History Historical Badasses

How my great-aunt Wilma Rudolph changed the world

At five feet and eleven inches, I’m the tallest in my immediate family and it’s an aspect of my self-esteem that I constantly struggle with. But when I feel down about my lengthy stature, I remember where it comes from. 

In 1960, my 5’11” great-aunt, Wilma Rudolph, changed the world as the first woman in Olympian history to win three track-and-field gold medals in a single Olympic game. She was known as “the fastest woman in the world” and in 1983, she was inducted into the US Olympic Hall of Fame

It wasn’t always gold medals and triumphs. Raised in poverty, Rudolph was born prematurely as the 20th child out of 22 siblings (yes, 22.) As a kid, she suffered from double pneumonia and scarlet fever that almost killed her, and (ironically, considering her career as a runner), had polio in her left leg that paralyzed her. Doctors told her that she would never be able to walk, and in her autobiography, Wilma: The Story of Wilma Rudolph, she discussed feeling ashamed because of her disabilities.

Rudolph wrote that, when playing with other children, “some of them would start teasing me and calling me ‘cripple’… and they would try to make me cry.”

Through consistent physical therapy, support from her parents, and her unshakable Christian faith, Rudolph began playing basketball at school without a leg brace or an orthopedic shoe by the time she was thirteen years old. 

Despite her new ability to walk and play sports, she would still have to spend a lifetime experiencing racism and sexism. My great aunt grew up in the segregated South in Clarksville, Tennessee, where most of my family is from. She was often told to stop playing sports over the concern that her femininity was exclusive to being an athlete. 

“You couldn’t be a lady and a good athlete at the same time,” she wrote in her autobiography. “There was a lot of talk about ‘playing sports will give you muscles, and you’ll look just like a man.'” 

Thanks to her skills in basketball, Rudolph was scouted by Ed Temple to join the historically Black Tennessee State University’s (TSU) famous group of women runners, the Tigerbelles

The all-Black Tigerbelles weren’t afforded the same luxuries as other athletes. When traveling to competitions, the runners would have to pack their own meals because segregation laws prevented them from being served in restaurants. Instead of being allowed to ride buses, the entire team would often be stuffed into one or two cars.

Despite the constant racism and sexism, my great-aunt eventually qualified for the 1956 Olympic Games when she was only 16-years-old. She was the youngest member of the United States track-and-field team at the time. At her first Olympics, Rudolph’s speed won her a bronze medal in the 400-meter relay. Following her first win, she returned to Tennessee where she studied education at TSU and plunged into training for the next Olympics.

My great-aunt was one of the most popular athletes of her time. In the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, she won gold medals in the 100-meter dash, the 200-meter dash, and the relay. 

Many watched and celebrated her, as this was the first Olympics to ever be televised in America. In Italy, she was referred to as “La Gazella Nera” or in English “The Black Gazelle”. In French, she was praised as “La Perle Noire” or “The Black Pearl”. She was invited to meet the Pope at the Vatican and even met President John F. Kennedy. In 1963, she was selected to represent the U.S. State Department as a Goodwill Ambassador at the Games of Friendship in Senegal.

[Image description: Wilma Rudolph sitting next to President John F. Kennedy on a visit to the White House.] Via
[Image description: Wilma Rudolph sitting next to President John F. Kennedy on a visit to the White House.] Via
Her history-making journey doesn’t end here. When she returned back home to Clarksville, Rudolph refused to attend any celebrations that were segregated. This led to the town’s first non-segregated homecoming parade and banquet

Although she retired from track and field after breaking records, Rudolph later put her education degree to use and became a schoolteacher and running coach. She created a nonprofit organization that provided underprivileged youth athletes more opportunities, paving the way for Black pride in all career fields. Rudolph continued to make strides until 1994; she passed away from brain cancer at age 54 before I was born and had the chance to meet her.

Before she died, she wrote, “I would be very sad if I was only remembered as Wilma Rudolph, the great sprinter. To me, my legacy is to the youth of America to let them know they can be anything they want to be.”

Want to know more about Rudolph’s phenomenal legacy? Click here to read more about her life. 

I am so proud to be related to her. Although I didn’t use my long legs that I inherited from her for sports, I have definitely applied my great-aunt’s tenacity and perseverance as inspiration throughout my life. I look at my height as a reflection of her and am constantly reminded not to let adversity keep me from my dreams.

There is no doubt that Wilma Rudolph changed the world, and knowing that her spirit breathes within me only reminds me that one day, so too will I.

Get The Tempest in your inbox. Read more exclusives like this in our weekly newsletter!

Tech Science Now + Beyond

Science and technology is not the escape from Earth you think it is

The day the SpaceX mission launched, I opened my social media to find various posts from friends and family members all saying the same thing: “They chose the right time to go,” “I wish I could go to space now,” “Now is the perfect time to leave Earth!” I understood what people were saying. It was a tough week, fraught with reports of coronavirus infections, murder hornets, and brutal police killings of Black Americans. The rest of the year continued to face more and more concerns. Nonetheless, all these posts seemed somewhat off to me for a reason I couldn’t pinpoint.

Now, I recognize what that feeling was. Looking over the posts again, I realized that almost every single one was made by a white person, and none were written by a single Black person. It made me wonder: why do we think we have the right to escape this? Don’t get me wrong. I understand that escapism is a natural human desire, and it’s hard to blame people for wanting to escape from a global pandemic and a racist government. But at the same time, what good does escape do?

These posts also reveal another strange phenomenon: how we view science as separate from the “real world.” Space, technology, and science are often considered exempt from our human world’s biases, wholly infallible and detached from racism, corruption, and inequality. But this isn’t true. Technology informs government policies, provides tools to corrupt police forces, and sows seeds of classism and inequality. Science informs health and medicine, two very unequal sectors of our society–as this pandemic has shown with difficulties in distributing vaccines to the most in need. Even the United States Space Program was pushed forward out of Cold-War era political tensions, driven by political motive and power. This isn’t to say that science is inherently evil or corrupt, but that it has an incredible capacity for political and social change.

Human problems don’t end when we go to space. They just change location.

Science is and has always been a human endeavor. As long as humans are involved, it will take on the biases of the people who create and study it. For example, NASA is not free from human prejudice and politics. NASA’s workforce is still about 72% white, and only a third of the employees are women. SpaceX founder Elon Musk certainly isn’t free from prejudice as well. Musk has expressed some progressive views, but he’s also courted controversy by speaking out against coronavirus lockdownsspouting red pill rumors, and fighting union organizing. That doesn’t mean that SpaceX is necessarily racist or evil; it just means that the world of aerospace engineering is still capable of human biases.

These statements also show the wrong way we view science as totally disparate from our society. In reality, science and technology inform almost every aspect of our daily lives, from the information we receive daily to the medicine and hygiene we all need. Science is not separate from human endeavors but entirely integral to it. The world of science is not a detached fantasy world where one can ignore human problems. It is woven into every fiber of the world we inhabit now. We can use science and technology to create positive solutions, or we can ignore this opportunity and allow them to continue to enforce the status quo. Either way, we cannot ignore the impact of either of these sectors.

As attractive as it sounds, going to space will never be a true escape. People in space are still people, with all the biases, prejudices, fears, and traumas of people on Earth. Human problems don’t end when we go to space. They just change location. Science is an intrinsic part of every problem or solution that we have on Earth; it is not a distraction from our society but a fundamental aspect of it.

Most of us cannot go to space at this moment. It would be logically improbably and ethically wrong. Right now, the best thing we can do is stand our ground and stay on Earth. Hard as is it, we need you here, and now is not the time to run — or fly — away.

Get The Tempest in your inbox. Read more exclusives like this in our weekly newsletter!

Tech Race Now + Beyond Inequality

Gen Z is bringing cyberbullying back — or are they?

I had never visited Donald Trump’s Instagram page before but, when I went to check it for the first time, I found the oddest thing in the comments. Virtually every other comment was a teenager responding to his post with cyberbullying — yes, cyberbullying. All of these comments were various insulting puns with heart and fairy emojis. These comments tend to be witty bait and switches — “You made my day…worse!” or “You tried your best! Stop trying!” or other similar sentiments. Apparently, it got so bad that Trump turned off his comments. Some critics say that cyberbullying is back in a big way. But I don’t know if this is quite true.

What I do know is that members of Gen Z have been finding new ways to confront people online. Sometimes Zoomers will take aim at innocuous people they view as an easy target, such as millennial Buzzfeed readers or anime-loving band kids. Other times, they’ll go after peers and classmates. But something that has gained my interest is the “cyberbullying” of celebrities and politicians.

You might wonder: Is it cyberbullying if it’s a celebrity? Yes and no. Celebrities are still real people, as are politicians, and any form of harassment can hurt them. However, the act of bullying requires some kind of power imbalance.

Think of it this way: Back in school, bullies would usually target kids who were at least at their level or went after people they felt were less powerful. If a teenager on social media “bullies” the president, the same power imbalance isn’t there. The president isn’t a middle school child, even if he acts like one. He holds power over most of the population, meaning that the power imbalance necessary for bullying isn’t there. The same thing goes for other politicians.

What about celebrities? Well, from my experience, most celebrities who get “bullied” or “canceled” are targeted because of past problematic behavior. It can often be unfair, but most recently, people have been targeting celebrities who support Trump or refuse to speak in favor of Black Lives Matter.

One way this manifests itself is by pulling out “receipts” of racist incidents on social media. Within classrooms and college campuses, a similar pattern happens. Zoomers are perfectly willing to call out racist, sexist, and homophobic acts, especially if they can back up their claims with evidence. Most often, this involves digging up offensive social media posts or comments, rather than simply insulting someone. There are entire Instagram and Twitter accounts dedicated to exposing racists. Other generations might find it unusual, but it’s similar to the hate pages of millennials’ youth. The only difference is that these accounts have a social purpose.

These accounts function in a variety of different ways. Sometimes these accounts call for people to lose academic scholarships, college acceptances, or face disciplinary action for offensive behavior. Others have stated that they will remove the incriminating “receipts” if the person involved writes an apology or makes a donation to a relevant fund. In my experience, most just want to make sure that everyone is held accountable for their actions.

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes these accounts go too far. Sometimes they “dox” the people involved and reveal personal information. Sometimes people go as far as to send death threats and hate mail. All of these actions constitute actual cyberbullying. However, we need to separate these actions: Sending death threats to a peer or exposing them to real harm is very different from simply calling them out for racist behavior. It’s certainly different from leaving a harmless comment with a fairy emoji on the president’s Instagram account.

Cyberbullying is alive and well, but so much of this so-called “political cyberbullying” is anything but that. Let me make one thing clear: Holding someone accountable for their reprehensible statements and actions isn’t bullying, it’s justice. We should all draw the line at doxing and threats, but it’s alright to hold people responsible for their actions. At the end of the day, let kids have fun with fairy emojis and puns, so long as they direct their mockery to the right people.

Get The Tempest in your inbox. Read more exclusives like this in our weekly newsletter!

TV Shows Pop Culture

Netflix’s Hollywood: the best way to tell a true story is to reinvent it

It’s been over a year since Hollywood released on Netflix, and I still remember beginning the show with a sense of uneasiness.  I always feel this way when I am watching period pieces because they’ve always seemed one-toned and whitewashed. For a while now, I’ve been very wary about the way that history is being represented in pop culture.

Coming from the Gulf, I am sensitive to these things because I have seen how history can be warped by others. Not much has been documented (and made public) by locals about our history, so the world sees the British documentaries with their commentary. Those kinds of images stick with you until you cannot imagine another alternative, to men in the desert swatting away flies with no woman in sight.

That’s why I feel so strongly about the way that history is presented on screen. Netflix’s Hollywood is set in the 1940s, post-World War II. Period pieces suffer from a common problem. They are so white. Even the most popular period pieces, like Little Women, Atonement, The Notebook, and of course The Great Gatsby, have an almost entirely white cast. What’s that about? 

A popular period drama director, Julian Fellowes, defended the lack of diversity with the claim that “you can’t make something untruthful.” It’s not difficult to see how dangerous this way of thinking is. If the media make it out that people of color were only recently ‘introduced’ to the main stage of society, then they’re deliberately negating all their contributions. Not just that, but for decades, period dramas have been butchering history to make it fit their ideas of romance.

Fortunately, there have been movements to ‘unwhitewash’ period pieces and tell more layered stories. That’s where Ryan Murphy’s Netflix mini-series Hollywood comes in, with its re-invention of a true story of stardom and success. 

The show begins with a relatively simple premise: a WWII veteran, Jack (David Corenswet), is trying his hand at making it onto the big screen. But he soon realizes it takes more than passion when he struggles to even be cast as an extra despite his angelic looks. Accepting a job as a gas attendant, he learns to resort to other means to make it past the iron gates of the Hollywood studios. Pimped out by his manager, he ‘services’ female customers to make ends meet and wait for his big break. Lucky for him, the gas station is full of young, attractive guys dreaming of becoming stars. 

Cue the montage of women rolling up to the gas stations and asked to be “taken to dreamland” and Jack hopping in to sleep with them. Preppy music plays in the background and I am left a little disoriented. A hollow feeling in my stomach, I can’t put a finger on why I feel this way. There is, I suppose, a kind of delight in the way that the women are expressing their sexual appetite but it is completely overshadowed by the darkness of these men’s dreams being exploited.

Still, Hollywood plays it off lightly. I understand its intent, that there is sometimes no way to break into the industry. The show makes a big point of having the actors literally sell themselves in order to pay the ‘price’ of their dream, which I hold no judgment about. Yet, this part of the plot is left behind really quickly and becomes of little significance in the following episodes. 

In that same gas station, a new hire, Archie (Jeremy Pope), is an aspiring screenplay writer with a script that has been picked up by producers. Now every actor and actress in L.A. wants a piece, but there’s a catch. Archie can’t take ownership of his work, let alone be involved in its production because he’s Black

What’s more, the producers have written his film off as a dud either way. Mainly because the new film director (Darren Criss) wants to cast Camille (Laura Harrier), a Black actress, in the lead role which Archie had written in reference to a blonde actress, Peg.

There is an inherent commentary that is woven into this decision, which I thought was really important. Are actresses interchangeable, regardless of their background? Does the role have to be retrofitted to Camille? Archie, the script’s author seems to think so, and is a little dubious about Camille’s ability to relate to the role. But in the end, the director gave us his answer to that question as he merely changed the name of the character and kept the rest the same.

As the film starts to get made, to our surprise, there are still many obstacles ahead. A feeling of dread starts to envelop me, as the audience, because I fear that everything these actors, the writer, and the director have worked for will not be able to succeed in the face of the fierce discrimination they meet at every corner. Hollywood navigates these sensitively, not shying away from exposing the deep-seated homophobia that doubles against some of the characters. 

And my predictions ring true, to some extent. White supremacist groups target the cast of their film, Meg, and even after they get a chance to wrap up filming, their film reel is burned to a crisp. Yet, somehow, by the finale, they are all granted a second chance when a copy of the film is found and it is released to wide public acclaim. Multiple cast members, including Jack, Camille, and Archie receive Oscar nominations. 

While I was delighted by how it all turned out, as I was starting to really root for the characters, all of this seemed too fast. I could feel that the show was trying to wrap itself up. I could let it slide until the abusive, predatory agent, Henry, gets a sort of redeeming moment where he apologizes before dying. To me, the ending, after such a strong start and promising climax, was disappointing. 

I understand what Hollywood and its Netflix producers were going for, a subversion of history. I am all for that. It’s an exploration of what could have been if it were not for the systematic, oppressive measures that barred the fictional movie, Meg, from ever hitting the big screen, at least for a while. 


Yet, what saves Hollywood for me, is that they managed to keep it mostly authentic to the reality of the times. It is still far from a fantasy. Underneath its pleasing 40’s aesthetic, handsome leads, and golden dream of success, there is so much to lose for each character. It is not ideal, the producers manage to keep the story grounded in reality as the characters still face troubles to reach their dreams and often have to compromise.

How I see it is that Hollywood in the ’40s, and even now sometimes, has the door closed in the faces of non-white actors trying to play roles in movies that are not about race. But here, the door is cracked the tiniest bit open to imagine what the industry could be.  The show has aged well and continues to remain a worthwhile one to catch up on while we relax after the socially distanced or online Pride parades.

Hollywood has a strong cast, large ambitions, and succeeded at changing the way we see the industry and the stories that industry creates. It’s an eye-opener to the opportunities created, the traps of the system, and the nuances in between – a unique take on a giant that’s normally difficult to access. And, most importantly, it’s a very promising start towards more diverse period dramas that we need this Pride Month.  

Keep up with entertainment news and trends and follow our brand-new Pop Culture Instagram account

Get The Tempest in your inbox. Read more exclusives like this in our weekly newsletter!

Editor's Picks TV Shows Pop Culture

Don’t be fooled, ‘Ginny and Georgia’ is no ‘Gilmore Girls’

Spoilers Alert

It’s Sunday night and I stumble across the trailer for Ginny and Georgia. The words, “we’re like the ‘Gilmore Girls’ — but with bigger boobs,” play on-screen and I’m instantly intrigued. Because who doesn’t love a mother-daughter duo tv show? More so, when it references the ultimate feel-good Stars Hollow fantasy. So of course I started watching the show expecting something light, but wow, was I wrong. There was so much in this show, maybe too much for me to unpack in one article but here are my thoughts:

Ginny (played by Antonia Gentry) is a fierce feminist and a seemingly strong-headed teenager who was raised by her single mom, Georgia (Brianne Howey). 

“Life is a battle and beauty is a goddamn machine gun.” – Georgia 

Georgia is a sassy force of nature, and we see that over the flashbacks that are peppered through the narrative and her will and determination to protect herself and her children at all costs. She’s always dressed for success – on a mission to dominate a world that was cruel and unfair to her. And yet, she doesn’t stop at anything. She wears her armour like a second skin and no one is given permission to pierce it.

The series begins with Georgia moving to Wellsbury with her two children, Ginny and Austin (Diesel La Torraca). Ginny and Georgia have a fascinating relationship and the mother-daughter duo is complex if anything. They come across as best friends and yet as the show progresses, cracks begin to form within their relationship and ends in ashes (pun intended). 

“I’ve accepted that everything that sparks joy is cancerous, and I love string cheese. I’m embracing death.” -Maxine

Ginny instantly finds a new friend in the girl next door, Maxine. She’s full of life, energy and drama – she’s the girl we’re rooting for throughout the series. But along with an introduction to Max, Ginny meets her broody (so typical) twin brother, Marcus. How much do we live for the bad boy trope on tv? But I’m not complaining, cause for me, it worked. Meanwhile, Georgia has already been spotted making her moves on the town’s Mayor, Paul (Scott Porter) who FYI is George Tucker from Hart of Dixie!!! The show was really chasing those small-town feels. It’s clear front the onset of the show that Georgia has a dark past, one that she’s been running from her entire life and that she tends to find a new man in every place she ventures (as Ginny states). 

[Image description: Three people standing in the street. The girl in the middle smiles while the one on her right is frowning.] Via Netflix
[Image description: Three people standing in the street. The girl in the middle smiles while the one on her right is frowning.] Via Netflix

There’s one flashback in particular that resonated with me deeply and I wish they had given this plotline more to unpack. But since they didn’t, I’m here to introduce you to my favourite character, Joe (Raymond Ablack). Firstly, can we just acknowledge how beautiful this man is? His charisma, persona and all-around good guy VIBES were just killing it throughout and I was rooting for him and Georgia to end up together. But I’m getting ahead of myself. 

We see a 15-year-old Georgia finding out she’s pregnant at a rest stop, when she meets a young boy (Joe) who shares half of his sandwich with her. He tells her he’s from this town called Wellsbury and ends up giving her his black ray bans. It’s this adorable, whimsical and purely sweet moment. When Joe realizes that Georgia is the girl from the stop he gave his glasses to all those years ago – he’s ready to finally confess his love for her. And damn, was I there for it. 

But alas, she was already engaged to Mayor Paul. What struck me about this plotline, in particular, was that Georgia was always determined. She wanted a better life for herself, and seeing Joe and finding out where he was from stirred something within her. I would have loved for the show to explicitly show Georgia acknowledging that dream of hers. But Georgia is never vulnerable, she lives for power and the upper hand and that’s how she gets out of so many awful situations.

As the series moves along, we find out that not only was Georgia’s past chequered, it was in fact, murderous. Her history though is only one string in this narrative. The show keeps you on your toes – questioning where it’ll take you next. We have the new girl cannon coming in with Ginny, a girl who’s never even had friends much less kissed a boy turns popular and that power almost changes her for the worst. There’s the whole love triangle with the good boy (Hunter) vs the bad boy (Marcus) who Ginny loses her virginity to almost ten minutes after meeting him. You do you, sis. 

And then we have the biracial identity aspect, Ginny’s dad is Black (Zion – who I’ll get to in a bit because so many thoughts) along with dealing with racism within the classroom. Although the race aspect could have been handled better, there is one scene where Ginny claps back at her English teacher for being racist and another time when she speaks out about analysing literary theory solely through a white male lens. As for the fight between Ginny and her also biracial boyfriend, Hunter – what was THAT? The way they attacked each other with racial stereotypes was cruel and honestly just left a sour taste. We needed more time to unravel that thread and yet, the story picked back up again and pulled us into the whimsy of it all.

[Image description: Ginny and Georgia bonding over while the mother does her daughter's hair] Via Netflix
[Image description: Ginny and Georgia bonding over while the mother does her daughter’s hair] Via Netflix

Zion is Ginny’s father who is basically out of the picture. He’s the guy that comes back temporarily to make everything seemingly okay while playing happy families but ups and leaves. In a way, I was rooting for their family to get back together and when Zion reveals that he truly wants to stay in their lives and commit to a future together – I was living for it. But just like Chris and Lorelai in Gilmore Girls, some families don’t have happily ever afters.

“What do you care? You go through men faster than Taylor Swift.” – Ginny

That wasn’t the only problematic moment in the show though. Recently, Taylor Swift called out the series because of its reference to her dating life:

“Hey ‘Ginny & Georgia,’ 2010 called and it wants its lazy, deeply sexist joke back,” Swift wrote. “How about we stop degrading hard working women by defining this horse shit as [funny]. Also, Netflix, after ‘Miss Americana’ this outfit doesn’t look cute on you…Happy Women’s History Month I guess.”

And honestly, ya girl loves Taylor so I did feel like the reference was unnecessary. Taylor’s love life has been overtly dissected by the media for years—why can’t we give her a break? Let’s be honest she saved us this year with folklore and evermore and Love Story (Taylor’s Version) and she she doesn’t deserve these cheap jokes.

“This is love.” – Abby.

Maxine is aching over her recent breakup as Abby feeds her oreos and whispers the wise words of all true friendship and they lay tethered in the air between the four girls of MANG (Maxine, Abby, Norah and Ginny). For me, one of the greatest elements of Ginny and Georgia was that friendship. While the show encapsulated so many different things, this was one piece that resonated with me. It was fuelled by drama, by stomach aching laughter, friendships being broken and formed again – everything that I (think) teenage friendships encapsulate. On that note, Gen-Zers on TikTok have been bashing the show for its acutely millennial depiction of teenagedom. But what can I say? All I know about teenagers is what I’ve seen in the classroom. 

Revelations about Georgia’s past come to light in the finale and Ginny along with little Austin are seen leaving Wellsbury as a result. There’s a foreboding voiceover as the half-siblings drive off on a motorbike where Ginny claims that she’s running away from it all. And in a painstakingly beautiful light, it’s juxtaposed with Georgia’s final voiceover where she believes she’s finally free and the running is all over: roots planted, lies put to bed – a fictitious happily ever after. 

So if you were expecting to walk through the dreamscape of a pretty and pure Stars Hallow, drenched in sunshine and love, stop now. That isn’t what you’re doing to get. Georgia is no Lorelai and Ginny is no Rory. There’s a lot within the show that makes you feel, love and hurt but there’s also a lot that is inexplicable and everything comes to a fleeting and forceful end with the finale. That’s not to say I won’t be hoping and eagerly waiting for season two.

Get The Tempest in your inbox. Read more exclusives like this in our weekly newsletter.

Culture Family Race Life

As a mixed-race person, I struggle with Racial Imposter Syndrome

I have always been the type that seeks to discover myself deeply. This includes looking at my ancestry and the cultures that have formed me. As a mixed-race person, that has proven difficult. In South Africa, I fall under the racial group, Coloured, which was created during Apartheid. Coloured people have mixed European, African, and Asian ancestry due to the mixing of colonial settlers, the enslaved, and native peoples. Coloured communities have their own culture that has risen out of a rich multi-racial heritage. It is ambiguous and heterogeneous in terms of skin color, language, religion, and culture. 

However, I have always found myself in search of my roots. What type of European or African ancestry do I have? What are the different cultures that am I connected to? These questions plague my mind as I search for who I am. 

Already, due to the multi-ethnic roots of being Coloured, I find myself in-between Black and white.  A very specific marginalized status that many Coloured people feel. This is not only a complex experience of race that informs my identity and belonging in the world at large. But to complicate things I also experience a sense of profound displacement from my maternal heritage. My mother, who is half-Coloured and half-Indian, doesn’t have a relationship with her father. As a result, I have never been exposed to or had a personal connection to Indian culture. 

However, I find myself longing for the culture and heritage I have never personally experienced. But can I claim Indian culture as my own? I know that my heritage assumes that I can, but I feel like an impostor when I try to immerse myself in the culture I have no personal relation to. 

I often cook with Indian spices to get a taste of how my aunties’ foods may have tasted. I delved into Ayurveda, an ancient Indian medicine system, to discover how my ancestors would heal themselves. I was drawn to Buddhism and Indian philosophy which felt like an extension of my own thoughts. I watch Indian TV shows and Bollywood films to capture a glimpse into a world that is so foreign to me. 

These seemingly small acts are the leaps I take to feel closer to my heritage. Yet, I feel unaccepted and excluded from it.

I stumbled upon the term Racial Impostor Syndrome, which describes the feelings that biracial or mixed-race people experience as they exist in the intersection of different cultures and identities. We often feel like we are frauds or impostors in the races we are mixed with. For example, someone may be white-passing, but half-white and half-Black, and feel that they can’t claim Black culture as their own. Or for me, it is seen in my distinct hesitation to wear a sari, fearing that I will be told I do not belong. 

The inconsistencies in the social construction of race are evident when mixed-race people find themselves in the in-between spaces of culture, identity, and belonging. We are proof of the fickleness of race yet the importance of the cultural and social implications that are linked to it.

I often wonder if I will ever fully embrace all the racial parts that make me up. I just hope that one day I will be given the space by society to explore my racial heritage and celebrate all of its beautiful parts. 

Please donate to the District Six Museum in Cape Town, South Africa that has been heavily impacted financially by the COVID-19 pandemic. The District Six Museum has been a center for commemorating South African history, including Coloured history. It is an important part of our community and cherishing our heritage. 

Get The Tempest in your inbox. Read more exclusives like this in our weekly newsletter!

Race Policy Inequality

Defunding the police isn’t as radical as you might think

The Breakdown is a Tempest exclusive series that attempts to tackle issues, concepts, terms, and histories that are relevant and intrinsic to conversations about social justice. This is our version of a 101 on Social Justice, with a grassroot level approach that hopes to simplify and make political and cultural conversations accessible in a global level.

Even though the conversations around Black Lives Matter has existed since 2013, it has increasingly been in the news lately in response to the unjust deaths of Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, and George Floyd. Protests and calls to defund the police have ensued nationwide as conversations about police brutality are finally happening. However, reactions to “defund the police” have been mixed at best. Former President Barack Obama recently commented that the slogan “defund the police” is too snappy and that activists should rephrase the slogan to something less radical. So, what exactly is defunding the police?

Opponents of Black Lives Matter will have you believe that defunding the police is dissolving the entire police force to create a state of anarchy in the US in which crime rules all. However, defunding the police is actually a strategic plan to shift police funding to social services that can improve mental health, poverty, drug addiction, and homelessness, i.e. the primary motivators for crime in low SES areas. 

By addressing the causes of crime, rather than the results of it, communities can become safer, lightening the workload of police officers. Data shows that 9 out of 10 police calls are for non-violent events. Mental health calls compose about 1 out of 10 police calls. However, 1 in 4 deaths from police shootings represent people with mental illnesses. 

In cases of mental health, psychologists and mental health therapists are much better equipped to respond than police officers. Police officers are not trained to handle mental health issues in the manner that licensed therapists are. By pushing all of the wrongs of society onto police officers, we have dramatically diluted society’s ability to actually deal with the root of these issues. 

Under the defunded model, police forces will still exist. They will just deal with more heinous crimes such as murder, sexual assault, and violent crimes, which is what they are trained to do. By reducing the burden on police officers to deal with everything wrong with society, they can focus more on the encounters that they are tasked with handling relating to crime. For example, the 200,000 rape kits that remain unprocessed in police stations can begin to be processed now. In addition, communities of color will feel more at ease knowing that they do not have to live in constant fear of the police. The Black Lives Matter movement recognizes the benefits of the police force while recognizing that there is tremendous reform and restructuring needed within the system before it becomes remotely capable of providing safety and justice for all.

Defunding the police will provide a means to revitalize black communities, specifically those with high crime rates as a result of homelessness and poverty. It will also allow us to create more jobs by increasing the budgets of departments that promote public safety and welfare in a non-violent manner, benefitting all of society. Police officers will still be able to retain their jobs, but with a reallocated focus. Defunding the police is one of the best answers that we have right now to police brutality and crime.


Get The Tempest in your inbox. Read more exclusives like this in our weekly newsletter!

History Education

It is high time Shakespeare is written off as a relic of the past

“She hangs upon the cheek of night Like a rich jewel in an Ethiope’s ear” one of my high school students, playing Romeo read out. 

“Miss, isn’t that racist? Referring to the color of someone’s skin and making a metaphor out of it?” Interrupted another student. 

“Well, any piece of literature is a product of its time. And racist sentiments were very common during the colonial era.” I snapped back, partly embarrassed at my shallow save. 

“But if it’s so outdated, why are we still studying it over 300 years later?” He responded.

And there it was. The ultimate question, to which I really had no answer. My Generation Z students somehow had more political correctness than the board which set the curriculum. In light of all our Anglomania as a post-colonial society, Shakespeare continues to dominate most secondary school curriculums. And somehow, as educators, we must salvage some of this “great” playwright’s legacy, by defending his racism and sexism, which can be extremely offensive to modern-day sensibilities. 

Flipping through the pages of The Merchant of Venice, the depiction of Shylock as a stone-hearted usurer is disconcerting. Shakespeare picks up on the stereotype of Jews as being greedy and practically villainizes the entire Jewish community of the time by pitting it against Bassanio and Portia’s love story. 

Race and morality appear inextricably linked in Shakespeare’s works. Portia, when discussing her prospective suitors, claims that “If he have the complexion of a devil, I had rather he should shrive me than wive me.” As Portia is presented with the proposal of a Moroccan, she immediately turns it down on the basis of his skin tone. The idea of one’s skin color as an indication of their moral aptitude was what British colonialists thrived upon. This is precisely what allowed them to spread “enlightenment” and Christianity in the “dark continent” of Africa. 

This absurd idea is taken further in Othello. The character of Othello, himself, described as ‘the dark moor’, with ‘thick lips’ is said to resemble ‘the devil’, simply because of his complexion. 

Attribution: [Image Description: Laurence Fishburne in the title role of Othello, with Kenneth Branagh (right) as Iago, 1995.] via Castle Rock Entertainment
As you read through work after work, it becomes apparent that this is no coincidence. This is Shakespeare’s world view: devoid of diversity and nuance. It is one that exalts white Christian men and creates savages and murderous brutes out of people of color. 

If Shakespeare’s internalized racial prejudice is bothering you, wait till we talk about the blatant sexism in his works. Hamlet famously claimed: “Frailty thy name is a woman.” I remember while studying Hamlet in my sophomore year of college, many were very outraged by this statement. How can you read and respect a writer who basically undermines the intelligence of your entire gender? But then I also remember when a question was raised about his not so subtle sexism, our professor wrote it off as being Hamlet’s words and not Shakespeare’s. We must not conflate the two, we were told. 

But if it was just Hamlet who thinks of women as the epitome of weakness, why is it that this theme of fragile and hysterical women appears in many more of his works? In Macbeth, for instance, an otherwise ambitious man is led astray by his wife’s greed. Shakespeare continually emphasizes the superior moral ground of his own heroes. They are moral compasses for the women in their lives. It is as if he was trying to say: women, by their very nature, are fallible and when they transgress, they must be punished. Such is the case for Taming of the Shrew which basically glorifies domestic violence.  

Living in a society where people are still recovering from a post-colonial complex, Shakespeare is not just a playwright or an artist. He is deified into a god-like figure. He is an institution, a larger than life phenomenon. He is considered as the epitome of civilization, intellectual prowess, and spiritual superiority. At least, this is how he was institutionalized by the former colonizers in order to dominate their subjects. 

Today, Shakespeare is celebrated for his supposed universality. But how can we call him universal when, in fact, most of his writing, much like other Western Canonical texts, is about royalty and the aristocracy? He only ever wrote about higher mortals. And when these grand, inaccessible tales are told to us, we take it all unflinchingly, without a grain of salt. We don’t question it because it is not relatable.

Our own sense of inferiority prevents us from ever probing how problematic it really is. 

Get The Tempest in your inbox. Read more exclusives like this in our weekly newsletter!

The Breakdown Race Inequality

Cultural Appropriation vs. Cultural Appreciation: Know the difference

The Breakdown is a Tempest exclusive series that attempts to tackle issues, concepts, terms, and histories that are relevant and intrinsic to conversations about social justice. This is our version of a 101 on Social Justice, with a grassroot level approach that hopes to simplify and make political and cultural conversations accessible in a global level.

The debate around cultural appropriation versus cultural appreciation has existed for a while. However, it gained significant momentum recently after the re-emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement after criticism against how Black culture has been heavily appropriated in pop culture and fast fashion. Since May a number of celebrities, influencers, and brands have been called out for cultural appropriation on mass media. One such example is Reformation – a sustainable clothing brand – who was called out for the lack of Black models on their Instagram feed. The brand has since attempted to diversify its feed. On the other hand, rapper Bhad Bhabie came under fire for comparing herself to Tarzan and had to defend herself against accusations of appropriating Black culture.  

But there’s always a question when you see people donned up in clothes, ornaments, or participating in things that are not part of their culture. Are they appropriating another culture or is it appreciation? 

The academic definition of cultural appropriation is “taking over of creative or artistic forms, themes, or practices by one cultural group from another. It is in general used to describe Western appropriations of non‐Western or non‐white forms, and carries connotations of exploitation and dominance.” Appropriation involves enacting on certain parts of a culture such as clothing or hairstyle without a full understanding of the culture and reinforcing stereotypes or holding prejudices against its people. It can also involve not crediting the culture itself or its creators.

An example of cultural appropriation could be wearing a bindi. Buying a bindi from a tourist shop or a company that just produces the item does not give you the full perspective of the culture. In fact, in some ways, it creates a false perspective that it is just merely a decorative ornament. Bindi symbolizes different aspects of the Hindu culture and Indian women who wear it, do so with significance to their culture. 

Wearing a bindi or another piece representing a specific culture might get you positive attention or appreciation. However, when someone from the same culture wears an item from their culture but gets more negative remarks than positive is where it becomes problematic. For instance, wearing a ‘hipster’ headdress is not okay. The warbonnet headdress perpetuated by Hollywood projects the view that all Native American’s have the same culture. There are, however, approximately 500+ distinct tribes with their own cultures. Warbonnets or feather headdresses are not a fashion choice but a symbol of respect and honor that needs to be earned

People are straight-up told that their cultural practices are old-fashioned or conservative. Often times, they may be told to conform to the social norms, or worst case, they may become a target for hate crimes. Remember, when Zac Efron wore dreadlocks “just for fun”? To which, he was reminded that Black people get turned down on job interviews for wearing locs and braids. 

Cultural appreciation, on the other hand, involves appreciating and taking an interest to understand another culture. This involves sharing knowledge with permission and credit those who belong to that culture. For instance, when you purchase an item you buy it directly from the creators. You understand how the item is intended to be used and learn the value it holds in the culture.

Once, a friend of mine was invited to attend a sermon at the mosque. Despite being agnostic herself, she explained to me that she understands the significance of wearing a headscarf to the mosque and respects it. Therefore, she intended on bringing a headscarf to the mosque and cover her hair to show respect during the sermon.

Cultural appreciation involves paying respect to the artists and creators and understanding the origins of a culture. Remember, 2015 Met Gala’s high-risk ‘China through the looking glass’ theme? Rihanna was one of the few attendees of the gala who wore a dress that was crafted by an esteemed Chinese designer. It is not the perfect contextualization but at least a more suitable one. 

I cannot stress enough how important it is to know the difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation. Romanticizing and sexualizing certain cultural aspects whilst rejecting other aspects that do not interest you trivializes the culture. Appropriation perpetuates stereotypes and racism. It obstructs the views and voices of those who belong to the culture giving it to those who have appropriated it. 

With Halloween just around the corner, here is a quick reminder that culturally appropriated costumes are offensive and should not be worn. Wearing costumes that are cultural stereotypes literally reduces an entire culture and its people to a costume. Need I remind you of Scott Disick’s costume of a ‘Sheikh’ or Julianna Hough who darkened her face to portray a character from Orange Is the New Black. A good idea is to do some research and find out whether or not your costume is racist. Bear in mind though, if you need to do a lot of explaining as to why your costume is not racist, then it is a sign that you should reconsider. (Here is a handy guide of “costumes” you should NOT be wearing)

The bottom line here is that there is a fine line between appropriation and appreciation. We live in an increasingly globalized world and it is important to be mindful of our words and actions. Certain behaviors are never appreciative and should be avoided. It is a learning process but one that is not too difficult. Keep educating yourself because, at the end of the day, we all learn and grow everyday.

Get The Tempest in your inbox. Read more exclusives like this in our weekly newsletter!

Race Money Now + Beyond

Has #BlackLivesMatter changed the way we spend our money?

As Black Lives Matter protests heat up across the world, allies and activists have been confronting the issue of what constitutes a substantial change. Signing petitions, attending protests, and expressing solidarity are popular and important ways of enacting change, but they aren’t the only means of supporting the movement. The question is, how do we go beyond posting a black square and make a tangible change? Perhaps through our money.

Some would say the best thing to do is open your wallets. More than anything, these waves of Black Lives Matter protests have made us consider where our money goes. Race and economics have always been deeply connected in the United States and worldwide. The average Black American family only owns about 10% of the wealth as the average White American family. Redlining, segregation, and job discrimination have exacerbated the economic divide that sparked from slavery. Reparations for enslavement would total billions of dollars today, but that money has not materialized. Black families have been more deeply affected by the coronavirus pandemic, as well as overpricing in low-income communities.

At the end of the day, money speaks.

Donations have been a greater presence in this wave of protests than before. Allies and activists alike have pushed for others to donate bail funds, funeral funds for Black victims of police brutality and transphobia, and Black Lives Matter organizations. Two bail funds in my city of Philadelphia have raised over $1.8 million in the past weeks. The Minnesota Freedom Fund alone raised over $35 million. While there’s controversy about how these organizations will use the money, there’s no denying the importance of the overwhelming display of support. At the end of the day, money speaks.

The importance of money goes far beyond just donating. The movement has called into question who we buy from, and who we should buy from. Recent comments from CEO’s of companies, such as CrossFit, have revealed the racist prejudices behind these popular corporations. Many supports of the BLM movement have realized that it doesn’t make sense to support BonAppetit if it does not adequately pay its contributors of color, or to give money to companies such as Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s who do business with the Trump family. The movement has become an important wake-up call that our purchases do not exist in a vacuum. Obviously, in our current economic system, it is near impossible to avoid giving money to problematic or exploitative companies. Still, the BLM movement has prompted an important examination of where our money goes.

Another way to support the movement is to support Black-owned businesses of every type. This could mean buying from a local Black-owned bookstore instead of from Amazon, to buy from Black clothing designers instead of outfitters like Dollskill and Urban Outfitters, which infamously steal from BIPOC designers, or to buy food from Black-owned restaurants. It’s immensely important to support POC-owned businesses, especially BIPOC-owned businesses, in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. In the United States, many restaurant owners of color, especially Black restaurant owners, had trouble securing government loans for small businesses affected by the coronavirus. Considering the financial impact of the pandemic now is an incredibly important time to support these small businesses.

The BLM movement has prompted an important examination of where our money goes.

I’ll give a personal example. I live in the Philadelphia area, one of the most diverse cities in the United States. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most segregated and has some of the highest income inequality. A new mobile app called Black and Mobile offers an innovative solution. Black and Mobile is a food delivery app by Black developers, which delivers food exclusively from Black-owned restaurants, and employs Black drivers to deliver the food.

Of course, money isn’t the be-all and end-all of the movement. Throwing money at an issue will never fix it entirely. We have a long way to go before we unlearn racism and uproot the racist systems that be. Nonetheless, we need to recognize the importance of money in anti-racist work.

Get The Tempest in your inbox. Read more exclusives like this in our weekly newsletter!

History Pop Culture

I adore ’20s aesthetic, but its depiction in pop culture is deeply troubling

Remember the months leading up to this year, where everyone was ready to pull out all the stops to ensure our generation gets to live through our own Roaring ’20s with endless parties and extravagance? And how quickly that went south when the year began? 

Oh, the ’20s. There’s no period in history that has been so loved by writers, filmmakers, musicians, and, of course, audiences. A century later, we still fawn over for in the glitz and glamor.

I cannot pass a thrift store or vintage outlet without looking at the cloche hats and beaded gloves without wondering what it would be like to live as a flapper girl, a whole new world ahead of her. It has long been an idealized aesthetic for me. Maybe that’s because the romantic image of a pining Gatsby is at the forefront of our memory of the ’20s.



The fact that the latest Great Gatsby adaptation, starring Leonardo Di Caprio, has consistently been available on Netflix since 2014 is a sure sign that everyone is feeling nostalgic for that long-gone period. What better time than now, then, as we live through our own ’20s of the 2000s, to pick apart the way this period has been glamorized in pop culture and entertainment. Despite having tragically dark elements that lurk in its corners.

There are countless movies and TV shows set in this era, as well as themed costume parties, but can we ever excuse this period of history? Racial oppression, the mistreatment of women, there is so much that happens behind the glamour. For that reason, I can’t bear to entertain anything that doesn’t at least hint at the dark parts of this sought-after aesthetic.

Of course, at the center of it all is The Great Gatsby with its flapper girls, pearls, and swinging jazz music. Who doesn’t dream of dancing the night away at one of Gatsby’s extravagant parties or being yearned for by the man himself? This story has long been my guilty pleasure.

The reason behind my guilt is that it completely overlooks any of the questionable and outright terrible parts of that society. Other than the class divisions that spurred the tragic love story, the story neglects entire populations of people. There’s a cleverly titled review of the book, “I Love The Great Gatsby, Even if it Doesn’t Love Me Back”, in which a self-proclaimed “small town, Black girl” tries to see herself in the story she loves but feels so alienated.

None of the named characters in any of the adaptations are people of color. It is almost like people of color would be anachronistic to the time setting, which is unfortunately what most producers for period pieces seem to believe. Blackness has no presence in this time period, they seem to say. The Gatsby story acts like race doesn’t exist, despite the rising xenophobic sentiment among the American public during the particular time period following the First World War.

[Image Description: An African American flapper girl sits on a chair, wearing a fur hat, coat with feathery trim and extravagant dress.] Via See Jane Sparkle
[Image Description: An African American flapper girl sits on a chair, wearing a fur hat, coat with feathery trim and extravagant dress.] Via See Jane Sparkle

And why should the story acknowledge any of that? It doesn’t seem to interfere at all in the lives of the white central characters. Even though they enjoy the jazz and Charleston dance, they’ve disentangled those things from their roots in the Black community.

Wrapping the story in a Jay-Z soundtrack doesn’t negate the fact that it is devoid of any African American representation. As for its treatment of women, the Roaring ’20s was a time of increased sexual liberation for women. There was a gradual public acknowledgment (not exactly acceptance) that sexual desire was not only limited to men, that women possessed strong sexualities.

In the growing urban environments, men and women mingled much more freely with less supervision. Automobiles were becoming a staple to American society, serving as a private place for young couples. “Brothels on wheels”, a court judge called them – not as a humorous quip but a condemnation. Because, at the end of the day, women were still conditioned to accept that fulfillment came from adeptly performing their duties as a housewife. 

It’s too easy of an excuse to say that “the times were different” during the ’20s. As if it was only recently that we gained awareness of intolerance and how to present it on screen. If F. Scott Fitzgerald couldn’t see the importance of including the surrounding society in his story, maybe his work can be written off as a product of its time.

[Image Description: A vintage portrait of two women smiling at the camera, dressed in flapper style.] Via See Jane Sparkle
[Image Description: A vintage portrait of two women smiling at the camera, dressed in flapper style.] Via See Jane Sparkle

But how did the 2013 adaptation miss that whole part of history? Is historical accuracy second to aesthetic? Or even worse, the classic argument of supposed historical accuracy, the claim that ‘those groups didn’t exist within those circles’, that it would be “untruthful” to try to weave in diverse characters to historical time periods. 

That’s laughable, of course. But many are still surprised when they see the – frankly, stunning – photographs of African American or Mexican American flapper girls. Pop culture’s adoration for this story and this period is concerning because it has been flagrantly whitewashing history

Representing an era like the ’20s just for the aesthetic is just lazy. On top of that, it is a form of historical erasure. Telling a story is a responsibility. For many people, watching The Great Gatsby will be their only exposure to the 1920’s time period. They’ll hear the jazz and see the beautiful men and women in all their extravagance and pine for the time period, wishing they were part of it. But the reality is far from the truth.

[Image description: Black flappers enjoying a football game at Howard University, 1920.] via Pinterest
[Image description: Black flappers enjoying a football game at Howard University, 1920.] via Pinterest

It’s like a century from now, someone told the story of our Roaring ’20s, focusing on nothing but two (white, privileged) lovers split apart by the pandemic. No mention of the Black Lives Matter movement, the reformations, or any other international affair.

Doesn’t that feel so thoroughly disappointing? 

You would think, surely there has to be a more complex way to memorialize this time by…

Get The Tempest in your inbox. Read more exclusives like this in our weekly newsletter!
Culture Family Life

Being part Middle Eastern made me feel like an imposter

I was walking back with some classmates one day after a study session, using the time to express my annoyance at how people treat all Middle Eastern people like terrorists. My other classmates agreed with me, but then one of them, a white male conservative, said something that shocked me. He told me he understood why people were so scared of Middle Eastern people because he was a little scared himself.

There was only one catch. I’m Middle Eastern.

I’ll admit, I don’t look stereotypically Middle Eastern. I have light hair, blue eyes, and an itty bitty nose, like the whitest of white American socialites. I have a very white American name, Camilla, courtesy of my WASPy father. However, I am still proudly and genuinely Middle Eastern.

My mother’s side of the family is Armenian, primarily from Turkey and Iran. Our family also hails from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, and Azerbaijan. We come from Istanbul, Isfahan, Jerusalem, and Beirut. We’ve lived in the Middle East for thousands of years, so we consider ourselves indigenous to the region. Our ancestral tongue is Armenian, as well as Turkish, Arabic, and Farsi. Many of my family members still speak these languages. We eat shish kebab, pilaf, hummus, baklava, tabbouleh, and other delicious Middle Eastern foods that aren’t as well known. My family members have names like Krikor, Arousiak, Satenik, and Armen, that other people think are difficult to pronounce. My grandmother’s house is full of doilies, embroidery, and soorj (coffee) pots from the old country. And trust me, you don’t want to get caught between my family members when they fight over who pays the check. 

I still look white, and I consider myself white. My name, religion, and appearance are all familiar to other white Americans. But being Middle Eastern and not looking it can be a strange and painful experience – sometimes I feel like an imposter. 

Family gatherings are the worst. My family always comments on my appearance, telling me that I’m pretty because I don’t look Armenian. I always hear how much I look like my father, how lucky I am to have a small nose, and how nobody would ever know I was Middle Eastern. I know they mean to compliment me, but it makes me feel as if I don’t belong – like I’m invisible

My non-Middle Eastern peers are also not particularly understanding. When I tell people where I’m from, several people have asked if I’ve had a nose job. Oftentimes, I talk about my culture, only to hear some snarky remark like “well, you don’t look like it,” or “you’re only part Middle-Eastern.” I get it, I have never and will never experience the profiling and racism that so many other Middle Eastern people experience. However, my appearance will never erase my cultural and familial roots. It is not up to non-Middle Eastern people to determine how I identify and how I express my culture.

The worst part is that when I’m in white spaces, I hear a lot of racism against Middle Eastern people. Because other white people assume I’m not Middle Eastern, they seem to think they can say terrible things about my culture with no consequences. I’ve heard white boys say they wanted to bomb Iran, without realizing that my family lived in Iran for hundreds of years. I’ve heard white people say that Middle Easterners have sex with goats (we don’t), are all terrorists (also not true), and are all oil tycoons (I do have a relative who was an oil tycoon, but still, that’s not the point).

All of these comments have hurt me deeply. It especially hurts to know that if these people knew that I was Middle Eastern, they wouldn’t have said a thing. These kinds of cowardly racists like to test the waters around other white people, to see how far they can push it. It’s a covert and secret form of racism that I would have never known existed if I didn’t look the way I do.

It’s difficult at times. I almost feel like two people. In one word, I’m a spy in white America who’s there to ruin the fun when someone makes a racist comment. In the other, I’m an assimilated family member who doesn’t understand the traditions and doesn’t look like anyone else. So many times, I feel stuck, torn. I know I could blend into white American culture seamlessly. Still, I don’t want to give up my Middle Eastern heritage.

In the end, as hard as it is, I am grateful for my complexity. It allows me to see the world through multiple lenses, to experience different cultures, and to look past my assumptions of other people. Regardless of how others perceive me, I am immeasurably proud to be Middle Eastern, and I will carry that pride with me all my life.