The Anxiety of Accumulating Identities

Sana Rahim
May 1 · 3 min read

Last Thursday, I excitedly left the office to head to the airport to make my way to LA to see my husband.

Let me tell you how much can happen in 60 minutes when you look the way I do.

6:05 PM As I descended into a BART station, a homeless man who likely had a mental illness, made direct eye contact with me and yelled passionately, “F*** you n*****.” It happened so quickly I didn’t even know how to react. I felt disturbed, vulnerable and unsafe. I also wondered how black people coped and still cope with these shockingly regular, visceral attacks. [person of color]

6:45 PM As I stood in the security line at the airport, a TSA agent began selecting people to go through the metal detector to reduce the wait times for the body scanner. She counted off: “1,2,3” and then paused with uncertainty when she saw me. She then looked at the woman behind me who was coincidentally also Muslim and also wearing the hijab. She said “Not you two because of your headgear.” She casually went on to count off the rest of the people to move. I had been profiled; it was as simple as that. I held in my emotions in to get through security. I knew if I got upset right then, I would risk missing my flight. After getting my head pat down despite no alarm in the bodyscanner, I went and spoke to a supervisor. I calmly explained what had happened, and said the communication and actions clearly indicated profiling. He said he would speak to the agents about this. No apology — no recognition for criminalizing me for no reason. [Muslim]

7:00 PM I hastily walked to the gate. I was jittery and nervous. I just wanted to be home. Eerily, I felt a South Asian man make a sudden U turn after passing me. I turned around and saw him approaching me as he smiled invasively. In a chain reaction, I pulled out my phone and began pretending to speak to someone. I have done this before when followed by strange men who think stalking is charming. Serendipitously, my mom called me and I darted towards the bathroom hoping the man would give up and leave. When I came out, he was gone. [woman]

I made it to my gate. Within an hour, I had been emotionally assaulted. I wanted to crawl out of my skin and be invisible for the rest of the journey home.

This is a common feeling for people like me.

Being a Muslim, being a woman, being a person of color means that I experience the world in a complicated way. Separately, these identities pose a variety of challenges. When combined, I feel like I am futilely climbing a hill that only seems to get taller.

It is the accumulation of layered experiences that suddenly feel like a giant weight on my shoulders. It is the wear and tear of existing in the world every day. It is real trauma. It’s not just in my head.

The world was not designed for me. It is not always safe for me to exist. It is constant work for me to preserve my well being and safety.

This does not mean that I do not have good days, amazing days, where I feel invincible. Days where I feel safe and know that I belong. I am grateful for the abundant privileges I hold. Of course, I know, it could be much worse.

But I know and believe it can be so much better. [human trying to survive]

Sana Rahim

Written by

diversity & inclusion consultant I let’s design inclusive & intersectional spaces I embrace discomfort to grow

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