Socialized:A Letter to My Younger Self

Sara Ahmed
May 11 · 4 min read

This post was inspired by my forever mentor text, The Players’ Tribune.

Dear Young Sara,

It’s May 2019. You’ve built a career made of passion and mentors. You are invited into spaces as a “diverse” voice in the field to speak on themes of identity, inquiry, literacy, culture, and social comprehension. You’ve rewritten your life’s trajectory. And you know where true love can be found — in your family and in New York City.

You should be proud. And you should be grateful.

And since brown adults like to keep brown kids they love humble, allow me to share some hard-to-face truths with you about the road ahead:

you will say some foods from other cultures (including your home culture) smell or are weird.

you won’t question when well-intentioned white friends tell you that they don’t see you as any different or that you are just like us.

you won’t work closely with any people of color — the friends, mentors, and mirrors you so desperately need — until 2012.

you will say things with tones of color-blind ideology and repeat rhetoric like the school gentrified the neighborhood — as if that were a good thing.

you will look someone you love in the eye and question the professionalism of their hair.

you will go to work in a school and neighborhood that does not look like yours. And by your own measure, you will fail those kids.

you won’t speak up when you know, deep in your own humanity, a perpetrator is robbing someone else of their humanity.

Because the truth is, Sara, no matter how well-intentioned or how many years you have been an educator, you’ve got to face some things with candor:

you are growing up and swimming in the narrative that your safe, clean, Ghost-in-the-Graveyard-playing neighborhood is better than the lock-your-car-doors neighborhoods.

you are attending predominantly white schools and university with white educators and white friends where you’re reading, The Berenstain Bears and Dr. Seuss, Where the Red Fern Grows and The Scarlet Letter, Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary, J.D. Salinger and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

your dad plays Rick Astley in the car (I’m serious), and your mom reveres Sean Connery, Clark Gable, and Sydney Poitier.

you are told to stay out of the sun so you don’t get any darker.

you may be too brown for white people and so white for brown people.

you travel across borders with unearned privilege because of the passport you carry and the language you speak.

The messages come from everywhere and they will shape your experience and bias.

you are being socialized in a white, heteronormative patriarchal frame. And because you are neither black nor white, you move across a racialized spectrum, setting-dependent. More times than you realize, you are positioned adjacently, and you reap some benefits.

But in a post September 11, 2001 world, the hyphens of your identity will be more pronounced, more targeted: Indian-American-Daughter of Muslim Immigrants. Then you will personally feel the long arc of adaptive othering and bigotry in our country’s history.

And so, now that you know, you’ve gotta put in the work. Early and often. With candor and with humility. Here’s what you will learn to do (certainly not an exhaustive list, but it’s a start):

Read.

Read Acevedo, Alexander, Baldwin, Cisneros, Coates, Delpit, DiAngelo, Edim, Freire, Gino, and Grimes.

Read Hughes, Kendi, Morrison, Oluo, Reynolds, Shalaby, Slater, Stevenson, Thomas, Woodson, Zoboi, and Zinn.

Read Veera Hiranandani and Maxine Beneba Clarke and Edward Galeano.

Study.

Study posts and threads from the human beings of #CleartheAir #EduColor #DisruptTexts #WNDB #DiversityJedi #HFellows They are the symphony for this work.

Listen.

Listen to Bomani Jones, Jemele Hill, Pod Save the People, Still Processing, and This American Life. Listen to perspectives and voices who own a story you cannot tell as your own.

And please, listen to the other kids. Later, you will have an obligation to make their identities visible — working against a societal tide that pushes so many of them out to the margins.

Travel.

Travel and get as proximate to the human story and human movement as you can.

And then, write. Write like hell. Write for anyone who will read, study, and listen.

Because with what you’ve experienced, what I’ve shared with you and what you’ve grown to be, you know that ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance is a barrier to the unnoticed and underserved.

Congratulations on all you’ve done and on what’s to come. You’ve got work to do.

Love,

Sara K. Ahmed

P.S. Listen to your parents when they speak to you in Urdu and don’t speak back in English. They are trying to give you the gifts of cultural identity and a love language.

This blog post is part of the #31DaysIBPOC Blog Challenge, a month-long movement to feature the voices of indigenous and teachers of color as writers and scholars. Please CLICK HERE to read yesterday’s blog post by Lisa Stringfellow (and be sure to check out the link at the end of each post to catch up on the rest of the blog circle).

    Sara Ahmed

    Written by

    *Consultant-in-Residence/Literacy Coach @NISTSchool *Speaker *Staff Developer *Author of #edupstanders & #BeingtheChange *Hawkeye💛