The lights are on. The crowd is large and cheering. As I look around, starting to mingle, I noticed something strange while being at the pep rally. I couldn’t find anyone who looked like me. Was I the only woman of color here? On top of that, am I the only Muslim?
This realization hit me when I was in high school. My parents believed in a good education and unfortunately the district I lived in didn’t really have a good selection of schools to choose from, so my parents sent me to a high school that was on the other side of the city. As you can probably guess, this was the part of the city that was known to be affluent, educated, wealthy, and well, predominantly Caucasian. This was my first “being the only” moment.
As I progressed in my life and career I did see more of “my people” due to being in the medical field. Yes, the stereotype of a brown Muslim doctor is very real, and I didn’t see much of an issue. For once, I was not alone and I felt like I was in my zone. I had a group of women I could go to and ask for advice, and one piece of advice from one of those women changed my life and propelled me into politics.
When I had a career change into politics, I joined Emerge New Mexico. Emerge recruits and trains Democratic women to run for office. I was excited to attend my first event which was the kickoff for the class of 2017. I saw a dynamic group of diverse women. I was going to be alone. But what I did notice is that, again, I was the only Muslim girl. My experiences as a Muslim woman of color was different from my fellow sisters who were also women of color. One of our last classes on anti-oppression put things into perspective. We did the “privilege walk” exercise where you stand in a line and based on the questions asked you take a step up if you had a positive experience or you take a step back if you had something challenging happen to you. At the end of the activity I was the only one in the way back. I was the first in my family to obtain not only a college degree but a graduate degree. I was the first in my family to be raised in the USA. With all these experiences of being the first came a journey of being the only one.
Being the only one didn’t stop me. Instead, it has given me more motivation to get more Democratic Muslim women into politics. We need to know that we can stand for our rights and not fear that politics is only for the old white male, especially now, with our women’s rights in jeopardy. Don’t fear being the only one, sometimes it only takes one to make a movement and show another woman of color that you did it and so can she.
Dr. Sharmin Dharas is the executive director of Emerge Arizona, which recruits, trains and provides a powerful network to Democratic women who want to run for office.