I was born in what is widely considered the most powerful country in the world. I have brown skin, not white, and dark hair, not blonde, and I call my god Allah and bow to pray to Him five times a day, instead of going to church one day a week.
I have grown up feeling powerful. I have dreamed a thousand dreams, dreams of White Houses, books written, films, sitcoms, poetry, a late night show, medicine, law, science. This isn’t just the hopeful naiveté of a child. I was just thinking last night that I would be good at late night—I’d ask interesting and relevant questions, have thoughtful conversations with guests, and make things fun—and I’d definitely never allow it to get boring and tired. I still think I could write a magnificent television show that would serve to increase diversity of roles for people of my ethnicity and religion. I still write. I still feel so deeply it cuts into me, and I bleed on the inside.
I have grown up feeling powerful and vocal. I speak up in class. A lot. (Yes, I am that girl. I would apologize, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing for a brown girl to have a big voice—especially if I’ve waited and nobody else looks like they’re going to say anything. So I won’t. Apologize, that is.)
I have grown up feeling powerful and vocal, but right now I feel so impotent, so weak and pathetic that words, always my greatest tools, fail me. I am sitting in the Science Library, and I am crying in a pod by myself, because I am so selfish I can’t stand it, and god, I thought I was a good person, how could I be this goddamn selfish?
I am here—strong, tall, and powerful—seizing the opportunities my immigrant parents earned for me by working their slender hands to the bone. And I hate myself, because there are children that bear my name, five-year-olds, who are selling tissues on the streets of Turkey, trying to raise money for their Syrian families to give to some scumbag who will recklessly endanger their lives so they can try to go to Europe where, for the most part, they are not wanted. Where a Hungarian camerawoman (who probably thinks of herself as human, but I can’t bring myself to believe that) tripped children who had travelled hundreds of miles, spent weeks with their very lives in jeopardy, as they fled from armed police.
I tend to think of myself as compassionate, but I hope that woman burns. I hope she can never sleep another moment of her life. I hope all her family is ashamed to know her, that her friends turn their backs on her, that she realizes the depths of her depravity, and that she fucking burns.
I will burn too, I think, because I, from my fucking ivory tower, from this beautiful bastion of privilege, dare to be concerned with the fact that I am ill and am facing a “hell week.” How dare I call it that? Is this what I imagine hell to be— heating and air conditioning and books and food and safety? How dare I? I am not that camerawoman. I am young, brown-skinned, Muslim, and I weep uselessly for these people, the brothers of my heart, the sisters of my soul. I weep knowing that ‘there, but for the grace of God, go I.’
She had my name, the sweet little girl with two tiny pigtails on either side of her darling head. She was on the street, selling tissues, when a policeman walked by. She wept and wailed, screamed and cried, terrified of the uniformed man, swearing, screaming that she would not do it again, so full of fear that she clung with a desperate strength to a woman who had been walking by. She bore my name, as a kind gentleman picked her up and tried his best to calm her down. She bore my name, as she was returned to her parents, who had left home and livelihood, country and heritage and dignity and decency, for a shot at safety.
I weep because I am not the best version of myself. I am not ignorant, as I hope that camerawoman was. I am she who knows and errs still. Why? Because I am afraid. Isn’t that pitiful? I am afraid of taking a semester, or even a year, off from school, because I am applying to medical school and writing a history thesis, and I don’t want to disappoint my parents or my advisor. I’m not delusional—I know that that means that I am knowingly placing my own desires over the needs of hundreds of thousands of people who are in need of help. I am an idiot. I am selfish. I weep, yet I will burn, and god, I hate myself for it.
Now, here I am. Am I supposed to stop feeling now and go back to studying differential equations? Am I supposed to “just stop thinking about it” and instead focus on women doctors of the nineteenth century? In the coming months, am I to wear a suit and heels and look admissions officers in the face and tell them that I am compassionate and dedicated to serving others? Or am I supposed to make an appointment with my dean and talk about this, and take action, and apologize to my parents and to my advisor for following my conscience?
From October 2015 Issue