Why must I be saddled with an extra load for something I never chose. Nobody chooses their race and yet we are still judged on it? How does that make any sense? Why does it have to matter? How come when you first meet me, or hear my name, you think “I wonder where he’s from?” and not “I wonder what his favorite animal is?” It’s the Holland Lop Dwarf Rabbit. I think that’s more interesting and substantial than the fact that my ancestors (not me) are from the Mediterranean.

 

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