A Face With Many Labels
Updated: Nov 12, 2020
By: Nora Al-Aati
Whenever I ask people in Kuwait where they think I’m from, I get so many different responses. Lebanese, Egyptian, Palestinian, Indian, Moroccan, and when I’m in the US I get Israeli or just, “Spanish.” It’s really interesting and quite amusing to see how people perceive me and decide which ethnicity I may belong to. If you don’t know what I look like, you could paint a picture in your head based on the ethnicities I provided.
Here’s the thing. These guesses are mostly based on the different backgrounds of people we have met or seen on the media, that have been normalized and fit into a little box in our brain. This my friend, is a stereotype. Apparently, I don’t fit the image of a Kuwaiti woman in people’s minds, even to Kuwaiti people themselves. Is it my accent when I speak English? Is it my wild, dark curly hair? Is it the fact that I don’t have “enough” Kuwaiti friends and I’m seen hanging out with people from other parts of the world? Oh, are my clothes and jewelry not expensive enough to be considered Kuwaiti or at least Khaleeji (from the Gulf) for that matter? Whatever it is, I am done questioning it. I’m done questioning whether I am Kuwaiti enough to fit in with my fellow citizens.
I’m not going to lie and say I’ve never wanted to fit in, because I have. I often still catch myself speaking Kuwaiti in front of people who I know are Kuwaiti (based on their speech dialect) so they know I’m one of them. You may not see this as a big deal but it is to me because my intentions for changing don't portray who I really am. I’m not a chameleon. I don’t need to change to prove anything just for a moment of acceptance. You don’t like who I am? Well, it’s been a pleasure seeing you walk away from me.
I have nothing against people of my own kind and my love for Kuwait is like no other. I support my Kuwaiti brothers and sisters if I admire them and what they stand for. After all, we’re a very small country and turning our backs on one another will get our society nowhere. It’s just a simple issue we need to work on (and the world needs to work on for that matter). Labels and stereotypes.
Practicing these two words is making it so difficult for people to live comfortably. And yes, it’s the person who is being labeled and stereotyped that also needs to prevent these words from getting to them and distracting them from their life goals. It’s a connected issue that must be confronted from both ends. To this day, I still believe that stereotypes are impossible to break. Let’s be real. Without stereotypes, what will guide our judgments and categorization of the people we meet? I don’t want to sound pessimistic, but I feel like this is the reality of life as a human. If you’ve magically never experienced being stereotyped or labeled, you haven’t experienced the full scope of humanity yet. It’s definitely not black and white, but it seems like we change ourselves to become that label or fight against it. And who knows, maybe we’ve been acculturated to embodying a stereotype without even realizing it!
What I need from you, the person reading this, is to approach human interaction with an open mind. Don’t be ethnocentric, open your ears to people’s stories, and learn. Learn to become a part of humanity.
Wearing a Korean Hanbok at the International Festival in Greensboro, NC