Navigating the Lines Between Self-Hate, Identity Formation, & Self-Love

My work gives me the opportunity to connect with racialized youth in schools. Many recount their lived experience with racism, namely anti-Black racism and Islamophobia. I can see their struggle in trying to make sense of who they are in relation to the world around them. They are constantly negotiating their identity in context of societal expectations, biases, and stereotypes. I hear comments ranging from “I’m numb to it” to “I hated my skin” to “I had to erase my culture.” This evidently highlights the impact that racism and bigotry have on the mental well-being and psyche of our youth. It’s disheartening to hear. Your stomach drops, heavy as stone. A sickly lethargic feeling overtakes your senses. It robs you of hope, hijacking the possibility of maintaining even the slightest peace of mind. Your dreams of liberation evaporate into absolute nothingness.  

This is what reliving trauma of pain is like for those of us who experience the stranglehold of oppression. This event of recurring traumatic episodes is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s a state of being. Your past self – the scarred, the afflicted, and the tormented parts of you – forcibly find themselves back into your present self at any given moment in time, without warning or consent. It’s a painful burden that many of us have to deal with on a daily basis. I’ve come to realize however that perhaps it’s a necessary, and almost inevitable part of the process. Harmful as it might be, it reminds me of the very cause of our work as community organizers, activists, and changemakers. It personally gives me all the more reason to fight harder – to just keep on going. We are constantly folding and unfolding unto ourselves. Our rhythm is in tune with the weakened pulses of a beating heart. We are beating, slowly. We are beating, barely. We are beating, to stay alive.  

This very process is also a state of becoming. We are in desperate need of healing. The universe – in her soft and subtle ways – acknowledges us. She sees us, and presents us with the beautiful gift of healing. So, as we morph into our future self, we let go. We cleanse the broken parts of ourselves. We heal the pain of our pasts. And we transform into a lightness that reflects our higher self. This is ultimately what it’s like to navigate the lines between self-hate and self-love. I do this for the sake of our children. They are our future. Our black and brown babies deserve to live a dignified life with equal opportunities, and without ever having their very existence called into question. We deserve better.  

Luckily, some of our youth already know this. From the 12-year-old South Asian Muslim girl who “want[s] to wear Hijab so that people know who [she] truly [is] to the 16-year-old Arab boy who’s “learned that [he] is more than that…[that] [his] value is bigger than that.” My fear is that not enough of our kids know this. They grow up hating their skin, and resenting their parents. They don’t feel safe in their schools. They fear the repercussions of being who they are, and are ashamed of where they come from. They work hard to hide their culture, and erase their history. Their loss of language, tradition, and heritage are absolutely devastating. This reality is utterly tragic. We must stop this madness. We have to. Enough is enough. It begins and ends with us. Nothing for us without us. We need our kids to know that they are loved, that they are capable and worthy, and that they are simply enough. I can only hope to touch the lives of these youth in the same way they touch mine. They leave such a lasting impression on my heart and mind – every time, without fail. And I could only pray to do the same in return. With the best of intentions, here’s to the beating pulses of our heart. We pulse on.  

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