The Center for Diversity & Inclusion is pleased to release the My Truth Series. This series contains daily blogs and videos that will be released throughout the week, capturing the lived experiences of diverse students at Hope College.
The comments contained in the videos are those of the respective Hope College students and do not necessarily represent the views of Hope College. If you choose to comment, please follow Hope’s Virtues of Public Discourse. Comments that do not follow the Virtues of Public Discourse will be deleted.
Safia is a Class of 2021 Computer Science and English Double Major. This exceptional senior was involved in: Alpha Gamma Phi, Theatre Electrician and the Phelps Scholars. She plans on pursuing a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing.
There Is No Purpose in Pain
As I am writing this statement, I am in physical pain.
I never knew a life without some sort of pain. I was born with feet turned inward and had casts slowly pull my ankles into alignment over the course of a year. I had surgeries to put pins in the bones, and another one to take them out. This introduction to some of the worst of life has always been a constant companion, lord so now that my medical mystery has a name.
And here, in the dark, in the quiet, it can just take up space. It’s not something I have to ignore or to mask or to push through. It is just here, a friend keeping me company in the wee hours of the night.
Odds are, if you are this far in reading this, you are probably having some sort of thought along the lines of “oh poor thing”. Or, if you know me by my accomplishments—my national awards, my TEDx Talk, my nationally presented research among other things—you’re probably thinking to yourself, “Oh wow, what an inspiration. What a leader in adversity.”
And I have been through a lot of adversity. Some of the details of my time here at Hope range from bias incidents to hate crimes to hospital admissions. I have done homework while running IV fluids, went to class on days I got hate-crimed. I persisted. I fought. And ultimately, I came out of my undergraduate degree pretty successful. I’m even headed to graduate school with an Ivy League acceptance in hand. I am the poster child of, in many ways, the American dream. I did it all, regardless of the barriers that stood in my way.
But let me give you my truth: I’m actually not a leader. And I am not an inspiration.
Radical, I know. Also, considering the context in which this is written, it’s ironic.
But the idea that I am an inspiration often comes from a concept so many of us are probably familiar with: that there is purpose in pain. That by still succeeding despite all my obstacles, I have done just that—I’ve taken this pain and used it to propel my success. And that this success, fighting through all that I have been through, means that I am a leader.
This narrative is what I’ve seen perpetrated throughout my time here at Hope. After all, To be a good Christian means to grapple with sin and temptation and choose to walk with God. It’s the knowledge that every struggle is just an opportunity to bring you closer to God. That The pain you were experiencing is to mold you into being more Christlike to make you the best version of yourself you can be. And that this is the purpose of this pain.
My goal here is not to bash Christianity. Frankly I’m also a Muslim so it’s really not my place to bash on Christianity. But to ignore the prevalence of this narrative on Hope colleges campus is to ignore the pain that it has brought me and other members of marginalized groups.
Because what this narrative does is tell marginalized groups that there is a correct way to deal with their pain.
That our pain, the pain of the intergenerational trauma of our ancestors, the pain of generations of murder and oppression, the pain that any white or privileged person cannot possibly even begin understand, must be handled in the same way as a white person’s. And that if it tries to take up any more room. it is harmful. It is unproductive. And it must be policed.
Because white people know that if there was purpose in our pain other than to uphold white values, in the pain of marginalized people, racism wouldn’t exist. Ableism wouldn’t exist. Homophobia wouldn’t exist. Fat phobia wouldn’t exist. Any system that upholds whiteness would not exist.
So instead, we must channel our pain in a way that brings us closer to God. Channel our pain into some semblance of success. Make it small enough that you can go on with your daily life, a cog in the machine that keeps marginalization alive and well.
My four years have taught me this all too well. I’ve watched BIPOC anger and trauma get deflected under the guise of bringing everyone together in Christ. I’ve watched LGBTQ members of this campus get their oppression justified because of their “sinful” lifestyle. I’ve watched women on this campus keep quiet about their rape as to not interrupt the Hope College Holland Nice. I’ve watched Christianity on this campus get weaponized time and time again as the only productive, valid, and meaningful way to process pain. And I’ve watched it shut everyone out who doesn’t subscribe to the narrative.
So when you call me a leader or an inspiration, what you are telling me is that I took my pain and packaged it in a way that makes you feel comfortable. That feels productive to you. And by doing so, you are erasing all the harm my success has caused me.
The times I attended school through seizures.
The times I went to classes after hate crimes.
The times I sat in rooms of people arguing my validity as a human being as though it is an argument with valid sides.
The times I cried, crawling up stairs to get to my classes.
Because my successes came with a price. An expensive one. A price I didn’t need to pay. My college career was full of the labour of carving out a space to just exist. And because I had the privilege of being able to compartmentalize my pain, to pay the price of wrapping my hurt in a pretty enough package—you hold me to the standard of an inspiration. A leader.
Because no, I am not an inspiration for doing what I needed to do to survive. I am not a leader because I managed to cheat the system and walk out with a version of success palpable to white society. I am those things because I exist. Because here I lie, in my bed in the wee hours of the morning, just taking up space. And that is the truth.