I’m Not a Jar to Label
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I've spent virtually every day of my life lumped into some sort of group.
Kid. Nerd. Artist. Writer. Seems pretty harmless. Right? Well, I wasn't finished.
Indian. Freak. Outsider. Terrorist. Still harmless? I don't think so (don't worry, I'll get back to that last one).
People saw a few of my drawings and said - "oh, she's an artist." They read a few of my essays and presumed - "she's definitely a writer." They saw a few of my test grades and thought - "she must be a genius." People saw the color of my skin and declared - "she has to be an Indian." They observed the way I spoke and labelled - "freak." They listened to the stories I told and agreed - "she's an outsider." They took one look at the color of my skin and decided - "damn, she's gotta be a terrorist."
So I sit eagerly waiting, I've been waiting for years. Waiting for someone to look at me and say - "that's Komal." To not be identified by a category. Frankly, I never even noticed when I was little - but little things kept happening, and I took notice. So hear me out - 4 quick stories, and hopefully you'll get as much out of them as I did.
1. On an algebra test last year, I got a grade that was.. less than desirable. Not bad, but not what I'm used to. I told two people in my class the score, as we made our usual post test return rendezvous. Later in the day, I was sitting in the lunchroom enjoying lunch with my friends when a boy walked up to me. Without warning, he pointed a finger in my face and yelled, "Ha! I beat you! I got a better score than you did in math! And I thought you were supposed to be smart." Being lumped into the 'smart' group made a not so awful score suddenly the worst thing in the world. I was beyond mortified, and at the time, I seriously believed my grade made me stupid.
2. Surrounded by Julia's and Sarah's, Joshua's and Sam's, my name wasn't exactly 'normal' in my town. I was famous in my grade! Er - famous for being the girl with the really weird name. Now imagine a kindergarten girl, innocent and very impressionable. Every day on the school bus, I was taunted, jeered at, made fun of, for what? Having a strange name. I hid underneath the seats of the bus whenever my tormentors came on the bus, to avoid further humiliation. That whole experience had me certain throughout all of elementary school and even middle school that my name made me lesser of a person than the people around me. After all, it got me grouped into the 'weird' category, which is obviously the worst thing ever. Right?
3. A girl ran up to me as I was walking through the hall and told me, "You should've heard (boy's name) in art class today! He was talking about how people who wear turbans are terrorists. He even mentioned you..." I was beyond dumbfounded. I'd heard countless terrorist jokes (which AREN'T funny) before, but none shook me like that one. I mean, how on earth could an article of clothing get me grouped into a band of absolutely disgusting human beings? How could the color of my skin influence what's really underneath?
4. I was in math class one day when my tablemates somehow got to the topic of citizenship. I nonchalantly dropped the fact that I'm not a citizen of the U.S. One of two non-citizens in the whole grade. The boy sitting across from me freaked out. He said, "Wait! So how are you in this country?" I explained to him that I'd been living with a G4 Visa, but had recently gotten a green card. He looked around, then leaned closer to me and whispered, "so like, are you legal?" I don't think I've ever laughed so hard in my life. I'll let you take what you want from that story.
I'm going to go out on a limb and say it - labels are dangerous. With each label we place, we're tricking people into believing that they're stuck in some sort of rigid category that they can't escape from. But I'm not just an artist, I like to play the drums, and sing. I'm not only a 'bookworm,' but I love playing sports and hanging out with friends. I'm not just a test grade, or a skin color. My hobbies, beliefs, and principles go so much deeper the layer of me that everyone sees - and frankly, I am sick and tired of watching people obsess over becoming a part of some 'elite' group. To throw away their individuality to blend in with a common crowd.
I don't want to be the next Einstein, or the next Picasso. I want to be the first ME. I don't want to spend my whole life striving to be someone else as if who I am isn't sufficient enough. Because I am. And you are. Never allow anyone else to tell you otherwise. You can only make a difference by being different, and that means breaking the cage society was so quick to shove you in.
Today I challenge you. I challenge you to break free. To embrace every doubt, every misgiving you've ever had about yourself and own it. To walk proudly and strongly with your head held high. You are a unique individual with more strength, power, and skill than you even know. I dare you to explore the sides of yourself you've been too afraid to venture into. To be unapologetically you.
At the end of the day, it's not your label that defines you. It's you.