The Power of Representation in Media

To Whom It May Concern,

I have always left teary-eyed when someone from my local mosque made fun of my dark skin tone. My relatives would tell me not to go into the sun for long if I didn’t want to darken my skin even more. That always confused me. A student in my class had once compared the size of my lips to a drawing he did for a class project. Some of the students laughed but I was left speechless and began feeling self-conscious of the size of my lips. I felt ashamed of my dark skin tone and wished I had lighter skin like my cousins. I dreamed of my curly hair straight like the women in magazines, and I wished I didn’t have to wear my hijab to fit in with everyone at my school. As a Somali American Muslim woman who wears a hijab, I am overlooked-my voice is muted. When my country, Somalia, was mentioned in the news, it was mention with regard to a deadly bombing, a political disaster, or the rape of a young girl. Stories of Somalis’ who wrote poems or stories rarely reached my ears.

It wasn’t until I was fifteen years old when I saw a Muslim girl on a teen fictional television show called ‘Skam’. Even though the show was in a different language than English, I scoured for English subtitles to watch a whole season. I connected with the main character, Sana Bakkoush when she struggled with her friends who had a difficult time understanding her religion. One quote from the show stuck with me to this day, “I stress throughout the day with a thousand thoughts in my head and everything can be total chaos, but when I start to pray, everything turns silent and clear.” Never would I have thought that those sentences would swell my heart with joy. The powerful and accurate representation that this show gave of this Muslim character was both rare and important. The fans who were non-muslim were exposed to an authentic and truthful portrayal of a Muslim girl.

I applied to the KUOW RadioActive youth journalism program with the goal of writing an empowering story about my community. I was accepted into the world of journalism and within seven weeks, I learned how to write a script, voice, edit, and produce radio work. The story I wrote and produced about the impact Representative Ilhan Omars’ election victory had on the relationship between my mom and me won a Gracie Award in the Student Radio Category. This was groundbreaking for my mom, me, and my community. I wanted to tell a story about a female minority who proudly wears her hijab and pushes for change in a white, male-dominated society. I always looked forward to interviewing my mom. There were moments of laughter when I put a fuzzy microphone up to her face, and also deafening silence when she talked about starvation in the refugee camps. My story centered around inclusivity in politics, the harsh life of being a refugee, and changing society. I found the courage to use my voice and be confident in my identity as a Somali American Muslim woman who wears the hijab and I never want to change that. Once I completed the KUOW RadioActive program, I knew I wanted to be a journalist.

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