By Sarah Theodros '21
I never felt that I got to speak up about anything. No matter how hard I tried, I could never be confident enough to say my opinion. I was always afraid of what others would think and be in fear of sounding stupid. It started to annoy me that I couldn’t say anything because I felt I had a lot to say. Why did I care so much about what everyone else thinks? To answer this, I started to think about my own experiences because I wanted to see where the root of the problem was coming from.
As someone who is African American, I felt different from everyone else. My features did not look the same. I had darker skin, a bigger forehead, and thick and coarse hair, like an afro. To most, this might just be features, but they were something that I was called racial slurs for. Even if I was just going into a store, people in there would stare at me uncomfortably. I also looked like “the dirty people off the streets” and I wasn’t capable of being beautiful according to someone that I was just trying to make friends with. I was pressured to straighten or hide my hair because it did not look presentable enough. Even when I did wear weaves to cover my hair, family, friends, classmates, and even people I had just met would complain, “Why aren’t you wearing your real hair? You are being fake and ungrateful for the real hair God gave you.”
"Over time, I felt everything about me was unimportant. It was to the point where I felt like what I had to say didn’t matter either."
Sometimes, others would try to even pull off my weave thinking it would be funny. When I did wear my real hair, the same people would say, “What’s wrong with your hair? Please fix it. It looks so ugly.” There would be times where I would walk into a room and someone would immediately ask what was wrong with my hair and tell me I have no idea how to take care of myself. It felt like no matter what, I could never win. I tried to defend myself by saying that I couldn’t help the way my hair comes out of my head and that I actually did take care of it. Defending myself did not matter though because I would always just get laughed at and told that I was being too sensitive. It made me feel that whatever I said didn’t matter and that what I felt was an issue was unimportant.
It was hard for me to connect with people. I was seen as odd for the way that I talked. Sometimes, it takes me a long time to form thoughts, and I have to be creative with what I say in order to be articulate. It made me feel horrible because I could not be as fast as everyone else in my life. I also got stares because I would use African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) and people would accuse me of not speaking English and telling me I’m not grammatically correct. When other non-Black people would use it, it was funny and nothing was weird about it. Why was it different when I did the same thing? This question seemed to come up a lot for me because it would happen in different situations.
I remember one time when I didn’t complete my homework and the teacher yelled at me in front of the entire class. Yet on the same day, someone else, who was a non-Black person, also did not complete their homework. The teacher just said, “It’s okay just never do it again.” I understand teachers being frustrated at their students when they don’t complete their homework, but it didn’t make sense that I ended up being punished for it and the other person wasn’t. It made me feel less than and very small. I did not try to defend myself because my words wouldn’t matter. Over time, I felt everything about me was unimportant. It was to the point where I felt like what I had to say didn’t matter either. I felt unloved and everyone would hate the opinions that I had. It crushed me and it sent me into a downward spiral of self loathing. It felt like no one was on my team and no matter how hard I tried to change myself, I couldn’t.
"When you are compassionate towards others, you are using your voice to say that their lives matter. You are giving them a voice because you are giving them the opportunity to talk about their issues."
The chaos that was 2020 made me learn a lot about my past experiences. People were alienated because of identities they can’t control such as race, gender, sexual orientation, disabilities, or religion. Of course, this happened before 2020, but it wasn’t brought to attention much until last year. Why are people getting put to death for just existing? I believe the answer to this is a lack of love and compassion. This helped me understand my own experiences better because I was able to realize it wasn’t just all in my head. They were real issues other people just like me were facing. It was just that people who don’t face those problems were showing a lack of compassion by judging others. When I saw other people suffer with the same alienation, it made me confident about using my voice to say what I feel.
Compassion is relevant to the pandemic as well. Sadly, many people have died due to the virus. It is why social distancing is so important. It is not only to protect you, but to protect others. For some reason, people fail to realize this. In fact, some would choose to go to a social gathering without a mask over other people’s lives. Of course, this leads the virus to spread, and when more people get the virus, more people will die. That is why something as simple as wearing a mask is compassionate. It is protecting other people who are at risk from getting the virus which saves lives.
As you can see, the less compassionate the world seems to be, the more crisis oriented the world is. This is something I have always had on my mind the entire time I was in high school. Since I had self esteem issues, I never had the confidence to say this. I thought what I had to say was irrelevant or unimportant and that no one would care. I thought that this was just all in my head and I was being too sensitive. Since then, I have gotten back up on my feet and it was difficult to be able to bounce back because I had to deal with intrusive thoughts that were hard to reverse and no one was there to support me. Since no one would help me, I decided to help myself. I pushed myself to say my thoughts, to practice feeling confident when I’m speaking. I stopped listening to what others were saying about me and I started to feel my issues were real. I finally gained the respect for myself that I felt no one would give me. What I have to say is so important and I say everything loud and proud which is why I am speaking to you today. I embrace my differences now and it couldn’t make me happier.
If any of you feel different or small, this is confirmation that your feelings are valid. It is not all in your head and you are not just being “too sensitive.” If you know someone who is struggling, I encourage you to please help them and give your time to them. It will give them a support system and make them feel not alone and unloved. I am saying this because it is something I felt for a very long time and I would not even wish my own worst enemy to feel the way I did. It is a way to practice compassion which is a very important life skill for adulthood. When you are compassionate towards others, you are using your voice to say that their lives matter. You are giving them a voice because you are giving them the opportunity to talk about their issues. Compassion, love, kindness, and empathy are all the basis for human life and without it, we will all cease to exist.