Before I start, Tasnim wrote a really fantastic letter you should read before my post / instead of reading my post. Her letter allowed me to think a lot more clearly about these things.
My family emigrated to America in in November 2001. I was a nine year old refugee. Until November 2013 when I became an American citizen my green card designated me as AS8: “Child of a Principal Asylee”. Almost all my memories are from after we emigrated, and they’re all the memories of a refugee.
All in all, I’m fucking terrified. I feel bad saying this. I’ve been terrified most of my life. I’m scared all the time. None of this is new. It’s just, you know, more.
As weird as it is to say, I think being from Iran and having to survive in immediate-post-9/11-America really trained me for the next 4 or 8 years.
In the environment I grew up in, you learn quickly to adapt. You learn quickly to reduce yourself to not grab unnecessary attention, you learn quickly that you need to hide to feel safe.
I don’t really know why I feel the need to share this. I’m not really looking for any reactions or responses, I just want to share.
In my head, a lot of these take the form of spiraling internal-conflicts (I want to go outside to get food, but I’m scared to go outside, but I know not going outside is putting restrictions on myself), and I guess I’m hoping if I put them out in the public they’ll control me less.
Okay. With that said, let’s talk about some of the things I do:
I don’t go outside after dark.
I’m already scared of everyone on the street, if I can’t quickly scan the faces of everyone around me to guess if I need to put defenses up or not, it’s really scary.
I like being on the street making eye contact with everyone I see and a little smile. If I don’t get to do that part and see their reaction, I default to assuming they want to murder me or call me a terrorist.
I don’t report issues.
I perfectly remember the first time I was called a terrorist. It was middle school, P.E. class, doing the mile on the field. I was trying my best to hit a less than 12 minute mile pace. 3/4 of a mile in the run, a bigger kid pushes me down and says “Get out of the way, terrorist”.
I started crying. I told my P.E. teacher, who told the principal. I was taken out of class, I assumed the other kid was taken out of class too. The next day, in the same class, he approached me again and admonished me for thinking that the staff would side with “a little terrorist” over him. It turned out he was told to go take the class as a free period the day I reported him calling me a terrorist and pushing me to the ground.
He got to have free time while I got to spend the hour in a counselor’s office trying to explain why I was upset.
I learned very quickly that when I was being bullied due to the color of my skin, the school administration did not care at all unless I told them I was considering suicide because of how much I hated myself. Then they finally paid attention to me, but it only made everything worse.
So yeah, I don’t report anything like that anymore. I’m lesser. In school, the administration didn’t have my back. In real life now, the cops don’t have my back. I can’t rely on them. I try to just punch my attackers in the fucking face.
I don’t go to protests.
I fully support all types of protesting and dissent. Some of my only Iran memories are of chanting and walking in circles at massive rallies. I also think that protests are useless, and result in nothing but a demonstration of anger.
Demonstrations of anger can be really useful and really powerful. But in my experience most protests end up in mini-protests of factions in the protest fighting each other instead, and forgetting what the real goal was.
I have now said enough on the positives that I feel OK saying this:
I live downtown. There were protests in my city every night for 3 days after the election. I had to hear the protestors marching, their screams, the cops, the sirens, the fire trucks, the trains blasting their horns over their tracks being blocked, the cars honking at every corner.
I couldn’t do anything about all the noises. They were in every inch of my apartment. I cried every night after the election, not for the results but because the loud sirens all around me made me so fucking scared.
I’ve been trying to logically convince myself that I can’t lose my citizenship. That was the first thing I thought of when the election results came in: Is there any way I could lose my citizenship and end up even worse than back when I was a refugee?
It’s been pretty easy to logically argue that this isn’t possible so far. Until I woke up this morning and saw a tweet from the President-Elect flat out threatening to rescind people’s citizenships over dissent.
I’m not signing up for no god damn fucking list.
I remember NSEERS well. I was lucky enough to not have to register, but if my family’s paperwork and everything was not finalized prior to 9/11, I would’ve had to register in Group 1.
For me, NSEERS was just another example of the hostile world (explicitly hostile against my kind) I had entered into. For others, it was much much worse.
I’m not even going to waste my energy explaining why a registration system like this is a bad idea. Instead, let’s talk about comics.
If you are white and don’t understand why marking yourself as a lower designated class to try to make others feel safer is dangerous, please watch Captain America: Civil War. The Sokovia Accords are the exact same thing.
I was really into Captain America as a kid. Steve Rogers was, and still is my favorite superhero. I remember reading the Civil War comics when the issues were first being published. I cried, and cried, and cried. The Death of America is very relevant.
This one kind of seems like a joke compared with the rest but I’m legitimately scared of taking Ubers or Lyfts around town.
On the Friday after the election, Veteran’s Day, I took the day off work to spend it with my veteran friend. He lives in a suburb around 20 min north of Denver. I don’t have a car, so to see him I had to either bus ~60 minutes or Uber/Lyft ~20 minutes.
I spent the entire morning freaking out about what if my UberX driver is a Trump supporter and I’m stuck in the car with them and they control all the locks. Hell, not even just that morning, I was freaking out about it the previous night, all night.
I ended up getting lucky. I took 3 UberXs, the two longest rides (the ride up to my buddy and the ride back downtown) were both brown muslim men whom I was able to talk to openly and share worries with. I really really really enjoyed the rides.
When I was in the suburb, my buddy and I decided to go see a movie. The movie theater is around a 15 min walk from his apartment, or a less than 5 min drive. We got an UberX, the second we got in the car I noticed that the driver had a red cap on.
The what I’m sure was actually less than 10s but felt like an eternity that I spent trying to nonchalantly check the wording on the guy’s cap. Shit. I haven’t felt that scared since I was 11. His cap was just some red cap from some company, nothing about Making America Great Again. Phew.
The second we got out of the car I told my friend about how much the guy’s red cap scared me. He laughed and said he immediately noticed it too but instead of him getting scared about it like I did he was thinking “ugh, will I have to beat this guy up if he says anything to Kasra?!” — That made me feel really, really, really good.
I have a lot more thoughts on this stuff. A lot of it is being written to my diary, but I felt the need to be public about some of the ones I’ve been dwelling on more than the rest.
In case you didn’t notice, a lot of my worries and a lot of the workarounds and limitations I put on myself to protect against them — This system of living in someone else’s world and having to adapt to survive, it’s what everyone who is not a white male is doing every single day. All the women that I know how to adapt in similar ways every day. All the black men I know have to adapt in similar ways every day. The black Muslim women I know have to adapt in similar ways every day.
This is not anything unique to me. That’s why I feel so guilty when my wonderful friends tell me how bad they feel knowing that I have to do these things. We all have to do these things.
It’s never been our world. It’s always been the white man’s world. But god fucking dammit, I’m not leaving it just because it’s not made for me.
The biggest conversation topic between me and my therapist this past month has been: I was able to justify all the awful things I had to go through as a child by thinking “If I just go through this now, a 11 year old refugee who looks like me won’t have to go through this in the future”.
It’s 15 years later. Those children have to go through way worse than I went through. I feel like I failed them, really really badly.
But, I’m not going to fail the next generation.
I’ve had to work hard and fight hard to prove I deserve to live here, and I’m not fucking going anywhere.
So, I’m going to play two games at once. One, I’m going to figure out how to share my thoughts and dissent in a constructive manner.
And I’m going to play the same game I play at TSA checkpoints and on airplanes: Be the fucking friendliest and nicest brown Muslim man you can be, since the people around me typically aren’t exposed to Muslims in their day to day.
When I have to go on flights, I typically trim or completely shave my beard to try to make doing that easier. Maybe this time, I won’t, and I’ll make sure the white people I see all understand that a bearded brown Muslim man can still be friendly.