All posts by Lexi Zeidan

Lexi Zeidan is a Palestinian Jordanian American and a graduate of Michigan State University. She has also participated in Teach for America.

The jobless activist?

I’d like to believe I’m your typical activist. I feel some type of way about a certain issue, and, of course, I voice my opinion about how I feel, take part in protests that fight to achieve a certain end, and constantly push for change in our system for the benefit of those people who are not treated equally here in America. But for some activists, depending on what cause you’re speaking out for, a certain dark cloud follows you everywhere you go. It’s a cloud that rains on our parade when we want to join in the fight of allowing our voices to be heard. A cloud that oddly forces us to be silent for the very reason we want to speak up.

For those that don’t know me, I’m constantly speaking out for the injustices that plague the people of Palestine every single day. And in that same breath, I’m arguing against those ignorant individuals who tell my friends and I to go back to our “homeland,” while, ironically, this land was never theirs to begin with. It was the Europeans who colonized this country and ethnically cleansed the Native Americans the same way Palestinians are being ethnically cleansed in Palestine. Alongside these fights, I choose to stand in solidarity with the Black community who rebuilt this country, under the enslavement of the colonizers, with their bare hands, yet they are denied every single right that is given on silver platters to their white counterparts. And for those that know me, they can attest to the fact that my loudest voice can be heard around education reform, working to close the gap and fight against the bigotry that plagues students in low-income communities.

And so you can guess, as a Palestinian American living in America, I’m an activist that has heavy storm clouds bearing a heavy weight on my shoulder and smothering that light in my voice that gives me sunshine on a dark rainy day. A voice that has taken years to build up and speak out against injustices that face my community and communities alike. A voice that is sadly silenced by friends and family in that same community for fear of what affects my political views may have on my future.

I’ve heard it over and over again. “You need to watch what you say on social media; your employers are watching you.” “Lexi I’m not going to tell you again, watch what you post and what you write about, you never know how its going to affect you.”

Maybe I should make one thing clear- I’m not anti-Semitic and I’m not racist. First and foremost, racism is an institution. In summary, it is systems of oppression that are set in place, particularly in our laws, educational systems and certain communities to keep certain races from advancing.

Now that we have that cleared up, I will say that I do have strong feelings towards the inhumane Zionist movement that exists, not only in the state of Israel but across this world. And I wholeheartedly disagree with the injustices that plague the Black communities here in America.

But my biggest disagreement falls in the form of heavy raindrops with that dark cloud that follows me everywhere when people tell me to silence my voice for the sake of my future.  How can the caring of young children whose lives are stripped from them due to brutal acts of murder and racism put my potential future at risk? Since when did caring for other young individuals who are victims of violence due to an idea of ethnic cleansing become a view to disagree with? I care about these issues because every human life matters. Regardless of your skin color – Black, Brown, or White – no value should be placed on individuals to justify the killing or ethnic cleansing of a race.

There’s a narrative that exists in this country that more often than not condemns our Black and Brown bodies and heightens our White counterparts. When you hear the case of Mike Brown or the stories about Israel bombing Gaza and the West Bank, it all of a sudden becomes a case of “a right to defend themselves.” Where was Mike Brown’s right to defend himself? Where is Palestine’s right to defend itself? And here I am being told that I need to silence this narrative in order to survive in MY America, “the land of the free.” Where’s my freedom in that?

I don’t fear speaking up for my own community or standing in solidarity with another, because if I did, I would fall victim to the racism that inflicts our country every single day. While our Black and Brown bodies stick out like a needle in the haystack, I’ve come to find my voice be quite the opposite. I have come to find my solidarity with Ferguson and the voice for my community become the needle I need hidden deep within that same haystack to provide the cure for the racism that ills my community and other communities alike every single day.

My views should not denounce my ability in the work place. My Facebook posts, political views, or better yet, the color of my skin, should not be the telling source of my value in this country or the work force. What people do not realize is that people like, an Arab Christian whose closest friends happen to be Black and Arab Muslims, can be the change agents and the pivotal points of activism and change in this country. They are the definition of hard work, of understanding the struggle and still making it in this country. They are exemplar models of what our universities and our companies should be looking for in individuals.

And so to my future employers, soon-to-be friends and even family members who constantly remind me that I need to watch what I say: I choose and will continue to speak up for Ferguson the same way I will always speak up for Palestine because no boy or girl is less than another. But I hope to leave those who encounter me or any of my views in the future with this. Just take these war-torn shoes that we all wear and try to fit yourselves into them for a day, as hard as that may be. Imagine the roles were reversed, and because the White skin of your sons and daughters is devalued, they could be killed at any given moment. Would you not want someone in this world to speak up for them, too?

Why my test score is different than yours

Have you ever completed an exam, standardized test, or assignment and wondered whether the grade you received truly reflected the hard work you put in? Or did you wonder if it reflected the color of your skin? Have you ever battled an internal oppression that made your stomach uneasy, wondering if the reason you didn’t pass an exam was because of how you identified, regardless of whether that was or wasn’t the reason? If you never have thought or felt any of these things, then this post probably isn’t for you.

I have recently accepted a position with an organization known as Teach For America (TFA). TFA is a nonprofit organization that works to close the achievement gap across the country. The group places graduating college seniors in low-income areas where they are contracted to teach, hopefully impacting students’ lives for two years. But this post isn’t about getting to know TFA, so I’ll move on.

Part of our preparation process before going into the field for TFA is to take several state exams to obtain teaching certification. These exams include the Michigan Test for Teacher Certification (MTTC) and Professional Readiness (PRE) exams. Let me note that I’m horrible at taking standardized tests (for reasons that can be listed and explained separate from this post), so as you can imagine, I poured my heart and soul into studying every single day to make sure I passed.

As one can guess, after long hours of tedious preparation, I took my MTTC Elementary Education exam and, without a doubt, I passed! I was beyond excited, but only for a few short hours, when I realized I had to begin studying for my next exam, the PRE. The day I passed my MTTC I was informed by TFA that if I had reached a certain ACT score in high school, I could use that as a substitution for the PRE. I had a good enough ACT score, but deep down inside of me, I still wanted to take the PRE, and so I signed up for it.

My best friend Rima kept asking me, “Lexi, why are you going to take the exam? There’s no point?” All I could say was, “I don’t know Meme, I just want to take it for fun and see what score I get.” But in reality, I was battling a form of internal oppression, a feeling that was telling me I couldn’t take these exams and pass, so with every fighting ounce of me I was determined to do prove that feeling wrong.

And so I went in on the exam day, sat down, focused, and walked out knowing I had done a really great job on both the reading and writing portions. I walked out, confident that I had proved that internal oppression wrong. But there was a little regret that began to fill me as I turned in those sheets of paper to the proctor that day.

The writing portion of the exam asked us to put together an explanatory essay explaining what we believe to be important elements in freedom of the press. When mapping out my thoughts, I began to silence one voice in my head and allow another to speak up. I quieted the voice that usually came out when I’m afraid to speak my thoughts, the voice that “got the job done” when I was in a room with power dynamics that not even the Hulk could handle. But suddenly, as I began writing, I allowed the “inner me” to speak, and before I knew it, I was writing a four and a half page essay on the misinformation about the Israeli-Palestinian Occupation that emerges every single day through the “freedom of the press.”

Just after, I regretted writing what I wrote, fearing that the person scoring it would not fully agree with my political point of view. I regretted writing it, fearing that I had put myself in a position that may or may not come back to haunt me. I feared the reality that I have to silence my true voice to achieve what I want in life. After a day or two, I forgot about the exam, and I didn’t think about it again, until two days ago.

My exam results came in.

My score on the reading portion of the exam, as I had guessed, was off the charts. My writing score? Well, I needed a score of 220 to pass. My score was 219. Regardless of the true reasons as to why I got that score, as a Palestinian American, I continuously have a battle of internal oppression. Every. Single. Day. I’m battling that oppression when someone asks me, “Where are you from?” I hesitate to answer, always facing an internal identity crisis. I’m battling that oppression every single day when I’m in a room full of white people and I’m forced to allow that “nice” voice to speak up in order to be accepted. And I’m battling that oppression every single day when I have to wonder whether I missed that one point due to true mistakes or my political feelings. Regardless of the truth behind my score, unless you have ever wondered whether your score is a true reflection of your hard work or your skin color, you’ll never understand.

The fact of the matter is that regardless of whether the person checking my test knew that I was Palestinian or not, my score will always be different than yours, because I’m always battling an internal oppression, one that always questions whether my views or identity affect my success in this world.

Light at the end of the tunnel

*This post was inspired by BlackGirlDangerous which everyone should take a second to check out.

In light of recent events, I have decided to start blogging again. Not only for me but for my family, friends, and people out there who are constantly seeing images, articles, and a newsfeed filled with negative stories  that consistently force us into an identity crisis. Stories that consistently remind us that we live in a world that forces us to worry, to feel pain in our hearts, and to be hopeful of squeezing in genuine smiles when everything surrounding us has forced us to frown.

This post is not going to be a history lesson on the decades long Israeli-Palestinian Occupation. This post is not a history lesson to inform people of the true stories that are hidden deep within the rubble that lay over our broken countries in the Middle East or the solidarity that has existed for thousands of years between Muslims and Christians in Mosul. If you don’t understand the truths behind these stories, then this post isn’t for you.

This post is simply a post to remind every Palestinian child, mother, and father; every Arab (American), and every person that has stood/stands in solidarity with the crises going on in the Middle East that you are the hope, the genuine smile, and the light at the end of the tunnel for our community.

As I was reading Mia McKenzie’s book, BlackGirlDangerous, I came across an open love letter to folk of color. While reading it, I couldn’t help but think of how my love was growing within my four walls towards my community, while, ironically, that love from others was decreasing outside those same walls. While reading I thought of the wall that separates Gaza from “Israel” and thought about how that dividing wall doesn’t end in the Middle East but has traveled across the oceans, wrecked through the green grasses, and pummeled through the homes of my family members and friends here in the United States.

Despite that brick wall, I see every single one of you, tools in one hand, with peace and love in the other, chipping away, desperately trying to break down that wall.

Here is my open love letter to you:

—–

I am writing to tell you all that I am in love with you. I am writing to tell you that you all are the hope, the genuine smile, and the light at the end of the tunnel- not just for those of us who live here separate from the crises in the Middle East but for those there, too. I am writing to tell you I love your vulnerability and your strength to fight against the white supremacy that consistently delegitimizes and shoves our narratives under the rug. I love you all for taking away a bit of that fear that me and others alike experience when saying, “I am Palestinian.” “I am Arab.” “I am Iraqi.”

I love you for knowing what community is. I love you for knowing how to fight for your community and I love you for speaking up for your community until nothing but your own voice doesn’t allow you to speak up anymore.

I love the smell of our za’atar mixed with the scent of falafel deep frying in my neighbors backyard. I love the way you eat mensaf with your hands and roll grape leaves with your fingers. I love every piece of embroidery and bead that makes up our traditional clothing. I love every single color that represents each of our countries. I love that those flags wave proudly in front of our homes, despite the fact that you’re in a nation with individuals that tell you your culture is a “backward, oppressive, evil cult that has brought misery to their own people.” You, my loves, are just the opposite.

In the words of Mia McKenzie, “I love you because you are fierce. Because you are strong. Because you are hella resilient. Because despite living in a country that finds some new way every single day to tell you that you are less, you somehow continue to be more and more and more.”

I love you because you are changing the face of our media. I love you because even though you are doing that, you know that there’s still a long ways to go. I love you for knowing where you come from and being able to hold onto who you are with the “other” that you’re forced to be in this country.

I love the way you directly translate our Arabic to English and never feel the need to conform to the standard language in this country. “Close the light” is very much a part of our identity in this country as it is part of our vernacular in our homes- you refuse to change that and I love you for it.

I love you for continuing to have souls when you constantly turn on the TV and see your country being torn to pieces, or little boys and girls just like you only having a chance to live to the age of seven. When you see that every single day it’s hard to have a soul, but you still do.

I love my community that exists in the Middle East because they love, they fight fiercely and they live despite them unwillingly living in fear every. single. day.

I am Palestinian, I am Arab, and I am Christian.

I am Gaza, I am the Middle East, and I am Mosul.

I am against Zionism, I am against pain being inflicted on the war-torn countries in the Middle East, and I am against ISIS.

I am with you, I am with us, and I love us.

Sincerely,
Lexi