When I was a child, I wanted to be white. I associated ‘being white’ as a privilege. I would be happy, beautiful, smart and rich. That would mean that I would be popular. Now ask yourself who didn’t want to be loved as a child?
When I look back at my childhood, I’m glad it’s over. For no amount of money, I would live my childhood over again. But I’m glad I experienced it. Because I am proud of the person I am today. I grew up in Belgium, my parents were integrated in the time of “guest workers”. I grew up as the youngest (of twins) in a family of 15 children. I was born in Belgium, I was a lost Moroccan for Belgians and a lost Belgian for Moroccans.
I went to a school where 90% of the population was white. So, 10% was from a foreign country, thereof 2% was Muslim. That 2% was my family. There was no diversity in my neighbourhood , I didn’t see it, I experienced it.
For a child, the teachers or in general, elderly people are a role model. If they don’t like you, it does something to a child’s self-esteem. All my siblings have a story about those teachers, that had an impact on them. If we did something wrong our faith or ethnicity would get the blame, without exaggeration. One of my sisters was making a craft work in class, she glued her paper on the wrong side of the cardboard. The teacher yelled “Why would you glue it like that, we don’t read like that. I couldn’t expect anything else from you guys, you read the Quran like that.” You can already imagine how it was after 9/11. One of my brothers, when he was only 10 years old, had been asked “Why do you Muslims, do such a horrible thing?” This was prompted by the teacher, in front of all his classmates. 3 years later, she was my teacher, not really the best time of my life.
The fact that my parents are illiterate, made the whole situation more difficult. Firstly, they didn’t know if we had homework, and even if they knew , they couldn’t help us. Secondarily, ‘parents’ evening was never the priority of my parents and if they did go, they couldn’t understand the teachers. The best way to succeed in school for a child, is to receive support from home and that wasn’t possible for us. Seeing that all the parents from your classmates were involved with them, made me kind of jealous.
If I wasn’t Muslim, I would have “normal” parents.
When I was 9 years old, it got worse at home, my mother fell into a coma and my world collapsed. What was a coma? A land far, far away? Therefore, I emotionally couldn’t handle my life anymore and all the responsibility that came with the situation. Thus, I was hold back a year for the first time, many followed afterwards. The teacher made the remark “all teachers thought it was time to hold you back a year, you were never good at school”. A year later, I find out that I had dyslexia, which I announced to my father. His answer was “Dyslexia doesn’t exist, it’s called ‘being stupid’”.
If I was white I would not have been stupid and my mother would still be healthy.
How many times as a child I walked down the street, and was called out, that I am an ugly Muslim, who must go back to her own country. In Belgium racist people call Moroccans ‘a macaque’. This was usually screamed to me, by elderly people. As I said earlier, elderly people are a role model for children. They always tell the truth….
Shopping with one of my brothers and sisters, to buy some treats for school, cute right?
But getting the remark of customers, that they keep an eye on you, because they know you’ll put everything in your pockets. On the bus while someone is singing an insulting song about Muslims and their parents were laughing, while watching their children sing that “beautiful song” to me. At school events I was afraid that they would play this racist song.
If I wasn’t a Muslim, I wouldn’t have been afraid of Islamophobia.
Home, I’m looking out the window, while a group of children passes by. And I think. “Wow, look at all those white people, laughing and having fun on a Sunday?” I also want to do something on a day off, but my parents would never understand that. Leisure activities or exercise, didn’t exist for my parents. There was enough money for these activities, so money wasn’t the problem. We should be happy that we could go to school and had food, they say.
If I were white and had non-Muslim parents, I wouldn’t have this problem.
The older you get, the more realistic you start thinking. Knowing that my upbringing was not optimal, but I’m not angry at my parents. Because I realize what their history and knowledge is. I can distinguish skin color, ethnicity, creed and abilities from each other. Racism was once an everyday basis, but not anymore. Even if it occurs, I can handle it much better. But I’m quite worried for the future of my cousins, hoping that they don’t have to go through this. I’m proud of myself as a child, that I had no hatred for “white” people, because of those who were malicious. I was discriminated by people, but didn’t want to do it myself. I was an unhappy child, but not a heartless child.
My religion wasn’t the problem, but the people who made it nefarious. As I got older, my faith in God was the one thing that could bring peace to my life, especially during depressive times.
Written by Hassana Raddahi.