The Final Teenage Year | Teen Ink

The Final Teenage Year

December 12, 2012
By NishaWadhwani SILVER, Flushing, New York
NishaWadhwani SILVER, Flushing, New York
6 articles 0 photos 0 comments

I was sixteen years old when the realization hit.
It came to me very late in life for some reason. Maybe I just didn’t want to face it, maybe I just didn’t want to victimize myself. It was only upon hearing another’s encounter that I realized it was okay to admit it, at least to myself.
My parents always wanted the best for me. It was why, despite being born in New York, the greatest city in the world in my opinion, my parents moved me to Massachusetts. They wanted me to go to the best schools while living in the best neighborhoods.
Back in the nineties, that meant being surrounded by white people, in school and out of it. The idea of it never bothered me any because—hey, I was like five. People are people, however they are. Like every other kid, I just wanted friends and to be liked.
My preschool was amazing. I felt like every other kid. It was as if I didn’t even realize I was shades darker than everyone else—which, you know, I didn’t. It probably had a lot to do with the boy that rode the bus with me every day, I think his name was Mark, who told me on the ride home one day that he was “going to marry me someday,” despite my color—an issue that was nonexistent at that age no matter what others thought at the time. It may seem silly to believe he had something to do with it, but I can’t shake the feeling that he did.
I’ll always remember him for those two reasons alone.
It happened in kindergarten the first time, in a different school. I was friends with a girl and I’d let her borrow her borrow a couple of color pencils from the impressive set my mom had gotten for me. When coloring time was over and I asked for them back, the girl claimed I was an Indian Giver. Or is it Taker? I’m not even sure of the insult—maybe it’s because that’s just how sheltered I am, or maybe it’s just that I prefer remaining ignorant to such things.
Either way, I remember going to my teacher, a pretty blonde whose name escapes me, and complaining, truly upset upon finding out the meaning of the insult. I remember expecting her to defend me the way she did other kids since as a child I was much different than I am now—quieter, shyer. Instead, she only told the girl to give me back my fancy colored pencils and told me it was no big deal, even though name-calling was strictly prohibited.
I didn’t understand why. I didn’t tell.
In the first grade, every day the line leader changed. It was in yet another school, obviously with a different teacher. Everyone went twice, and I still had yet to go. I waited until March, on my birthday, before I asked her to be the line leader. Finally, since it was my birthday, she agreed. Then, not even a whole two minutes later, when a girl started crying because she wanted to be the line leader, my teacher put her in front of me.
I wouldn’t cry. Maybe it was pride—it wouldn’t surprise me to find I had a healthy dose of pride even then—but hell if I would cry. I teared, I sniffled, and I raised my chin an inch higher and walked second in line on the only day the entire year that I had been assigned line leader.
I still didn’t tell.
In the fourth grade, my teacher was Indian; Ms. Anita was her name. Brown, like me. The concept was fascinating to me. I lived in Jersey then (I know—it horrifies me too) and I still somehow managed to be one of the few, if not only, brown kids.
Children are sensitive to environment. People don’t know that, or acknowledge the fact anyway.
In my previous town, some place in Pennsylvania even I can’t remember the name of, I was immediately popular, being the new girl from a different state. At the time, I didn’t care about popularity—I was liked, and that was more than enough for me. So when I came to Jersey, where the kids didn’t like me, my teacher—and this is where that whole environment thing kicks in—reacted differently to me, I couldn't figure out why.
Just as I couldn’t figure out the odd looks I got after 9/11. What did I know? I was raised with the white kids. I practically was white. Besides, I didn’t have anything to do with it—my own uncle, one of my favorite ones, worked only a block away at most. I’d spent the entire day in his apartment, my overactive imagine going crazy as I fretted about his well being.
When, at the age of sixteen we discussed racism, it was ironically Ms. Anita who came to mind at first. There was a particular incident, one involving henna, which got me thinking. I’d come to school with it on my hands and when people asked me about it, she cut them off, insisting she had to start class. A few months later, when she got engaged, she arrived at school with henna on her hands. She spent most of the morning talking about it.
I still didn’t get it. Not then, not when I dropped from a 4.0 grade average because of my teacher not liking me, and not at sixteen. After all, we were the same race. It wasn’t racism. It couldn’t be.
Then I thought of the kids there in that Jersey school, the parents. But in school, we never spoke of racism as far as browns were concerned, so I’d never been part of that, had I?
The more I thought about it, the more of my childhood came back to me, the more certain aspects of it stood out. The more it bothered me.
Still, I held my tongue.
It was at the age of nineteen when I was sitting with my mom at a nail salon, getting my regular mani-pedi, that the topic of my writing came up. My mom, supportive as she is, always questioned why I didn’t write about something a little more… I’d say substantial, but I know she doesn’t mean it like that. Whatever it is, life is different for a brown Muslim in America. Writings about such topics are important—so why didn’t I write about that?
I started my whole spiel of a writer’s niche and how that whole area wasn’t mine, no siree. Okay, so maybe I didn’t say that, the whole “no siree” thing because, really, who talks like that? Or rather, what nineteen year old speaks like that? Regardless, I said all that, argued my point vehemently, and ended with, “I don’t know why I can’t write it. It isn’t like I was exempt from experiences of my own.”
I don’t know what made me say it. I didn’t even know I really thought it, not much anyway. It isn’t surprising that my years of silence had my mom denying the fact. It was only then that I proceeded to tell her that the downside of living in all those high-end, nice little towns with the A-rated schools in the nineties, back when I was a mousy little thing, was that a brown kid wasn’t always accepted, no matter how “white-washed” she was.
There is a type of therapy that comes from talking. I’ve always known that, though I never took it to heart. So I spoke. And then I wrote.
And I realized: it changed me. I didn’t think it had, and I wouldn’t have expected it to, had I actually understood what was happening. I hate to say all of this is probably partially why I am the way I am. It’s all part of what makes me so determined to stand up for myself, to be so outspoken and bold. It’s what makes me want so badly to be heard. The funniest part of it all is that to this day, I’m often considered the “whitest” of my friends, whiter in attitude than even the people with alabaster skin. And in spite of it all, I still wouldn’t change who I am today.

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