I used to struggle with my identities. From a young age, I was told to fit in, and so I did.
I’d stay quiet when I wanted to speak. I wouldn’t make a fuss when I needed to defend my opinion. I would remain composed when I was irritated to avoid a confrontation. To cope with this, I would convince myself that I was the bigger man. That it was for the best.
The constant shape-shifting to become invisible became second nature to me. I did not want to appear as a threat — or be labeled and handled as one. As a result, my confidence took a hit, and I lost my voice. I truly believed that I didn’t belong.
In 2002, I got kicked out of high school for stealing a laptop I had never seen. Again, I didn’t make a fuss but deep inside; something had broken the camel’s back. I had had enough.
That is when I made a clear decision to shed my “uniformity.” I dropped the facade I was hiding behind and found ways to gain the courage I was lacking.
Visualization became my superpower when I faced a challenge. I would converse with a version of myself that didn’t suffer from my shortcomings.
“Does it matter?” he’d ask?
“Are you really going to let them get away with that?” he’d ask.
“Hmm… I wouldn’t do that if I were you…” he’d whisper.
I started raising my voice when the room was quiet. I’d asked the person who cut the bank line to be respectful and wait their turn. Where previously I felt shame, I was now outspoken about my many cultural backgrounds. I didn’t care as much about people’s expectations on how I should and shouldn’t behave.
As I became bolder, I made a contract with myself. I promised to respectfully speak my mind and accept in advance the consequences that came along.
As a result, I noticed more respect for my boundaries from my peers.
I grew confident.
With that, I realized that an identity resulting from multiculturalism is more receptive and resilient and can help cultivate a more liberal and tolerant society.
Having embraced my own uniqueness, I embarked on a quest to share and embrace an identity cultivated on four continents — each with its own systems, patterns, and textures.
My name is Mohamed Thiam. I’m from Senegal, yet I was born in Saudi Arabia and later lived in Nice, Paris, Montreal, and Detroit before settling in Ottawa. I am comfortable in my dark skin, I dream in five languages, and I would love to hear more about your own journey.