I grew up without images of people like me doing things, let alone the things I’m interested in. So when I studied my mom doodling on a notepad while on the phone, or when I gazed at my uncle’s delicate artwork gracing a billboard above Lahore streets, or as I soaked in the glamorous tales about my grandma’s brother, a famous Bollywood director who spun romantic films that flooded theaters and lined his pockets, I hoarded these truths like a fasting Muslim making their plate for Iftar. I so hoped this meant that I, too, could be an artist.
Over the years, I’ve been told I lack confidence and it’s my own fault. I should simply believe in myself, and there’s no reason not to. But my truth is, in order for me to believe in myself, I had to reeducate myself. For every movie and book I grew up with that was created by a person who is White, I’ve journeyed to consume a piece of art by a person of color. I’ve spent the last 10 years curating a museum in my mind filled with artists and works I admire, so when I sit at my desk to do my work, I ask less: why me, can I, do I dare? Instead, I stroll through my museum and know to myself: they have, I can, I am.
For those who engage in the psychological battle of believing you matter in spaces devoid of people like you, you’re not crazy, and I’m with you.