College Essay: I Am Muslim, I Am Black

I am Yasmin Mohamed Sheikh Abdurahman Noor Sheikh Mohamed Hussein. I am Somali. I am American. I am Muslim. I am a Black woman. I used to believe that being all of these things at once was nearly impossible.

Walking into my first class at my first public school after moving from a charter school was quite literally the most nerve-wracking thing I ever did because of the dreaded roll call. In my eighth- grade English class after the bell rang on the first day, a teacher read names off of the roster. When it came to me, I wished I could melt into my chair. My teacher paused at my name, looked up and found me, the dark-skinned hijabi, then asked students to raise their  hands if their last name started with “Abd.” When I hesitantly raised my hand, wishing that this moment could end, my teacher asked,  “What a unique name. Where is it from?” 

To many of the white 13-year-olds in my class, the Black students who they were acquainted with were the “cool Black kids” who wore expensive sneakers, went to church on Wednesdays and got their hair done every weekend. I didn’t want to stand out. I shoved myself into a box where I only allowed my Blackness to seep through. My Muslim and Somali identity was never allowed to gasp for air. But I still wasn’t protected from the woes of an “African village girl” that somehow always found a way into a conversation. 

By the end of eighth grade, I had somewhat completed my social transition from African to African-American. As long as I didn’t do anything too wild, like dress in the traditional baati or bring Somali food for lunch, I wasn’t African; I was just another “normal Black muslim girl.” At that time, that was all I thought I could be. 

High school brought on a massive shift in my perspective, not only on my culture but also my religion. Nearly every Black kid at the school was first-generation American, with mostly Somali, Nigerian, Kenyan and Ethopian roots; many of them were Muslim. For the first time in a long time, I wasn’t the one who stuck out like a sore thumb. 

Not only that, but everyone was so proud of their home countries. They brought their native foods to lunch and shared it with one another. We hyped up our friends who would wear their native clothing;we  didn’t need to be “the cool Black kids” anymore. I tried to connect to my culture and language more, but it never crossed my mind that I would now envy the people who spoke their language fluently and are able to converse with family overseas. I found myself slowly reaching out to family and friends to help me learn my language. 

I was finally reacquainting myself with my Somali side and falling in love with it as I did. I rediscovered the rich qualities of Somali culture, from the brightness of its clothing to the poetry that diversified Somalia and nuances of its sweet music that made everyday life beautiful.

Up until now, I believed that it was impossible to be so many things at once. I am Somali. I am American. I am a Black woman. I am Yasmin Mohamed Sheikh Abdurahman Noor Mohamed Sheikh Hussein and I am proud.