On January 21, 2017, I had the honor of joining 130,000 human beings and fellow Seattle citizens to march down the streets of our city for the Women’s March on Washington. We were 130,000 out of millions around the globe. It was my first time participating in a movement like this. It took me out of my comfort zone. Crowds give me anxiety, but I had close friends I trusted, and I didn’t even hesitate.
It was empowering, but it was also a reminder of how much of a bubble I’ve put myself in over the past few years. It’s not that I’ve been silent about injustices, but I thought the only difference I could make were with my words. I’m a writer. I’m an amplifier. I thought my power was limited to speaking out with the written word, but to be honest, I haven’t even done that as much.
The Women’s March on Washington, the conversations leading up to it, and the discussions that will continue to happen reminded me that as a Muslim immigrant woman who’s survived sexual assault and harassment, I’m still more privileged than most.
To make a difference, I need to come to terms with my uncomfortable truths.
Yes, I’m a Muslim immigrant woman from Turkey, but you wouldn’t know that from looking at me. I’m not olive skinned. I have an accent, but I’ve been here long enough that it sounds more like an east coast accent than a foreign accent – unless I’ve been drinking or I’m fatigued. I’m Muslim, but I don’t “look” Muslim (which is a whole different conversation).
Yes, I’ve been sexually assaulted and stalked, even worried about my life being in danger at one point, but I’m a survivor. It’s not something I carry with me – or at least I try not to. I was able to leave the situations that made me feel unsafe. I’ve created a safe environment for myself. I had the opportunity, as painful as it was, to remove myself from a dangerous environment. I’m lucky. There are millions of women (and men) right here in the U.S. who are physically abused daily.
My relationship with racism and marginalization is complicated.
21 years ago, when my family and I moved to the U.S., I remember being confused about racism. I studied about slavery in school. I knew about the civil rights movement, which is why I couldn’t understand how racism could still exist. It’s not that I didn’t believe it did – I had trouble wrapping my head around anyone thinking another human being is beneath them on a fundamental level. When I studied about the Holocaust in 8th grade, that same confusion led me to become intensely interested in learning more about the Holocaust. I read book after book about how Hitler came to power, trying to understand how a person could be filled with so much hate. In high school, I became obsessed with forensic profiling and trying to understand serial killers (think Criminal Minds, the high school edition).
But I didn’t continue in my due diligence. I was going to study psychology, and go to law school. Instead, I continued my journey by embracing the power of words as a writer.
I still don’t understand how there is so much hatred in the world tied to religion and skin color. I don’t understand how someone could claim to be a superior race when we’re all part of the human race. When I say that, I don’t mean it as a naive statement or ignorance. It’s just disbelief, in the same vain as the signs I saw this weekend reading ‘I can’t believe we still have to protest this crap.’
There are LGBT issues. There are transgender rights and equality issues.
I know that’s the tip of the iceberg.
My personal acceptance of everyone’s equality as human beings despite their religion, race, sexuality, and gender doesn’t make me immune to ignorance.
My truth is that I’m thirsty for knowledge, but at the same time, I feel like I’m drowning.
I’ve been overwhelmed with news about what’s happening back home in Turkey. I’ve been overwhelmed with seeing shooting after shooting in our home. I’ve been overwhelmed with seeing story after story of black men and women being brutally attacked. I’ve been overwhelmed with police aggression. I’ve been overwhelmed with homophobia, Islamaphobia, and the helplessness of not being able to help the LGBT and transgender individuals feeling helpless because the “It Gets Better” mantra seems far from the truth. I’ve been overwhelmed…
…from the safety my apartment, surrounded by loved ones and the comfort zone I’ve been able to build for myself.
Yes, my power still lies in words, but I also need to arm myself with the knowledge to make those words even more powerful.
In the last 24 hours, I learned that:
So, what’s next?
How do I control the firehose of knowledge to educate myself on issues that are out of my comfort zone?
One sip at a time.
I pledge to dive deeper into the history of the civil rights movement, the men and women who were not in our history books, and those who are fighting to make a difference today.
I pledge to put one foot in front of the other at more events – yes, the #BlackLivesMatter and #TransLivesMatter marches too.
I pledge to speak out louder at injustices online and offline.
I pledge to continue to do my due diligence when it comes to facts and never spread false information. If I see false information being spread, I pledge to continue to speak out with the facts and resources.
I pledge to be cognizant of my privilege and check it at the door when entering discussions.
I pledge to recognize my shortcomings and arm myself with knowledge.
I pledge to ask questions.
This is where you come in. If I come to you to understand your history and your battles better, I hope that you won’t be flustered with my questions. I don’t mean to be ignorant – but no matter what I read in books, I will never fully understand what it means to be in your shoes. But I will try, and your answers will help me understand.
The truth is that what I do will never feel like it’s enough, but I also know I need to do more.
Yesterday’s march was a first for me, and it won’t be the last.