This First Person article is written by Reem Elawad, an Edmonton high school student. Her story is part of Black on the Prairies, a CBC collection of articles, essays, images and more exploring Black life in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. For more information about First Person stories, see the FAQ.
My dad needed to do some last-minute errands at Shoppers and had left me and my siblings waiting alone in the car.
It wasn’t anything out of the blue — in fact it had happened thousands of times before — except this time it was different. I was different.
Typically my brother would be relentlessly asking to play games on my phone, since he knew the answer would be yes if he persisted long enough. My sisters would be chatting, and I would often be daydreaming or just trying to sleep.
But this day, I was racing to make sure all the doors were locked and that the windows were only open a crack. Even after taking all these safety precautions, I still wasn’t satisfied, so I blurted out a request to my twin sister.
“You know, you should sit in the driver’s seat. In case someone comes.”
We were 15 at the time and hadn’t got our learner’s permits yet. Correction. We were nowhere near ready to get our learners. But to my relief, she dutifully sat behind the wheel ready to drive us away as I eyed the outside world, suspicious that every person passing by was someone who would harm us. Someone who thought we were lesser because of our skin colour and hijab.
After all, it had happened before. Just not to me.
The man punched the passenger side window and shattered it, tore off the mother’s hijab and chased the daughter. It was the start of a string of attacks on Black and Muslim women in the city.
I was not there. I wasn’t a witness, but I was still affected.
Before those attacks in 2020, one of my favourite hobbies used to be walking in the neighbourhood with my sisters and brother. Idle chit-chat would fill the air as we strolled. Stray cats would cross our path, an occasional dog would scare us out of our wits, but they were all things to laugh about as we enjoyed the escape from schoolwork.
After that, I was no longer allowed to stay after school to hang out with my friends. My mother wanted me straight home, putting an end to basketball, soccer and trips to the Circle K, because what if some other racist took inspiration from what happened in London.
And I stopped going on walks. I couldn’t stand the thought that one of our peaceful getaways could turn into the worst day of my life.
The sad truth is that because of how I look, because of how I dress, I need to fear for my life.
As a Black Sudanese hijabi teen, I have first-hand experience in how hate crimes can damage an entire community.
There are girls like me who think they’re alone. Who think maybe they’re being too paranoid, even when they have every right to be. Who face microaggressions every day while trying so hard to fit in with a society that doesn’t appreciate them.
There are girls like me who’ve had to change their lives because of events that have happened elsewhere. Entire communities have been shaken because of the actions of one person.
One step at a time
I recently got back into the habit of going for walks with my siblings. I make sure to place a barrier — street lamps, trees or fencing — between me and the road and the “what if” question plagues my every thought until we return home safely.
Every telltale sound of a car driving on the road sends a wave of heart-stopping terror through my body. I can only allow myself to breathe again when it passes, its driver unaware of the fear that haunts me.
I know that racism will probably never be eradicated in my lifetime, however I’m hopeful most of it will be. So that a child has no reason to be ashamed of who they are. Instead of seeing themselves as a target, they see themselves as a human being. I’m living proof.