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Home | Episode #77
Living Without a Box
June 6, 2021 | Student Producer:

Lily Yates
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Living Without a Box
Freshman Sofia Hart describes her experiences of being singled out for her identities with seemingly no place to fit in, and her journey to taking pride in them. (8 minutes)

More Human intro plays.


When I was five years old, sitting in after-school care and playing with my cousins, a boy that I liked decided to make a club. You know, the little kids' make believe clubs that we all made for some reason when we were little. He went from person to person telling them that they could be in his club. "You can be in my club, you can be in my club, you can be in my club," he said, but when he got to me, he stopped and said that I couldn't. I went outside, sat on the steps, and I cried. My cousin was confused about why I didn't get to be in the club. So she asked him and he said my skin was too dark. At the time, I didn't really know what this meant. I had never noticed that my skin color was different and I never put any thought into it until that moment. Whether subconsciously or not, that was the starting point of my lack of self-confidence and the idea that to be brown is something bad.


To make the story even richer, it was a white boy who told me that it was bad. Why did I let him shape my self image for the rest of my life? Maybe it was because everyone in kindergarten had a crush on him. Maybe it was because all of the white girls with straight blonde hair were the people he let in the club. All I know is that I trusted his judgment more than my own. In second grade, we were studying the Civil Rights Movement. Going to a predominantly white elementary school, I was asked by a boy in my class if I was related to Martin Luther King. I was so offended and embarrassed by this comment that I felt the need to defend myself. I told him over and over again that I was white and that this was just a tan, but he wouldn't believe me.


I went as far as to ask my mom for baby pictures and I brought them to school to prove to him that I was paler as a kid and that I was indeed white. I was so upset that someone could accuse me of being black or brown. I was so upset that someone could accuse me of being something other than white. After what happened to me with the club in kindergarten, it was ingrained in my mind that to be dark is to be something undesirable. So I made it my mission to be anything but that. I would put sunscreen on and do everything I could to stay out of the sun. I'd be envious of my cousins who lived in Minnesota because they got to be lighter skinned than me. And I would straighten my perfectly curly hair every day or pull it back in tight buns until it was dead and lifeless.


I just had to be white. If I wasn't, I wasn't loved and I wasn't beautiful. In fifth grade, I begged my mom to shave my legs because some girl made a comment about how dark my hair was compared to her golden peach fuzz legs. I was always trying to edit myself to fit a standard I just wasn't made to fit. In that same year. I was hanging out with a group of kids in my grade, and I guess they didn't notice I was tagging along. So one of the boys turned around and said I was too fat to be friends with them. So I believed him and walked away completely deflated. Now I held two things in my mind that were wrong with me. I was too brown and too fat. And although I was a little thicker in the thighs and had baby cheeks, I didn't really consider myself fat.


Maybe he was just saying fat because he didn't want to seem racist. But from that point on, once again, taking advice from a blonde white boy, I did everything I could to change myself. I was never the girl any boy had a crush on, and only in high school did I rank up to the best friend to the really pretty white girl. The boys at my school liked the fair skinned, skinny blonde girls and I was constantly trying to change myself to appeal to their narrow-minded image of beauty. Later down the road, seventh grade comes along and I'm about to go to my new school that both my brother and sister went to. I was so excited. The first day of school was approaching and my mom sat me down to tell me that she legally had our last name changed. I was in shock and I was furious. How could she do this? How could she not tell me first? How could she not ask me?


After September 11th, 2001? I think we all know what happened on that day. My family was put on the federal no- fly list. For those of you who don't know what that is, it is the government's way of sifting through potential terrorists and we weren't allowed to fly. My last name was Ibrahim at the time, and because this is a Middle Eastern last name, we were terrorists in the eyes of the U.S. So in order to make my life and my family's easier, we changed our last name to my mom's maiden name, Hart. So as the years progressed, I not only tried to look white, but even my last name seemed white. It felt as though I was slowly losing more and more of my identity.


I felt like I didn't have a place, and being in America has made my sense of belonging, really difficult. It's not just the microaggressions, but the fact that my entire identity is overlooked. On the SAT, ACT, Common App, and even the census, I don't have a box. I'm Egyptian-American and some say that I'm considered Middle Eastern, so I should choose the box that says white - in parentheses, Middle Eastern. First off, can we just acknowledge how messed up that is? White in parentheses, Middle Eastern. You're telling me that a white person and someone from the Middle East is going to share the same box as if they look the same, their culture is the same and they get treated the same? Like that's just plain stupid. Also, some say that I'm not even considered Middle Eastern since Egypt is in north Africa, they say I'm African-American. But I also don't think this is accurate, as my ancestors were not enslaved in this country.


I just don't have a category. I'm living without a box. I'm too brown to be white and I'm not black. I'm not saying that my life is any harder, nor am I glossing over the fact that an entire race was wrongfully enslaved for over two centuries. I'm just saying that it kind of sucks sometimes not having a group of people to identify with and not even being acknowledged by the country that I live in. Now that I'm older and I'm starting to really understand what happened in my life, I can now recognize and appreciate my identity. I'm proud to be a person of color, regardless of what some prepubescent white boys had to say about me and whether or not this country has a place to fit me. I now embrace my curly hair and I only straighten it once a year at most. I finally am beginning to feel confident in myself. I am brown, I am beautiful, and no one can ever take that away from me. Thank you.