She was turning four years old this year and her day started out like any other. Her older brother who she admired immensely woke her up with a hug, and then immediately following that her mother rushed her over to the sink. She had the same look painted across her face each morning and the little girl was familiar with that look all too well. She gathered that her mother was stressed about doing her hair.
Every morning her mom did her best to finish doing her hair as efficiently as possible, but the amount of time it would take always made her late for work. She then began soaking the little girl’s hair in water, and after it was drenched she aggressively brushed through the intensity of her curls. The brown mane of hair framed her face and each curly coil added to the obnoxious bunch of her hair. As the young 4 year old glared at the mirror and stared her reflection down she wished for straight hair like all the other girls in her class.
She entered her predominately white kindergarten class feeling discouraged on her special day. Walking into class, she could feel her curls bouncing on her head and she was overflowing with remorse.
The little girl began to slightly cheer up as her teacher, Mrs. Miller wished her a happy birthday and placed a party hat on her head. This jubilee feeling didn’t last long, in fact it was gone rather quickly. As soon as her party hat became tangled in her frizzy curls she was filled with shame and anger. After ripping the party hat off of her head she sat in her dark blue chair and waited for class to start.
Mrs. Miller began walking the preschoolers through a craft project- a self portrait drawing. After the little girl completed hers she glanced over at her friends and realized how different they were. For starters the little girl picked up a more tan, brown marker as she colored in her skin while her friend used no marker and relied only on the glistening white paper to shade in her skin tone. Her friend had bright blue eyes, silky blonde hair, and a small smooth nose. In fact as the 4 year old looked around everyone else’s paper looked similar to her friends.
She felt disconnected from the others. It was as if her entire class fit together forming a beautiful puzzle, but she was a piece that did not belong with the rest. Thinking that her birthday could not get much worse she went outside for lunch. Her mother had packed an ethnic meal for her and as the strong smell of her grape leaves was now in the atmosphere she wished she could make the smell disappear and that she could have just some basic chicken nuggets and a juice box.
The day dragged on and felt like it went on for years, but finally it came to an end. The little girl’s mother came and picked her up and the young child ran as fast as she could into her mother’s arms. As her mother began speaking to her in Arabic in front of her classmates and teacher she felt her cheeks become bright red and hot. Before her mother even finished her sentence the girl immediately darted for the car.
After she was finally back at home she began eating her dinner. Coming home from work, her father brought out a cake with candles and her family sang happy birthday, in English as well as Arabic. As the girl blew out her candles and made a wish, her mother asked her “What did you wish for sweetie?” After letting out a sigh she uttered these words “I wished for straight hair.”
And as she got ready for bed that night she prayed to God longing and requesting for straight hair. Hair which she could brush through without having to get soaking wet. She prayed for blue eyes instead of her middle-eastern brown eyes. She prayed for a small nose in replace of her rugged and bumpy nose. And lastly she asked God to replace her browner, tan skin with white.
The little girl prayed to be the same as everyone else. I prayed to be the same as everyone else. I am that little girl.
Growing up and seeing how all the girls in my class would braid each other’s hair but no one could ever handle mine, caused me to gain the mentality that no one could ever handle me as a person.
Everytime a new teacher or coach took attendance and came to a pause I immediately knew they were debating on how to pronounce my name. That pause felt like it went on for eternity and made me develop the idea that people were always going to be confused with me.
Every year, no matter what grade I was in, on 9/11, the child seated next to me always warned me not to become a terrorist when I grew up which led me to believing that I could not become anything because people would always judge me before they got to know me.
Whether others intentions were to hurt me, or rather was just pure ignorance the consistent and constant comments were bee stings. Perhaps the comments are only jokes, but if I look similar to them the idea of the joke would never cross their mind and the idea never formed.
I was never ashamed of my culture but rather agitated with being seen differently and never being fully understood.
So speaking to all kids who are struggling navigating a bi-culture life, to the other girls also wishing for straight hair, or the boys who wish for whiter skin, or the children who constantly feel disconnected from their surroundings and school environment, you are seen, recognized, and applauded by me for enduring such an ongoing and unchanging experience.
Photo Credit: arkcase.com