Only Skin Deep

by Hannah Dailami

the ground. No, I am not what my skin color says I am. But that doesn’t change the fact that you still think it does.
I was in the second grade when my skin color changed the way I was viewed. It was a September day when my teacher turned on the television. This was new; we never watched the television hanging from the ceiling. I watched in horror as smoke and flames filled the screen. I didn’t see the people jumping, at least not in that moment, but saw the second plane hit.
My oldest brother was at the door, asking for me. He had a note in his hand that said Family Emergency on it. I went home that day to find that my father was safe but would not be coming home for a while. My mother cried that night, and the week after as we read about the retaliation against Middle Eastern immigrants. My mother no longer allowed me to walk to school, but instead was faithfully on time to pick us up each day. She was worried we would soon be victims of a crime we had not committed.
Reports were coming in day after day of hate crimes against Middle Eastern immigrants. Incidents like that of Brian Harris of Ronkonkoma, New York who was charged with a hate crime after he allegedly held an Arab American at gunpoint while making anti-Arab threats on September 11, 2001. Closer to home and just a day after the attack on the Twin Towers was Michael Herrick of Salt Lake City, Utah who was charged with first-degree felony aggravated arson and a hate crime after allegedly starting a fire at a Pakistani family’s restaurant.
I was one of the lucky ones. My skin color was often mistaken for being of Latin or Mediterranean descent. I would go along with anything if it meant I had “friends”. My siblings were not so passive and my little brother would be sent home with bloody lips and rage. But the internal damage was already done.
My skin was from then on the deciding factor between enjoying the playground games, and wishing I could be someone else. My favorite poet, Shane Koyzcan said this,
But the school halls were a battleground
Where we found ourselves outnumbered day after wretched day
We used to stay inside for recess
Because outside was worse
Outside we’d have to rehearse running away
Or learn to stay still like statues giving no clues that we were there.”
I longed to be accepted and belong but that would never be in my cards. And then I grew up. It’s true when they say that time heals most wounds. I am not looked at for my skin color but as the person who is underneath it. My life is no longer skin deep, but there will always be things that I wish people would have known. What isn’t printed on my skin are the struggles and sacrifices that my family has made for what you see.
What you see is my brown eyes and olive complexion. What you see is a last name that you cannot pronounce and try anyways with halfhearted attempts. What you don’t see is that my oldest brother is going through the Police Academy to become an officer. What you don’t see is that my youngest brother is a currently a Cadet for the Salt Lake Police Department. What you don’t see is the struggle we make to support our family who will be putting their lives in danger.
What you don’t see is that my father sacrificed 10 years’ worth of birthday parties, anniversaries and deaths so that he could protect your country. What you don’t see is that he came here for peace and freedom, and instead receives fearful looks and stares. So fuck you Rose Williams for telling the entire 6th grade class that my dad was the culprit behind 9/11.
This is my skin color, and this is my past. No, I don’t think that this essay is going to change your prejudices, whatever they are in. No, my father never lost his job but was instead a necessity to national security. We were the lucky ones. No, I don’t believe in racial injustice. But I’ve realized something. Not everyone is privy to see beyond my appearance and demeanor; what is only skin deep.