99% of the time, it is hard being a person of color (POC).
There are days when I am filled with anxiety, self-doubt, and dread because of how stark my skin is. Every time I walk into a classroom where the majority of students are non-POC, my guard goes up. It’s an everyday battle of tackling microaggressions from professors who thought it was okay to ask if I “went to school on a camel” or being forced to listen to my non-POC classmates’ ignorant remarks on how colonization was actually “beneficial for low-income countries.”
During my first year at university, as one of the very few POC on campus, I began to consider it my social responsibility to educate people when they made ignorant remarks. My passion for writing transformed into writing for newspapers and magazines, specifically around the theme of race and gender. After all, wasn’t this my duty to other people of color? To ensure that ignorant people saw the mistakes in their statements? And, if I was in a room, surrounded by Brits, shouldn’t I remind them of their country’s colonial legacy and how the system has created a hierarchy based on race?
But a few months into this routine realized how angry I had become. The act of being woke 24/7 left me exhausted and cynical.
I was tired.
I began to feel as if my identity was being taken away from me. Sure, I was a South Asian/Pakistani/Muslim/woman (a rare-breed at a British uni), but I was so much more than that.
I realized that I didn’t want to be the unofficial spokesperson for my country or for South Asian female experiences. I didn’t want my university life to focus on my fight against racism/micro-aggressions or my attempts to get people not to perpetuate stereotypes they see about POC in pop culture.
Of course, it goes without saying that I do want to leave my mark during college so that the next South Asian or Muslim girl who comes through those doors, has it a little bit easier. I want to ensure that the next generation of POC takes up all their rightful spaces. But it’s also true that I want to have an enjoyable university experience which is not overly political most of the time.
Simply, I wanted my existence to be enough. I want to be seen as more than the melanin in my skin, Islamic roots or Pakistani nationality. Basically, I don’t want my life to be a “Lecture 101: How to be Woke.”
The first step towards this new outlook was when an 80-year-old in a posh area of London assumed that I was part of the terrorist organization responsible for the September 11th attacks. In his exact words, “Ahh, so you’re a part of the Taliban, then?” a statement in response to an inquiry on my nationality. But instead of explaining how his misconceptions of Pakistanis were blown out of proportion, I chose to take a breath and walk away.
Honestly, I didn’t have the energy to educate people who are already set in their opinions.
This is for all those woke people out there who are tired of being woke all the time. Remember: Put yourself first. It is not your duty or obligation to educate every single person you come across.
You have an identity outside of your race, and, darling, your existence is more than enough for me.