When I was 9, after a heated argument with a girl named Lucy, I was sent to the principal’s office for the very first time. It didn’t make any sense to me. I wasn’t the one who called Lucy names or made fun of her skin colour, and I didn’t pull her hair or ask her if she ever combed it. But somehow, she was out on the playground, and I was in Mrs. McCarthy’s office. Overwhelmed by Lucy’s hurtful words and angered by the injustice of it all, I broke down in tears.
I lived in a suburban, middle-class neighbourhood for most of my life. In elementary school, I always felt out of place; my skin was a few shades darker, my hair was a wild mane of curls, and along with English, I spoke Somali and Amharic, two languages that my classmates didn’t understand. It was hard being different; especially when all I wanted—and what any kid wants—was to fit in.
I made friends, great friends who invited me to slumber parties, shared notes with me in class when we were bored, and giggled about cute boys.When I was with them, my “otherness” was in the back of my mind; we made each other laugh and consoled one another through tough times. To them, I was just Hoda, a shy girl with a wild sense of humour and a soft spot for Sailor Moon paraphernalia.
I dreaded the moments when topics related to race (e.g. slavery) would come up and my classmates would turn to look at me as though I was the spokesperson for black people. I hated that I felt obligated to explain my “otherness” when all I really wanted to do was brush it aside and enjoy my day at school.
It wasn't that I was lacking confidence in myself or that I didn't identify with my East African ancestry; quite the opposite, actually. I just wanted to feel like my inner self mattered, and that I wouldn't have to go through life as though my outer appearance was my most defining feature. I wanted to express myself through words and actions, hoping that my intellect and personality wouldn't go unnoticed.
As an adult, I’ve come to understand that not everyone I encounter would be like Lucy. It took me years to break down the walls that I built to protect myself, and I’m glad that I did because I’ve met so many wonderful and truly kind people that saw beyond my skin and made me feel respected.
As fate would have it, I ran into Lucy a couple of months ago at my part-time job. I wanted to say: “Hi Lucy, remember when you pulled my hair and called me names? You made me doubt myself and you made me feel like I didn't belong. Things are different now—I'm different, and I hope you can see that there's more to me than the colour of my skin.” Instead, I stuck with, “Hi Lucy, it’s been awhile. How have you been?”
Hoda is a 21-year-old student currently in her second year at Algonquin College for Professional Writing. With an unintentional penchant for awkward situations, she can be found roaming the streets of Ottawa, falling over her own feet, facing everyone when riding an elevator and responding inappropriately to compliments. She spends most of her time with her family, friends, MacBook Pro and books. She is an introvert at heart, and sarcasm is her mother tongue.
These are some blogs and websites that Hoda follows: