I lived my life like that for a long time: ignorantly blinded to the reality of this world, complacent with interacting exclusively with people who looked like me and believed in the same things as me. I think this was a result of my immigrant parents intentionally raising me and my three siblings only with other South Asians: this way, we were able to achieve an American education (and therefore, “the American dream”), while retaining our culture. The issue, however, is that our own culture is problematic, anti-black and discriminatory, from Bollywood movies that use Black and Queer bodies as props to the relentless jabs at dark-skinned people in our entertainment, art, and history. As a result, many South Asian Americans grow up to become discriminatory against people of color, despite being people of color themselves.
Looking back, what hurts me the most is that I had no desire or motivation to combat this prejudice. In fact, my privileged upbringing meant that I was blissfully unaware of it, happily floating about in my bubble.
However, that all changed when I entered high school, a period that was transformative in my personal development for a variety of reasons. In the mid-2000s, I discovered social media, which introduced me to the concept of anti-blackness, taught me that the n-word was actually a racial slur (“hard r” or not) and exposed that racism against Black Americans was alive and well. Additionally, Allah came to me through Austin Community College where, as a highschooler, I befriended people from different races, ages, and religions, and most importantly, I learned their stories. In Community College, I expanded my worldview by taking Arabic with a professor who prided himself in both being a Muslim and eating bacon. I took courses in history and ethics where I learned to mediate the role of race and colonialism in American history. Additionally, I spent a summer interning at a social work center and I witnessed the effects of poverty and systematic oppression firsthand. Combined, these experiences changed my life for the better because they finally popped my bubble and thus, opened my mind.
From there, I spent a lot of time reading, asking questions, and overall, tried to unlearn every bigoted tendency I had. That meant intentionally halting anti-black and homophobic behavior and bias, and just generally cleansing myself of any divisive rhetoric that became so ingrained in me over time. Ultimately, however, it was this uncomfortable process of unlearning that enabled me to become passionate about social justice because in seeing what I was doing wrong, I learned what was right. In correcting my wrongs, I found my life’s purpose that I hope to further by studying human rights law and using my knowledge to work alongside vulnerable communities for the liberation of all people.
When I think of my past today, I feel so ashamed of who I used to be. Of who I am still learning not to be. Although I’ve apologized many times, it still pains me to think of the discomfort I may have caused others due to my own ignorance. If you ever see me say or do the wrong thing, I lovingly invite you to correct me. However, I want you to know that, from the bottom of my heart, I’m trying to do better and be better. Most importantly, I want you to know that I’ll never stop.