Licenses

On my birthday two weeks ago, I had to renew my driver’s license. It was the first time in six years that I had to sit in the dusty, old, bursting-at-the-seams with people, Department of Public Safety building. Of course, as only my luck would have it —  my phone died within the first few minutes of checking in and filling out a form, or five. So I found a decently position plastic chair and seated myself where I could see the number call screen and began the wait.

Others around me began to bide their time on their phones, utilizing game and social media apps to waste the minutes that I had to spend within myself. With no watch and no clock, the minutes felt longer.

That Friday was my 24th birthday. Cheers and happiness, of course, but then I began to think about all of the things that had happened between two licenses.

I graduated from high school, and university. I grew 6 years older, and in those years so much wiser. As I matured in those years I learned many things, I even began to understand prejudice and racism, from both sides of the coin.

The hardest thing I ever learned was that I already knew what prejudice and racism looked like, I already knew what stereotyping and the subsequent outcast of a person based on their color or creed felt like to that person, and I hadn’t even realized it. Once you learn about these terms and what they mean and how they learn as a minority, or as a person of color or as a person who has been pushed into a particular subset of society you slowly begin to review every memory, and every experience and realize what it was. A glance into hate, or ignorance, or unintended bias.

The first time I remember experiencing something that would not have happened if I were white, like my mother, I was four years old. As someone who is multiracial, I have been afforded a rare opportunity to experience biases towards me and witness privilege towards my own white southern mother, who has an easy name and fair skin.

“How was your first day of school,” I remember her asking me at the end of the day just after we walked into the house.

I began crying, I was genuinely upset. “Everybody thought I was spinach and kept asking if I could speak spinach.”

My mother laughed because I meant Spanish. I had been harassed by other students multiple times during the day as they insisted that I was Hispanic and could speak Spanish. Looking back, on such a small thing that left the four-year-old me stressed and frustrated, I can see the humor. The problem is I can also see the issue, those other students didn’t even understand that they were stereotyping all brown people into one little single language group.

I am so blessed that I have an extremely diverse family, that comes from so many different racial and religious backgrounds because it afforded me the ability to see both prejudices and privileges that different groups endure in America.

We call ourselves a “post-racial” society, but the issue is we aren’t, and allowing people to claim we are inhibits our ability to fight social injustices various minorities face. It dumbs down the instances of racial inequalities we experience in our lives as minorities in America.

Going through 12 years of public primary schooling in America involves a lot of racism when you take a deeper look. We are institutionalized with movies and society to view the cool kids as predominantly white. We are taught that millions of Natives were slaughtered, but it’s in the past, without being taught that to this day Natives in this country are still at a huge disadvantage and are still not afforded many privileges.
Mean Girls

We are told that Slavery happened, and somehow we all just moved on and everything was rainbows and butterflies. No one teaches our students what happened between the “end” of slavery and the beginning of the civil rights movement. We are left with a half-educated youth that has just enough information to shut down the idea that racism is rampant, that institutionally facts show we aren’t equal.

I guess that’s the thing about licenses, you get one to drive, but why do we (intentionally or not) give out licenses to hate?

-That’s what Heba Said

I haven’t been there

Oh, I’ve been to Cairo, I proclaimed

But I haven’t been there I said pointing to a T.V. screen
filled with chaos, fire and destruction.
They looked at me with ridicule.
That is Cairo.
I shook my head.
No, that isn’t the same.
I had visited Cairo four times,
spent a total of 12 months separated out
wandering about.
Ordering fresh juice from my favorite street vendor Ahmed,
from whom I also bought the sweetest watermelon to ever touch my lips.
He was Fallah — a simple man, he wore a turban, lacked many teeth,
and while he was dark and wrinkled from walking the hot streets each day
his smile was vibrant.
He would teach me simple words the first visit,
and applaud my growth in the language the second.
I would negotiate for a taxi to roam around the streets,
eerily unfamiliar but gave me a sense of belonging.
In the evenings there was an out-pour,
all people filled the streets, and malls and shopping squares.
Where souvenirs line the same streets where ancient bazaars still leave
little reminders that they once existed.
Cobble-stoned and broken walkways lead me through
little tents and shops that existed one hundred years before.
There was an old man who sat at the corner
“As-salam-alaikum!” He would awake you with.
Muslim or not.
Ten thousand people passed him in those late hours,
not one missed his proclamation of “peace unto you!”
I even spent a summer alone in Cairo.
I would walk and get juice from Ahmed.
I would collect a taxi to go to the museum.
I would go to the Nile and watch the boats decorated with lights pass me by.
I would find the most delicious shawarma sandwich on the edge of the city of Maadi.
I would even see Ramadan begin.
The whole city was lit with lights across the buildings
and people who have never met eating meals together under tents.
But that isn’t there anymore.
With Tahrir Square filled to the brim,
canisters fly between the peace-seekers and peacekeepers.
Revolution the streets wailed
and Horaya the people begged.
Freedom spray painted on walls,
As I slowly saw the presidential palace covered with the demands of the streets.
Graffiti covered every inch before I left, one word described all requests.
Freedom, a freedom sweet to lips that had not tasted it before.
Horaya, one that common lives paid for, one that all desired.
Freedom that was fresh on the minds and ignited the hearts of a people.
This place that begged for freedom, only just tasted it before losing it again.
This is where a man named morsi sits behind solid bars,
while a monster called Sisi murders us all.
No I haven’t been there.