To The Boy Who Yanked Off My Hijab

To The Boy Who Yanked Off My Hijab

I don't mean to sound bitter, but to be honest, I am.

It's been eight years. And since then, I've learned that ignorance and discrimination are two sides of the same coin.

It happened in sixth grade after gym class. As we were walking back to the locker rooms, I heard you and your friend snickering behind me. Then, I felt a whoosh of empty air behind my head as you pulled my headscarf off. A week later, in front of your mom, two gym teachers, the vice principal and the school counselor you said it was because you "just wanted to see what was underneath."

My hair was underneath. You saw my hair — black, curly and pinned up in a bun. Then you saw my face, turned around, confusion morphing into shock and then a livid expression. I reached out to grab you by the collar, and looking back, it's almost comical how two guys nearing 5'7" stumbled back from a girl who stood barely five feet tall and wore bright pink scarves to school. In that moment though, you looked scared, and the only thing running through my head was, how dare you?

I already knew what to do. I had already been cautioned: if anyone ever tries to hurt you, tell the teacher. So I mustered up my courage and told, except that the gym teacher didn't think it was a big deal and said, "Tell me if it happens again, and I'll talk to him about it."

I thought, well, maybe it wasn't a big deal, but I still felt oddly betrayed, because all I wanted was an apology — an admission that he had done something wrong which hurt my feelings. This was just the first of many times that adults in school would turn their back on me. I would learn later on to never trust counselors or teachers, to always approach the person in the highest position of power or else no one would care what happened to me, whether it was a small form of discrimination or life-threatening bullies. But in this case, I thought my teacher would knew best, so I didn't mention it to her again.

I let the story slip in Spanish class the next day because it was still on my mind. My Spanish teacher's reaction was instantaneous, "That's horrible! Did you tell the teacher?" When I shared my gym teacher's response, my Spanish teacher exclaimed, "Oh no, that's not right." I felt relieved. Here was an adult who understood how I felt. She could tell me what to do!

Except that she didn't either. She just repeated, "That's not right. I hope that doesn't happen to you again, sweetheart," and began class.

Clearly no one thought this was a big deal, so I was unprepared for the severity of my family's response: "He did what?! Did you tell the teacher?"

A flurry of visits to the vice principal's office and several days later trying to find you (because you had taken a few days off, it turns out), fast forward to the beginning of next week where we stood outside the gym surrounded by a quintet of adults. You stood next to your mom, an esteemed Spanish teacher at the school and a sweet lady who knew how to apologize for something she did not do or appear to understand at all. But I didn't want to hear your mom apologize. I wanted to hear it from you. We all stared, the vice principal gesturing vaguely in your direction as the silence grew.

"I'm sorry," you mumbled, eyes glued to the floor.

You then handed me a crumpled up note and turned away.

Maybe if it had just been you and me standing there, if the vice principal hadn't clapped his hands together to "call it a day," if the counselor hadn't ushered me to the side right after to assure me that I could always "confide" in her (as if I already hadn't before I confided in my parents) and if the gym teachers hadn't strolled right back into the gym with you trailing behind, I would have said: "That's not a proper apology. Look up. Look at me. Look me in the eye. Tell me, what exactly are you sorry about?"

But I didn't, because we were only 12 years old. I didn't know to stand up for myself. I didn't know adults can be just as clueless when it comes to situations like these — that whether it's a quintet of school officials or all 430 white members of Congress, ignorance of other cultures and religions comes in many forms.

That was the first day I was forced to understand, no matter how well-meaning someone may be, ignorance cuts just as deep as the knife of discrimination. Whereas discrimination is a slap to the face, publicly humiliating and openly unfair, ignorance is a stab in the back, because it is naivety that stems from an uncaring heart and an empty mind. Ignorance is as easy as shrugging and saying, "Well, that's too bad. I'm sorry that happened to you," and turning away without a second thought. Ignorance is comfortable and easy. It's sitting on your couch Sunday nights, laughing at late night shows gone politically rouge or tweeting about Trump's latest fiasco and then going to bed without a single proactive thought in your brain — ready to wake up and go to work the next morning to chat about it with your coworkers over a cup of coffee.

Ignorance is as seemingly innocent as a 12-year-old kid scribbling onto crumpled notebook paper, "I'm sorry I took off your hat thing," as if it constitutes as an appropriate apology, as if that's what his mom meant when she said he spent all weekend "researching your 'culture.'"

I don't mean to sound bitter, but to be honest, I am.

I'm bitter because I have to to be OK with your half-hearted apology.

I have to be OK with the fact that you nor any of the adults standing there with us had thought to ask me what it felt like to have my hijab yanked off as if it meant nothing, as if it were nothing more than a decorative piece of cloth that just happened to be on my head.

I have to be OK with it, because we are still living in a world where ignorance is acceptable when it's nothing more than a lazy version of discrimination. The inability to express a genuine interest, no matter how perfunctory, in the identity of another is a lack of empathy — the very essence of humanity.

I have to come to terms with this, and I also have to forgive you. We were only 12, and all you and I knew was to follow the example of the adults around us. But now we're adults. So even if you don't remember, even if you don't really care, please understand just one thing: just as there's no justification for discrimination, there is no excuse for ignorance.

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A Letter to the Girl I Was 3 Years Ago

"Strength grows in the moments when you think you can't go on but you keep going anyway."

  To the old me, 

The girl who worried too much about what other people thought of her, the girl who didn’t know what she was worth, the girl who was scared to be alone. 

I know it’s hard, you’re just starting out high school and what people think of you is SO important. You want to be accepted, you want to be liked. You alter the person you actually are, because you want to be the person everyone loves. Stop. It’s not worth it. In a couple years it won’t matter what everyone thought of you, because majority of those people wont stick around after you walk across that stage at graduation. They don’t care about you that much. Be yourself, because that is the best version you can be. You are beautiful just the way you are, you are special just the way you are. Be confident in who you are. Once you stop caring what others think, you will feel a weight lifted off of your shoulders and you will never want to go back.

And YOU, you are worth SO much, and that will be your biggest weapon one day knowing that and being confident in that. Stop letting people walk all over you and define who you are, and stop settling for less than you deserve. LOVE yourself first, CHOOSE yourself first, and everything else will fall into place. The most important relationship you can have is the one with yourself, and the one with the big Man upstairs. The mistakes you have made, and will continue to make, will never define your value as a person.  Once you discover your self value, you will know what you deserve and what you don’t deserve.

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful. I know that full well.” –Psalm 139:13-14

I cant stress this enough: it is OK to be independent, it is OK to be alone. Honestly, you wont figure this one out for a while. You will go through relationship after relationship depending on guys for your happiness and that will be your source of self-validation, and that will get your heart broken at times. It happens, and its OK to learn from it. It is so important that you grow out of that, though. Work on yourself while you have the time, make yourself a better you for the right person that does come along, but most importantly, make yourself a better you for YOU. Be dependent on yourself and your faith for the happiness that you crave out of other people. Stop putting yourself through the heartbreaks, and just settling because you are afraid of being alone. Embrace it, and take advantage of it. 

To the girl that is the girl I used to be-

It’s never too late to realize things need to change. It’s never too late to rid yourself of the negativity, and all of the things holding you back. You got this, I believe in you. Take it from the one girl who never thought she had it in her to become stronger. 

To the old me-

I wish that I could go back and hug you and let you know that you are so loved. You are so worth it. You are so special. You CAN do this. Everything you are going through and will go through will be so worth it, and to never EVER give up no matter how much you want to at times. I wish that I could’ve told you in a few years, you will be mentally and emotionally stronger than you have ever been, and everything that you are going through is just a phase.                                                                                  Life isn't always perfect. Life isn't always easy. Life doesn't always make sense, but thats the beauty of it.


Me, today. 


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Walking Through Campus In The Dark Made Me Realize Girls Should Be Helping Other Girls Feel Safer

I'm forever grateful for the girls who helped me feel safe.

If you're a girl, chances are doing certain things, like walking alone in the dark, can be kind of scary.

I needed to walk from the dorms to the Greyhound station downtown to catch a 7 a.m. bus, and if you've ever lived in the Pacific Northwest in the fall, you know some mornings it isn't light until almost 8 a.m. or later. I am not a morning person and neither were any of my friends, so I knew I would probably be going alone.

There aren't a lot of people out and about that early in the morning and, being a girl in today's world, walking alone in the dark makes me nervous.

I planned on calling a cab, but when it didn't show after 20 minutes, I knew I was going to have to walk. As I started walking, I thought about all the horror stories I've heard on the news, all the times I've been harassed and followed by strangers on the street, all the places I was walking that weren't well light or were in commercial areas with businesses that weren't open. I didn't have pepper spray, I don't know a lot of self-defense, and I felt like all I could really do was keep my head down, walk fast, and hope nothing bad happened.

I was more worried than I care to admit but I didn't really have any other options.

I was walking past Gamma Phi Beta's house, with my phone flashlight on and silently counting the blocks until reached the bus station, and at about the same time, two girls were leaving the house in workout gear, like they were headed out for a run. What caught me off guard was when they asked if I was okay and why I was walking by myself. I explained that I was headed to the Greyhound station and no one else was awake, so I was on my own.

Without any hesitation, they offered to walk with me, so I wouldn't be alone.

I can't even put into words how relieved and grateful I was. If they asked if I wanted them to walk with me, I probably would have said no because I wouldn't want to mess up their plans or be a burden, but they offered.

When we were walking, it felt like walking with friends, not like two friends begrudgingly walking a stranger as a favor. We talked about majors, binge-worthy Netflix shows, classes, and when we reached the bus station downtown, we went our separate ways.

I don't remember their names and I don't know if they'll ever know how much that meant to me, but I still think about it, over a year later, and it reminds me how important it is to look out for and support other girls.

Since I feel like I never got to thank them properly, I do it the best way I know how: by paying it forward. When I have the opportunity to do something to make another girl feel safer, whether that's walking with her, checking in with her at a party, or otherwise, I think it's important to do it.

No one understands the struggles girls face just by existing in our f*cked up world quite like other girls. It is so important for all of us to do our part to support and protect our community.

If you have the opportunity to help out someone else in an uncomfortable or unsafe situation, do it. You have no idea the impact it will have.

Cover Image Credit: Unsplash

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