The Feeling of 'Otherness'

I am a South Asian Muslim woman who wears a Hijab.

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I remember walking down the hallways of my elementary school. It was the first day of 4th grade, and I had bought a new Hijab. It was sparkly and navy blue. I had spent an hour the night before planning out my outfit just so I could make my Hijab pop. As I walked towards my classroom, everybody stopped and stared. That's the first time I felt like I didn't belong, and to this day, the feeling has never gone away. 

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The past few years at Queen's have made me realize more than ever, this feeling of "otherness," and I have never felt more isolated. It is exhausting going through your day, and feeling that you don't belong in your environment. It is exhausting to constantly feel different.

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As the election approaches and I see the videos of people making racist comments towards NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, I am reminded that we are still not safe. A man told Jagmeet Singh to cut off his Turban, and painful memories of people trying to rip my scarf off of my head flashed before my eyes. 

Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour are still not safe.

If I wrote down every racist comment someone has said to me since I got to Queen's, it would likely be the length of a thesis, but the one thing that hurts me the most is when people don't try to pronounce my name right. My name is my identity, and when people do not make an effort to pronounce it, I feel devalued. I feel like an other.

While this feeling of otherness is a result of people's biases, and it's hard to change people's opinions, the one thing I've learned to do, is demand respect. I have stopped letting people pronounce my name wrong and correct them until I'm satisfied.

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As a Commerce student, we have name cards with our name and section written on them. On the first day of class, underneath my name, I wrote down the pronunciation of my name. People still said it wrong, but they tried to say it right, and that's what matters the most. It was a small step, but it is one way I have learned to stand up for myself. By writing down the pronunciation of my name I took away any excuse people may have had not to give me the respect I deserve.

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It is hard to decide to demand respect, especially when you have been denied it for your entire life. You start to wonder if you even deserve respect – I had just accepted that some people get more respect than others and this is the natural way of the world. The seemingly small act of building up the courage to correct others when they said my name wrong took me 10 years.

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While I write this article, I am also reminded of the privilege that I have. I grew up in a safe environment with access to clean water, food, and a good education, to which many of Canada's marginalized communities still don't have access. I may have been denied my identity, but in 2019 people are still being denied their rights. 

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As the election comes around, I urge you all to make an educated vote. What type of Canada do you want to see?  One, where every citizen rights are respected, or one where asking individuals to cut off their turbans is the norm?