“We’re wired to categorize. Hispanic. African. Muslim. White. I wish people would look at me and just see a human being, and not a category. You don’t judge them until you interact with them and assess their character. Just treat me like a human being. That’s it.”
– Zeki Abdulahi, Amana Teacher
I grew up in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in a middle class family. I had a very happy childhood, and I grew up to heroes like Nelson Mandela and Muhammad Ali. It was easy to be proud of being black in Africa. Apart from prejudices between different ethnicities, we had no real discrimination per se.
After I graduated from Georgia State University, I got my first job at a school in another county that wasn’t diverse at all. The principal was an older white lady, and even though I got the job, I always got the sense that she was waiting for me to mess up. That year, I actually got the highest scores in my grade cohort- my students performed fantastic. But she actually questioned me. How is this possible? How could you outperform other teachers? She just couldn’t believe that I could do it. She even had an instructional coach evaluate all the students in my class to verify if the scores I had reported were actually true.
At that point, I questioned whether teaching was for me. But thankfully, I found Amana after that.
But you know, coming to America as a Black person- my experience is very different from those who grew up here and have had a history of racial injustice for generations. Similar to other immigrants, my filter of white and black is not automatically there. That categorization wasn’t bred in me since childhood.
We’re wired to categorize. Hispanic. African. Muslim. White. I wish people would look at me and just see a human being, and not a category. You don’t judge them until you interact with them and assess their character. Just treat me like a human being. That’s it.
I’m trying to raise my kids the way I was raised. I want them to treat people the way they want to be treated. I’m realizing also, that my kids have to know their history, because just by them being black and living in America, they will face discrimination.
I want them to be proud of their roots- not just being black, or being African. Race is just one aspect of their identity. I want them to identify as a good human being. Everything else is a secondary factor. I want them to be comfortable in their own skin and in their roots.
And really, I want them to have a better life. I want them to be better than me. Don’t be like me, I tell them. Because kids look up to you- they want to be like you. I tell them, I want you to be better.