Oh, It’s Just a Coincidence
By Hawwaa Ibrahim
For: The Women's Leadership Conference (Dreamweaver)
SLIDE ONE- As seen on your handouts, a coincidence is defined as a striking occurrence of two or more events at one time apparently by mere chance. I believe that we as humans have a tendency to use the word coincidence very lightly and don’t really understand that sometimes things happen because of something much more than chance.
Bamboo is one of the fastest growing plants in the world. It is stronger than a steel pole and would, metaphorically, take the force of a thousand men to break. But it is no coincidence that bamboo grows. Bamboo is used for numerous amounts of resources. Shelter, irrigation, food for animals. Without it, people would suffer. Animals would die. Interesting huh? Or do you not care? Bamboo can grow up to 60 feet tall. Can you imagine these scrawny branches overpowering you? But what if we took that height, and changed it to years? It takes bamboo 24 hours to grow 3 feet. We, as humans take years to grow. And even when we’re at our matures height, or our maturest age, we are still growing, learning, achieving, and becoming the better than we were yesterday. Like bamboo, some of us don’t get the chance to reach 60 feet in years. Some of us make it 40, some of us make it to 10, and some of us don’t even get a chance to make it to that three feet. But why? As Americans, most of us believe in the equality of opportunity. We each should get the chance to be great. To reach 60 feet tall! But, the sad truth is the reason why all of us don’t make it that far is because there is no equality of outcome. Even though we are all humans, there is a minority of us that face an overwhelming amount of problems that hinder our ability to do great things. Or at least, we think there is. Whether it’s race, religion, or gender, each branch of this society has its perks and with perks come obstacles.
SLIDE TWO- I grew up in Chicago, Illinois. Wow, you’re not from Africa?! No, I’m not. My mother raised three daughters and two sons. Now, I’ve never watched the sic-com “Full House”, but I can imagine that our living situation was something like that: a full house. When you’re young, you don’t really care about anyone but yourself. It’s not until you're older, and that’s if you still have the memory of your childhood, that you realize what was really going on in your life and how the people around you were reacting to certain things. Chicago was a huge struggle. It was not hashtag goals, but it was somewhat hashtag relatable. Relatable to all those people who, at one point in their lives, were going through rough times. Who were going through poverty and an extreme amount of disappointment and loneliness. To begin with, Chicago has a bad reputation for, you guessed it, minorities. Drive-by shootings, gang wars, drug trafficking. Anyone who’s anybody could have easily been pulled over to the dark side. Especially if life has already handed you and you feel as if “how could it get any worse?” However, my mother is an excellent example of what to actually do in Chicago, Illinois. Her being a single mother really opened my eyes. Back then, I never knew what exactly was going on. I would sometimes see her cry or complain, but I always just thought that that was mother’s being mothers. Being picky about every little thing. Looking back on that now, I realized that it wasn’t just her talking, but it was also her doing. Trying her hardest to make her that all of her children were doing just fine. Some people find it very hard to be vulnerable in certain situations and I think my mother was trying her hardest not to show us all of the problems that were going on when we were younger, but honestly, without those problems, we wouldn’t have ever found out the solution to them. So I thank her for practically failing at hiding every single problem from her children. I couldn’t imagine how hard being a single mother was for her. Five children she had to take care of and it was all by herself. SLIDE THREE- In 2015, 66% of African American households consisted of a single parent. That’s one percent less than 2011. Improvement, right? My mother raised five children all by herself. Now, of course, she had a little help here and there from my grandmother and father, but for a majority of my life, it was just her. They say that families who grow up in poverty don’t own library cards, their parents never talk to them about further education, or they will fall back into the pattern of poverty until the end of time. Even though when my mother moved us all the way from Chicago, Illinois, to Mankato, Minnesota and we ended up living in a homeless shelter for the first three months we were here, she always made an emphasis on bringing us to the library. Not only to fill the empty spaces in times between sunrise and nightfall but so we could still learn instead of sitting around being sad. She always told us, and even now, that education was everything and without it, you won’t go anywhere in life. After three months, we moved out of the homeless shelter. From there, everything seemed to slowly fall into place. Of course from the outside, it always looked perfect. But that’s just the story. A stereotype of a poor black family who was stuck in poverty. Except, they never talk about the part where they get out. SLIDE FOUR- Here is the racial percentage in the USA. I’m sure most of you can guess what the highest percentage represents. But what about the lower ones? SLIDE FIVE- This wide gap between the majority and minority is no way a BAD thing. But it is something that we can blame for the constant mistreatment and stereotypes that get attached to every single minority group on this list. I am apart of that 13.3% of blacks and African Americans. I have to try six times as hard compared to the majority in order to prove to people that I am not like all of those stereotypes and that it’s not just a coincidence that I don’t fit them. You can imagine how hard work goes unnoticed when you’re so, so small. But why should that stop you? If anything, it’s a motivational push to do more!
SLIDE SIX- Now don’t worry. I didn’t just misspell stereotype. This is a new word a made up called a stereo-tally. It represents the number of odds that are stacked against me and keeps track of all the stereotypes people associate with someone like me. As I continue, try to keep track of your own stereo-tally.
SLIDE SEVEN- Religion is always a touchy topic that people try their hardest to avoid. And while I think there is a time and a place to ask about religion, there is always a certain way to go about it. Religion kind of falls in the same category as race. People time and time again get discriminated against because of their beliefs and compared to race, there is even a wider gap between the majority and the minority of races. We all know at this point in our lives, discrimination and prejudice comes along with being ignorant. No matter who you are, even if you think you know everything about your religion or someone else's, it still doesn't hurt to clarify your knowledge. I have been asked time and time again about my religion, which is Islam, and they are never really questions. There more of “factual” statements that people tell me to get confirmation. However, about 90% of the time it’s hard to confirm things when they're either extremely offensive or incredibly subjective. SLIDE EIGHT- Just like the gap between races, we have an even larger gap that comes with religion. As stated before, the gap that lies between people isn’t a problem. The problem comes when this gap gets in the way of people understanding each other. SLIDE NINE- It’s as if because the minority is such a small percentage, others think it’s not important, or that it doesn’t count as an actual religion that others hold dear. All over the news, you see cases of people suing for discrimination or you see other stories of people’s lives getting threatened because they wear a hijab or happen to look a race that is associated with quote on quote terrorism. You get a few major stories on TV or online, but I will confirm that it happens more than often and to anyone who just looks a little bit differently. I was homeschooled throughout my middle school years. There wasn’t much to do at home so my mother signed me up for track and field. In order to participate, I had to walk to the local high school every day for practice. There, a made a few acquaintances and thoroughly enjoyed myself. However, this was during a time where I hadn’t been exposed to the real world and how cruel it could be. A girl on my track team who I once called a friend come up to me one day. She said, “Are you a Muslim?” and I thought that was a very strange question because the topic of discussion had nothing to do with religion. As a matter of fact, at the time in my life, I always felt very uncomfortable speaking about religion. I never knew why. My thoughts were: it wasn’t something important because while religion can shape how you live your life, it doesn’t define you as a human being. However, my track mate was in a negative mindset when it came to the religion I have. She said to me “that makes you a terrorist.” Now, I can laugh at this now because I understand the ignorance that I witnessed, but back then, it hurt. And it hurts many people now. Every day, Muslim women are bashed and threatened just because of a thin cloth draped around their head. People are genuinely terrified of someone who the only thing that makes them different is one extra piece of clothing either covering their head or their body. Paris, New York, Germany. These attacks could have easily hindered Muslims from going outside, from living their day to day lives, from being the humans that they really are. But wouldn’t that result in the ignorant people winning? We shall never let ignorance take control of our lives and stop us from doing the things we love. The things that make us humans. People have a one-track mind when it comes to the way certain people should look and act. Oppression is something that comes to many people when they first see a Muslim woman wearing a hijab. They are stuck in this way that is pushed upon them. Mostly from the claims that come from the news. Nowadays, you see many people who are stuck in their ways and refuse to open their minds to something new. I think it’s more prominent and noticeable nowadays because we are also seeing more progressive people who try so hard to include and talk about the reality and concern for those not only in a minority of religious and of course, racial groups. But don’t just hide behind your religion in fear that people won't listen because of their prior thoughts about it. Be strong and prove them wrong! We are all afraid of something, but fare usually comes with ignorance.
SLIDE TEN- That’s strike two.
SLIDE ELVEN- My mother made a big emphasis on doing something with our lives and furthering our education. SLIDE TWELVE- We often see great people saving lives through medicine and technological advancements. The more money you make, the more people respect you and most of those jobs have nothing to do with the expression of creativity. That’s right. It is not guaranteed that someone who decided to be apart of the industry known as Art will get a job. As a matter of fact, you see so many people claiming to be starving arts and struggling on the streets of Brooklyn just to sell their paintings in art galleries. However, is that the only reality for art? Of course not. You would expect someone who came from a poor family to choose a career that would guarantee them success. Me being the person I am decided to pick a career where you’re guaranteed nothing. But does make me nieve? Or does that make me a person who is not afraid to take a risk? SLIDE THIRTEEN-As you can see, it takes a certain kind of person to earn a high wage. But I mean, that doesn’t mean you won’t make any money if your career choice isn’t one of these. I think, even though money is very important in this day and age, people are spending too much time thinking about it. We get told since we’re younger that we should always do something we enjoy. Something we love. But once we reach the age to pick our career and college, all of a sudden, that no longer applies. Yes, it’s hard to live life in fear of not getting a job, but that’s what makes it great! That’s the risk artist, models, actors, and whoever else take in order to do something they love. My parents talked about becoming a Journalist. Going to the U of M perhaps or maybe NYU. I always thought writing was interesting. I even attempted to write a book myself when I was 12, but it was never something I wanted to do for a living. I, funny enough, chose to become a fashion designer. I saw all those stylish, colorful girls on Instagram and in a magazine and thought: “There’s nothing like that in this town.” So I wanted to create my own. It’s a little hard working to break that stereotype that fashion designers don’t get paid or they’re extremely arrogant and the only thing they do for work is shopping. Of course, some of that is true. Just like all stereotypes, a few aspects could be relevant, but that doesn’t mean the whole group is that way. I guess you could say that those in fashion are literally materialistic. However, fashion means much more than sewing or buy expensive fabrics and styling items. Here, in this new generation, we are constantly seeing people breaking out of their shell and experimenting with new things that connect with the social issues that constantly arise in our world. Fashion designers are now finding a way to connect all of those issues and everyone’s concerns and anger into a more calming, beautiful creations that not only can touch on the issues at hand but bring awareness to people who may not have known about it before. We are exploiting these issues, not for the gain of ourselves, which isn’t such a bad thing, but for the gain of our society to become educated on it. Gender neutral clothing, black lives matter, and for me, our youth to step back and understand that time is fleeting and we only have so much time to be ourselves. SLIDE FOURTEEN- I’ve created five collections. From the topics of youth to the themes of politics and cultural fun. It never mattered if I was wasting money, losing money, or making money because, at the end of it all, I made a statement with hopes of influencing someone else out there. In this day and age with the unfortunate events that come with race and religion, I believe people need to take a step back and enjoy themselves. If not for a career, then to be able to understand people. I recently created a Club called The Daydreamers Club that brings artist together for a similar cause: peace. Artist may be considered naive for their career choice, but I have found that they are the more passionate people who are willing to listen to people of all kinds. Even if they’re not making any money.
SLIDE FIFTEEN- Now did I make a mistake choosing the career I chose? Maybe, maybe not. That’s something we all will find out when the times comes, but all I know for now is that I just added another mark for the naive artist.
SLIDE SIXTEEN- In this day and age, people will say that there are too many genders to count. However, that is another topic altogether. With original genders comes male and female. And with people who are different from each other, come stereotypes. Just like race. Just like religion. Just like career choices. Women are weak and too emotional. Men are strong and reliable. With years of oppression from one gender to another, I think it is extremely hard for people to just ignore gender itself. We all grow up with a certain idea of gender. That boys do boy things and girls do girl things and while our perception of gender has changed dramatically from what it was just 20 years ago, there’s still this mentality for people to see women lesser than man. SLIDE SEVENTEEN- I guess that’s the reason we are still getting paid an average of almost 20% less than men here in the US. And depending on your state, it's an even wider gap. Here in Minnesota, we are lucky to have only a 17 percent gap, but women in other states aren’t that lucky. SLIDE EIGHTEEN- Yes, these states have some of the lowest wages for women compared to men. And it's not because one is more educated than the other. These men and women have the same job. The same education yet they are still making less. This argument seems to be one people always go to in order to justify that women aren’t treated as equally as men, but it’s much more than just money. It represents what men get that women don’t even come close to earning. They’d be considered bossy or crazy. And I myself have had a fair share of people calling me that. I didn’t know wanted to get something done right was better than not getting it done at all! It also all depends on your race. Which is something that everything seems to lead back to. Minority groups seem to be put in that category or being sassy or rude just by how they talk. But the thing is, it’s not just that. I remember when I was in 6th grade, we were casually waiting for to go into our next classroom. It was math. I didn’t talk much when I was younger, but a lot of people had things to say to me. A boy looked me up and down and said: “ You’re going to have like five kids and be on welfare.” I look at him, confused. It was the strangest thing I had ever heard. Especially since we were 11 and weren’t even thinking about having children anytime soon. That’s something I will never forget because I knew that that was how a lot of people view African Americans or black. I didn’t let it get me down since I knew that wasn’t going to be my life. But some people don’t know that. You don’t have to act a certain way because other people believe that that’s how everyone else acts. You have to be your own person. It might be a cliche, but being yourself is what makes you special. Nowadays, there are more and more girls and even boys who are realizing they don’t have to do everything that other people of the same gender do. Change starts with the beginning of each generation and although there are many more distractions in this one, I have noticed that the younger we are, the more we are open to change. Change in acceptance of race or religion. Even change in how people view gender. We all should be on the same level of each other. All genders. We are no better than one another because of what body parts we have. Because at the end of the day, you could be an alien, but if you’re making a difference in the world by teaching equality or giving people opportunities that they may not have had before, gender means nothing if you’re changing the world.
SLIDE NINETEEN- I have a counted four odds stacked against me. And those are just the ones spoke about today. You might have one or two, or maybe you have known. In a way, they may make you privileged, but that’s a different topic on its own. However, even if you don’t have to experience racial, religion, gender, or career disadvantages, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be aware of them. As a matter of fact, that’s another factor that makes people ignorant: they’re belief that they shouldn’t have to be aware of other human problems because it doesn’t apply to them! Throughout my years, and I know it hasn't been that many, I have experienced many situations that don’t only apply to me. Someone else in the world is experiencing poverty or discrimination. Some else is stuck in a place where they don’t want to be and they feel as if there’s no way out. But how would we ever know about other people’s experiences unless someone opened up about them? I always thought that the fact that people share their weaknesses meant that they themselves were either seeking attention or just as weak as. Over time, I’ve come to realize that that is just not the case. Yes, some of us are humans and we have many weaknesses, but that doesn’t make us a weak human. When I was younger, I would have loved to know that someone just like me was going through or did go through the same thing I was. It would have made life a little more bearable to realize that it does get better. Now that I am older, I have come to the realization that weakness is normal. Everything that happens to us: me and you, is not because of coincidence. It’s not just lucky or being unlucky. But because I truly believe that everything happens for a reason. And if it didn’t happen to you, it would just happen to someone else. But without that experience in your life, you wouldn’t be the person you are today. Hard times make you stronger. Maybe even stronger than bamboo.
SLIDE TWENTY- Bamboo, of course, doesn’t just grow by coincidence. It is one of the fastest growing plants in the world. Some only grow to be a mere 6 feet tall. However, some can grow as tall as 60 feet. That doesn’t mean they all will be. However, each one has the potential to be as great as the other with enough nutrients and love. And with the right amount of resiliency, it’s very hard to be broken. No matter how many things are bending you closer and closer to snapping. In society yesterday, we said that African Americans who grow up in a poor household will soon follow in the footsteps of those who get arrested, sell drugs, and who will continue on a generation of unsuccessfulness. Yesterday, society said that once in poverty, always in poverty. Yesterday, society told us that women do not deserve to have equality with men because they are not strong enough, wise enough, or brave enough. Yesterday, society decided to tell me that just because I’m a Muslim, I’m not allowed to design clothes, or look good, wear makeup, or express myself. Yesterday, society told the world that when people break stereotypes, it is just a coincidence. Today, we told society that it’s not a coincidence. It’s called hard work. Our time is now.
Watch the full speech here!