My family raised me to be White. We moved to a White neighborhood, dressed in non-traditional clothing and never learned to speak Arabic except for a few phrases here and there. I don’t blame them for trying so hard to assimilate – when they were growing up, having light skin was treasured and they thought trying to blend in would give us a better life.
I used to avoid conversations about race. I am infuriated that even boxes I am supposed to check on forms don’t give me clear answers on my race. Sometimes I am African-American because of Egypt’s geographical location. Sometimes I am Latinx because that’s what everyone assumes when they glance at me. Sometimes I am White because I am light-skinned. In reality, I am an African-American Christian woman. My entire family is from Northern Africa and has lived there for centuries. Both of my parents were born in Egypt and moved to the United States with their immediate families at different points in their lives. I have a light olive skin tone and thick curly hair.
But my family always sought to fit into a predominately White crowd, causing me to become a passive All Lives Matter supporter. I was naive about racial issues in the United States and how they affect everything from policies to job prospects. I didn’t fully understand the criminal justice system and how it disproportionately hurts Black Americans. I was so genetically different from my White peers, but my childhood was nearly identical. I was complacent in a community that said, “Obviously Black Lives Matter” without understanding the deep-rooted issues of equality in America.
I was in the hallway of my high school with a racially mixed group when someone first called me Black, not African American – which I believe is more accurate. It wasn’t derogatory in any way but made me feel an immense amount of both guilt and solidarity. I was part of a group I had never understood before. I was uncomfortable and experiencing imposter syndrome. In hindsight, I was lucky to attend a relatively diverse school – about 70 percent of the student body was minority students, unlike my elementary and middle schools. The interaction I had that day made me want to learn more about different cultures and eventually study international affairs at GW.
I have learned a lot since then. I’ve grasped that all lives have always mattered, but Black lives have never gotten the upper hand. Black Americans are six times more likely to go to jail because police overpopulate Black neighborhoods. Where taxes in these neighborhoods fund prison pipeline schools and cops, taxes in White neighborhoods fund ivy league pipeline schools with robust extracurriculars. The time is now to re-solidify the feelings behind the rights given to Black Americans during the Civil Rights movement less than 60 years ago.
I encourage others to challenge their beliefs and privileges and use their means to get behind movements to allow Black neighborhoods to prosper. That could be through direct donations, calling out family members when they say microaggressions, voting for candidates that truly believe in equality, consciously supporting Black-owned businesses and continuously reading pro-Black messaging. There are so many little things we can do every day to begin to be the change we want to see.
I know I’m still wrong about so many things. I’ve had to unlearn and relearn my own identity so many times. All I know is that I have an obligation to do whatever I can to teach others what I’ve learned and to treat people equally, and with loads of empathy.
Isabella Sorial, a rising sophomore majoring in international affairs, is an opinions writer.