I am proud of my nationality, my ethnicity and my heritage. My family always made it very clear to me that others weren't to be judged on their outer appearance but by their hearts, their deeds and words.
Therefore it's difficult for me to tell you my first experiences with racism.
It never occurred to me that the way people judged me was based on the colour of my skin or the country of origin on my passport.
I always blamed myself.
I always thought that racism was people calling you out on the streets, on the school playground or in public traffic, which of course happened to me on a daily basis.
However, it took me years to find out that racism is the reason I got turned down from the teams I wanted to belong to, the education I desired to follow and the jobs I wanted to fulfill.
Where it all started
I was born in Casa Blanca, Morocco and moved to the Netherlands when I was only one years old.
In the Netherlands I went to a mostly white caucasian school and therefore was always seen as the 'foreigner' and always left out of play.
I tried to compensate my looks by bringing food or other presents (on a daily) to share with my classmates so that they'll accept me as one of them. After years of constantly trying to fit in I finally made some friends and felt wanted. Which is when my parents decided to go back to Morocco.
At the age of 7 we moved back to Morocco. I didn't speak the language fluently any more, wore different clothes and was seen as the foreigner, again.
Only this time the verbal racism was worse.
Unlike the Netherlands where I got silently ignored and left out, I was insulted everyday in Morocco
The other kids didn't want to play with me because I wasn't one of them. So I applied my strategy of bringing treats and being nice and over the years they accepted me into their circle.
When I felt like I had finally been accepted, at the age of 15, my parents moved me and my siblings back to Amsterdam and the whole story happened all over again.
I didn't speak the language any more so I had to go back to primary school. Where of course I didn't fit in since the other kids were much younger than me.
I decided to get a job. I worked every day of the week even though you're legally not allowed to.
Soccer: they cared more about the color of my skin than about my talent.
In Morocco my friends and I used to play soccer 24/7 and even though we didn't have a trainer I developed quite some skills. So I tried out for some teams in Holland.
However, it was quite obvious to me that I wouldn't make it to the 1st grade team since it consisted of only white kids. I assumed that was because they were simply better than us 'foreigners'.
At one occasion the 1st grade team needed a defender so my coach told the other coach that I would be the best fit. However, they picked a kid from a different (lower) team who played at a different position.
Still it never occurred to me that this was a racial thing. I believed that I wasn't good enough, that I needed to work harder, that I needed to be better.
At one point I was asked to replace a kid who was injured (in the 1st grade) which is when everyone agreed that I suited the team better than the current player did. So they asked me to be a reserve (I sat on the bench for most of the games).
When I finally made it to the 1st grade team, I felt so left out.
Eventually I became part of their team permanently and played every single game. However, I never felt part of the team. I wasn't invited to any social activities and they never engaged with me in play or conversations outside the field. So after quite some time I decided to leave the team and go back to my old one.
The Police Academy
The next time in which racism shaped my life is when I wanted to apply for the police academy, I was only 16.
It might be good to add that they had an extreme shortage of police officers and that I fitted all the requirements, succeeded all the tests but still wasn't invited to join the academy.
Still I blamed myself. It must have been the way I spoke, behaved or wrote. It must have had to do with my performance. I couldn't figure out what I had to do to improve since as I said, I succeeded in every test.
The Royal Military Police
At the age of 18 I wanted to join the Royal Military Police. I got let into the the prior education course in which I succeeded every test written, behavioral and physical.
After a year or so we were ready to apply for the Military Police
I succeeded in everything however, was told that they'll keep an eye on me and that they'll maybe ask me to join later.
Whereas my (white) classmates who didn't succeed the tests got to join the Military.
After being turned down I felt lost, I felt like a failure like I was never going to be good enough for anything ever.
In this period of time I lost track of who I was and what I wanted. I convinced myself that I was worthless and that I would never bring anything good to the table.
At this time I worked two jobs. One during the day and one during the night. Having only a couple hours off every 24 hours. I continued to do for the next 12 years.
At 20 I started kickboxing
I felt at home right away. Everyone was so welcoming. All nationalities and ethnicities training together.
The best thing was that they only judged you on how hard you pushed and how high your kick reached.
I had learned to deal with racism, comments and judgements and I had grown to always expect people to treat me differently based on the colour of my skin and my nationality.
But having people who accepted me even though they didn't have the same background felt really good.
"Where are you from?!"
I often lied about my ethnicity to see people's reactions to different nationalities.
So here's what happened...
Me: "I'm 50% surinamese and 50% Dutch." (lie)
Others: "Oh how lovely! That's why you're so beautiful! " Me: I'm 50% Moroccan and 50% Dutch." (also a lie)
Others: "Oh okey... uhm... which side is Dutch?"
Me: "My dads"
Others: "Wow your mom is lucky!!!!" *
Or the other way around
Me: "My moms."
Others: ''Oohw, uhm, okey.''
*Dutch people have the belief that Moroccan men suppress their women and that the only right they have is to cook and give birth to as many babies as possible...
Racism; a thing of the past?
In the past year of my life there have been countless incidents in which I have been discriminated and unfairly judged. Even though in the last 10 years there has been a huge shift when it comes to awareness of racism. However, I know that in this life, there won't be a time in which racism doesn't.
Racism is something so embedded in our minds, in all our minds. Even in those who experience it themselves. We are all biased and unless we try our hardest to learn and correct ourselves this will continue to happen until eternity.
It is important for us to educate ourselves and our children so that they can educate theirs and then maybe one day we will look beyond looks, skin color, clothing and even education.
Because as you know now that too is a privilege.
I'm very happy with my job as a personal trainer specialising in kickboxing and (vegan) fitness. I can proudly say that I have friends who see me the way I am and judge and value me based on my personality and behavior.
What you need to know.
I have always felt like I wasn't good enough. My talents and deeds remained unnoticed even though I tried my hardest. I gave so much of myself just to be accepted but I never really was. That's something no kid should go through ever.
I don't think that any one realises the impact your racist behavior has one others Because to you it only consumes a couple minutes of your time but for me it surrounds hours of my day all the time.
Sometimes I think in a way it was good for me, that it made me tougher, that it taught me life lessons.
But that's just me trying to justify what happened.
I definitely learned a lot. Was it worth it? It wasn't.
No knowledge or experience makes up for the unjust behavior I endured during my lifetime.
And that's the reason I'm sitting here today, sharing things I have never shared out loud before.
To tell children and adults that experiencing unfair judgement isn't on them.
That no matter what the world wants you to believe you ARE good enough.
Your value doesn't diminish if others can't see it.
I also want to tell people who live in privilege, that no matter what you've thought or done in the past.
It's never too late to start and search for the value, talent and kindness that lays beneath our skin. It's never too late to learn and use your privilege to help others.
Told by Abdel El Bouni
Translated from Dutch