How the lack of diversity in the Suburbs, affect the lives of Minority Students

As a person of color, it can be difficult living in a community that lacks diversity. 17 year old, Sara Hamada shares her experience living in a town that’s lack of diversity and how her life has been impacted.

Myriam Tshowa

SWAMPSCOTT- It’s no surprise that as adolescents we face issues with identity. With our hormones raging and society pressuring these images and expectations of who we should and shouldn’t be, it gets hard and confusing as a teen to navigate the world with confidence in who we are. Although school is thought to be an environment that aids teens ferment and hon their individuality, the sad reality is that it might just be doing the opposite.

Though the discovery of self has always been difficult, there’s a certain adversity that differs from student to student. Yes, we all face the struggle of feeling out of place and bullies don’t make it any better. But imagine feeling as if you don’t belong while also being ostracized for your physical appearance or your background.

Leading us to the issue of minority students living in predominantly white communities. The age old adolescent struggles of trying to find individuality and acceptance becomes 10 times harder for students of color. The burden of living up to the stereotype and the added pressure of trying to break free from your background, just to be seen for who you are, make it really difficult to be comfortable in a school were the standard is white.

It is a hard concept to wrap one’s head around, but if we were just able to put ourselves in other people’s shoes- to see what they see, hear what they hear, and feel what they feel- we might finally be able to see what it is like to go to a predominantly white school  as a person of color.

Sara’s Experience

Born to  middle eastern parents (father from Egypt and mother from Morocco), Swampscott High School senior- Sara Hamada grew up with heavy middle eastern and islamic ideals. Though she was born in the United States, Sara experienced many different cultures and environments; between 6 months and 4 years old she lived in Morocco, only to move back to the United States and settle in Revere, MA until the age of 5. Though she only spent a year in Revere, it had an immense impact on her life. The vibrant and diverse community made her feel welcomed. This came as no surprise considering her parents’ main attraction to Revere was its high percentage of Muslims/Arabs. Describing it as a “mini melting pot”, Sara was completely comfortable and felt connected to the people. So much so that she felt as if she was “in place”.

But her journey did not end there, her final destination was Swampscott, MA- a town that she would spend the following 13 years of her life.

Her story begins in Clarke Elementary, where even at the young age of 6, she experienced a change when she noticed she was the only person of color in her class. As Sara recalls her past, she says: “People were predominantly white, I wasn’t used to that.” Aside from the change in scenery, her experience in Swampscott was nothing less than ordinary.

Middle school was by far the toughest transition, the discrimination and ignorance increased tenfold and Sara’s discomfort grew rapidly. It started in 5th grade, when she got a text from a person she trusted and called a friend. The message read: “you’re a terrorist”. This was the first incident, it was like a sneak attack, appearing from thin air. Naturally, like anyone, Sara was in shock; the circumstances just did not make sense, why would a friend do something like this? Yet, she chose not to say anything, in hopes that this mess would just clear away as soon as possible. Fortunately, her parents found the text after searching through her phone on a random day of the week. Unlike Sara, they did not want to sweep this under the rug. At the first chance they got, Souad and Samy reported the incident to the administration. The perfect response would have been if the adminstration took action: if every teacher rallied in support for Sara, and the school took disciplianry actions against the individual and held an assemby about discrimination and its effects. The reality was the school did just the opposite. In fact, they took no action. When asked how that made her feel, Sara said she “ didn’t feel anything”. She explained that the middle school’s dissmive behavior was somewhat justified by the fact that it was the school’s  first time having to deal with a racial issue of ignorance and discrimination. Indeed, they did not know how to handle the situation. However, the problem was also that the administration “didn’t think they wanted to learn more about it… or how to handle it better next time” in the words of Sara Hamada.

The second incident occurred 2 years down the line, in 7th grade, when disturbing texts and conversations said by fellow classmates and “friends”about Sara were exposed.The first being: “If you wanted to get a bomb ask Sara”. And the second: “Sara will potentially bomb Nahant”. As one can tell the comments became increasingly more veil, yet they had no effect on Sara as she said that she did not “want to make a big deal about it”. Understandable considering that no one, especially a 13 year old child, would know how to perfectly handle comments like the ones previously stated. Unfortunately, Sara’s passivism resulted from her acceptance of the media’s false portrayal and stereotype of muslims/ middle easterns. She learned that in a post 9/11 society, to not take anything to heart because it was just how the media portrayed muslims as: terrorists, violent, and  anti-american.

Though it was an unfortunate and uncomfortable situation for Sara, she had something in this incident that she did not have before- the support and comfort of her friends. When word got around that these things were said, Sara’s peers rushed to comfort and support her telling her that these comments were “not okay”. Something that not even the administration did in the first or the second situation.

If you fast forward 2 more years, there is a brighter side, if one can even say that. High School- the peak of adolescence- was the greatest shift in Sara’s life. The diversity of the environment increased slightly, and it felt like a small break from the suffocating bubble of the middle school. Despite the fact but she felt better because she found her people of color and began feeling “connected”, the ignorant comments never really stopped when Sara got to high school. Even so a new issue rose: self-image. Sara was beginning to feel as if she had to conform to Swampscott’s social norms. To feel comfortable she felt as if she had to be a white christian or a white jew. This belief arose from the years of racist and ignorant comments, and strange stares. Like others, Sara, was beginning to see herself as her outside appearance; feeling as if her identity and her religion were becoming synonymous with one another. After all this was the image that her peers, neighbors, and the community pushed so forcefully down her throat. After learning of that part of her identity, she became less of a person, and more of an image, a model (to the people of Swampscott). In high school that’s when she began seeking to be seen outside of her religion, to accept and be accepted as a “regular human being”.