This piece is part of a series exploring the many manifestations of privileges and prejudices at Minerva through student stories. You can read the introduction of the series here or more student stories on race, gender, class, ability, nationality, or religious discrimination.
I never felt home in my home country.
That feeling stemmed from being different from my surrounding homogenous society. I grew up as a Coptic Christian (aka minority) in Egypt. As a result, I struggled with exclusion, racism, and bigotry. I always felt the urge to hide part of my identity whenever I met someone for the first time to avoid their prejudice & racist beliefs from kicking in before they actually got to know me.
In 2013, my family decided to immigrate to the US after a mass attack on churches all over Egypt. Unfortunately, we couldn’t afford to immigrate to the US. So, I spent sleepless nights trying to come up with another way to get to the US (I thought it was the land of freedom and dreams, I know I was so naive). One day I woke up and I had this crazy idea that I was going to study really hard to get higher education in the US, and once I land in the US, I will figure out how to get my family there. Fast forward seven years, the reality in the US hit me hard, and I knew I was never gonna find home where people accept me without judgmental beliefs.
After spending two years at Minerva, I realised that, sadly, the struggle was inescapable.
Again, I found myself being judged for my identity and batting with racist comments, this time not for my religious beliefs but for being an Egyptian, an Arab, and from the Middle East.
There are a few types of people I have met at Minerva:
- The “ohh do you live in the desert” type
“Like, do you really live in the desert?” “Do you use camels for transportation?” That is mostly the first thing I hear when I tell people that I am from Egypt. Honestly, at the beginning of freshman year, I thought people were joking, or maybe they thought it was a good icebreaker? But later I realized that they really mean it when they ask these questions. Apparently, many people think that Egypt was trapped in the past with no digital edge while all other countries developed.
2. The “wow, you know how to code?” type
A considerable amount of people at Minerva doubted my intelligence when working on projects together just because I am a female Egyptian. I still remember vividly when I finished one of my civic projects, expecting to celebrate with my friends, only to hear from my friend that they thought I was not going to be able to finish the coding task successfully and they were so irrationally shocked. I asked for explanations. I still can’t believe that this person had the courtesy to tell me to my face: I didn’t think that female Egyptians receive higher education, let alone being good at a stem field. That wasn’t the only time people underestimated my abilities only because my background and the way I look doesn’t fit how they picture coders, but it was definitely the first time someone provided such a blunt and hurtful justification.
3. The “racist pickup lines” type
“Are you an Arab? Cause you blow me away” I heard lines like that many times and they were always accompanied by a weird laugh where the person implied that Arabs are terrorists but somehow expected me to find this line amusing. The racist comments about Arabs being terrorists weren’t only confined to pick up lines. Apparently, to many of my classmates, this is a good material for making jokes; to the point that I avoid using words such as “explode” or “bombs” because I know somehow they will be twisted and used as jokes for the entire week long. I have even been sent videos and memes that (explicitly) depict Arabs as terrorists. And again, I am accused of being an uptight person because I didn’t see that funny.
4. The “lol, you speak English with an Arabic accent” type
During the first couple of weeks during freshman year, some Minervans pointed out that I have an Arabic accent. Not only that, but some classmates thought it was funny to mimic my accent.
That honestly stuck with me for a long time. I can’t even start to tell you how many conversations I missed out on because of that comment. Whenever I wanted to speak in class or have a nice conversation with a classmate, I always felt self-conscious and scared of being perceived as stupid just because my accent doesn’t sound “right”.
5. The “stop being close-minded and adapt western culture” type
Well, it’s no surprise to hear that comment after all these stories, right? I still remember when one of my classmates accused me of being closed-minded only because I said no to something that goes against my morals/principles. He went on to encourage me to adapt western culture and guilt trip me because according to him “I act like I come from a retraded country”.
I used to laugh it off because I didn’t want to be seen as a joykill. But it reached a point where I couldn’t take it anymore. I never thought I would call people out because discrimination and racism is something that I constantly experienced in my country. There’s always this fear of saying something because the “weakest” side will always be blamed. I thought I was used to it. I faced it for 20 years. I thought when I lived in the US it would be better. That people would accept me for who I am. but it’s the same. They just judge me for different things.
I realized I had to put a stop to that when I was talking to one of my friends about my experience with racism at Minerva, and every time she said sorry you experienced that, I said I was used to it. It is not okay to be used to it. It is not okay to carry this burden all the time. It is not okay to cause unhealable wounds when you make racist comments.
This piece is a Perspective piece. It was reviewed to ensure that it adheres to our content guidelines and category definitions. If you believe that it has violated a content guideline, please reach out by completing this form. If you have any other feedback, please get in touch by emailing [email protected].
If you are interested in writing a personal piece or a report for the Quest on this topic, we encourage you to apply to receive payment for your work in hopes of incentivizing more students to contribute and partially compensating those who do.