• Omar Waheed

Opinion: The importance of representation


One of the hardest things in life is trying to find a place of belonging. You could join clubs, meet like-minded people, find someone that makes you feel complete, etc. Just finding a solid support structure. The issue is you will never find YOU in it, not completely at least. The next issue is that these places of belonging always shift because you are a changing person, we all are. Where you felt belonged before may not be true minutes, hours, days, weeks, months or years down the line.

In that effort, we have to segment facets of our being to multiple groups to get a holistic feeling that we are understood and loved. But what if you can’t find that place, or at least not multiple places to place parts of yourself? That was, and sometimes I still feel, the reality of growing up different. I was not represented in anything so I could not find myself trying to be a part of anything.

Being mixed race and growing up in Iowa, things were hard. Everywhere around me I saw faces of White. In person or media, it was a White game.

Off the bat in elementary school, I was the only Desi and Muslim, post 9/11 too, along with being one of the handful of minorities. While I was young, I was able to understand what that meant for me. Being Black, White and Southeast Asian, I struggled to understand why I was treated different despite not being just the new topic of people for the world to hate.

I thought since I’m White too, that should be enough, but with a name like Omar Waheed, it didn’t matter. I was treated differently and there was nothing I could do to change that, but it wouldn’t stop me from trying my best to fit in.

Years and years with no progress on that. Ultimately, I had to simply try and be comfortable with who I am, and I did to a fault. I ended up not caring about diversity or representation because it was a fruitless venture. That’s until I saw "Harold & Kumar."

The buddy stoner comedy was the first time I was able to see a brown man in a non-stereotypical fashion that, while my father hated saying it “created a negative stereotype for kids,” I finally felt seen and represented for the first time in my life.

This is a movie that simply has minorities. Not a movie about minorities being stuck in situations specific to minorities. It was an off the wall production that challenged a status quo in Hollywood.

And while the progress on that was extremely minor, it was a start and was enough to revitalize trying to find myself in things.

As silly as it seems being inspired by a stoner comedy may seem, it taught me that I didn’t necessarily have to see myself represented in an ethnic or racial manner. The movie is about two people getting some White Castle while high. They weren’t getting White Castle high because they were Asian and Indian, they were getting it because that’s what they wanted.

I realized that I could just go do the things I wanted to do, representation be damned. I could take the first step for someone else and be the change I wanted to see in the world. I hope that one day someone sees me doing something that’s typically dominated by White people and realize they could do that too since I’m doing it.

As society is becoming more racially equitable and we are seeing more minorities in places that we’ve never seen before. It’s opening gates for more people like myself to get past an arbitrary hurdle in their head in thinking that they aren’t allowed to do something based on their race despite how badly they want to.

This is why representation matters. This is why seeing yourself in even the smallest capacity is important. If that movie was never made, I would probably have tried to be whatever my parents wanted, which stereotypically was a doctor or lawyer.

At that, don’t let anything stop you from pursuing your interests. Be the change you want to see in the world and hope it trickles down to the next person and they reciprocate it until representation matters so little that we can all just do whatever we want.

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