Image Credits: Personal Collection. (Right Image Photographer: Neftali Karlsson)
As I sat, happily clad in the cloak my mum had spent time making me for World Book Day, my classmate approached me with confusion etched across his face, "But you can't be Hermione, you're brown."
I stared as he walked away, nonplussed at the effect his words would have on me for the rest of my life. Whether or not his statement was factually correct, he had identified something I had yet to see - I was different.
I was born in Baghdad, along with two of my siblings and my mum. Like my Nana, my dad and my younger sister were born and raised in Yorkshire. As an ode to my mixed heritage, I was given an Arabic birth name - 'Hedile' - but I was also given an English name - 'Emma'. The latter was used in my day-to-day life, I imagine, to help keep things simple...
I never gave the fact I had two names a second thought though. I was Emma at school and Hedile at home. I viewed it as a celebration of my dual background. However, as my understanding of the world changed, this novelty would soon fracture my identity, forming two halves of the same person.
As I reached secondary school, the Second Gulf War began to rage and my Middle-Eastern background and ethnicity became all the more apparent. My differences became a target for narrow-minded children. I was told my dad was part of the Taliban and worked with Bin Laden, but when I searched for support from teachers, I was told to 'stop being a cry baby'. When I fasted for Ramadan for the first time, a classmate thought it was appropriate to squirt drink in my mouth, and in another instance, a boy screamed, 'TERRORIST' as he threw crisps at me. I mean, I could go on but I don't need to list all the ways I was racially discriminated against...
As I fought through my teen years, tired of being called a 'p*ki', I started to lean on my father's English background to establish myself amongst my peers, locking Hedile and all of her ethnic attributes away in a box. My English name, Emma, became proof that I was just like my fellow school friends. I began to shun religion, not because it was bad, but more because I didn't need another target on my back. Having not fully accepted who I was, I'd made it easy for an ex-boyfriend to break me down even further. His continual distaste for my culture and origin only served to speed the process of white-washing myself. I kid you not - I began to identify myself as a white, English, Yorkshire girl. Any mention of where I was born was casually cast aside.
It took years for me to stitch the two halves of my life back together and it wasn't easy. Disregarding discriminative comments in my adult life required a new level of patience. Now, if I'm called ISIS or Guantanamo Bay, I have to shrug off the insults seemingly cloaked as jokes, and simply feel sorry for the person who thinks they're funny or acceptable.
What worries me more, however, is that a man who openly discriminates against race, sex, LGBT communities, disability and religion, STILL managed to become President of the United States. I know for a fact that for many who are grappling with their identity, as I once did, they may now feel a little more lost in this world. But I say to them, and to anyone else who is reading this, do not allow fear and prejudice to flood this planet. Embrace your differences and your unique history because only by doing so, can we overcome a world of hate. Be proud of who you are. We have to love ourselves first before we can love each other.
So here goes... My name is Hedile Emma Al-munshi and I am 25 years old. I'm British and I was born in Iraq during the Gulf War. I am proud of who I am. I am proud of my heritage. I refuse to be filled with hate.