SO LONG AND THANKS FOR ALL THE RIFE

Asmaa reflects on her time at Rife and everything it has meant for her.

I am standing outside my uni halls. They look blue green in the light. I suppose the colour mould forms on bread. I guess that’s how you could describe racism at university too. Mould, that you never quite knew was there. I mean literally, our kitchens were filled with little specimens, growing out of cups, mugs, in the water, on the table.

I am standing with my suitcases, and also the lamp I never bothered to fix, and also the rabbit I stole from my sister and left under my bed for the six months I had been there. They’re all still lint-covered.

It’s winter, and the ground is covered in a white icy blanket. I can hardly stand upright on the best of days, but for some reason I don’t slip and fall. My friends that I hardly said goodbye to don’t even watch me leave. I told them I’d be back in a week, tops.

I told myself, as I dragged my belongings into my dad’s car, that I’d be back in a month, tops.

On the motorway, as my dad’s car skidded down it, I told myself I’d be back in a year – a year to recover from everything that happened.

When we arrived home, my parents seemed smaller than usual. My siblings were more silent than I remember, and my house was filled with an emptiness.

I don’t think my parents ever voiced their disappointment but it was there. As I sat down for my first meal that wasn’t cold mackerel and pasta in a long time, there was an unusual quiet at the dinner table.

No one would break.

University

I was never naive, going to university. I knew it would be difficult. And don’t misunderstand me, I met the most brilliant people there. But it was also, like, trying to grow whilst being drowned.

I’m not sure if that metaphor works. I encountered a lot of racism there that was incredibly traumatic. For some reason, everyone believed my identity was a subject worthy of debating. I remember defending my right to exist countless times, and I remember feeling like the only person who would fight for me.

The people I interacted with supported fascism with their words, how they treated me.

‘I’ll deport you,’ one kid joked.

Smallness

Nothing makes you feel smaller than being told that your hijab is oppressive, that your IQ is below average, that you got into university because of your race.

At first, I thought I deserved to declare war for myself, every single day, evening, night. At first, I thought that being told that Africans never created anything, and then having those thoughts echoed by professors, was normal.

Normal experiences of attending a mainly white university, a Russell Group university.

It’s hard to talk about it without it feeling surreal. But one day, I packed all my things and left. One day it wasn’t worth the few things that I didn’t learn, wasn’t worth going into debt, to be in a place I was hated in.

Bristol

When I came back to Bristol, I had nothing to do. Nowhere to go. My friends were still at university. I felt ashamed for failing, for dropping out, despite all the work my parents had poured into me. I had “made it”. And then chosen to leave.

I think that’s when I turned to being an artist. Something that was always on the backburner.

And so I stayed up nights painting, mixing acrylics around on a canvas, weird and wonderful landscapes, something Frank Ocean would dream up, endless series of eyes, telling me something.

I started painting miniatures on my nails, taking photographs everywhere I could, writing poetry, my long-lost love.

And in the days, I stayed holed up in my room, in my self-made cocoon of art, endlessly streaming Netflix, scrolling through Instagram for inspiration.

I saw a tweet advertising Rife, and I bookmarked it. A week later, I had a look at the application. Not for me, I thought, I’m not a creative.

Then my little sister, asked me what could I have to lose applying. And I’m thankful for that.

I applied, I got the job. And now, I feel like I have found my voice.

Rife is not lying when it says it cares about the voices of young people. Never have I felt as heard as I have in Rife, it provided me a platform. I don’t feel like I have to defend who I am any more.

I feel like I can exist, and make the art that I want to make it. And the people blinded by bigotry can choose to ignore it, but I no longer have to engage with them. Instead, I can search for the community of people who do want to hear what I have to say.

Most sincerely, thank you to everyone who has ever read or seen what I have written or made, thank you to the people who believed my voice is one worth listening to. Thank you to the black and brown folk, who so tenderly mentored me, spoke to me, and helped me understand that I have power. Thank you to the people in the Watershed, who shared their interests with me, everyone in the PM studio as well, who gave up their time, to grab coffees with me.

I could do a special shoutout to everyone who has genuinely touched me, you know who you are, but just know you helped change my life forever.

I remember writing on my Rife application, that I wanted to set up a magazine for black creatives. At the time, I wrote it as a moonshot, a goal that I would try to hit and then inevitably fail.

I thought me being a creative was a stopgap to returning to university, but it’s my way of life now. I don’t want to do or be anything else (sorry Hooyo and Aabe).

And Rife helped me do that. I have had so many experiences in my incredibly short life, but of them, this has been the most impactful and life-changing.

Wish me luck into that bright blazing future. Sure, with the recent changes in the world, it might be bleak for a black Muslim woman, but I refuse to dim my shine for anyone.

Support more young people to have their voices heard

Rife is Watershed‘s online magazine created for young people, by young people.

We offer paid internships and publish work by young writers, photographers, illustrators, and filmmakers from all sorts of backgrounds, helping them get into creative careers. Rife has reached over 8,000 young people through our workshops, over 220 young people have made stuff for Rife on topics ranging from mental health to identity to baked beans, and last year, over 200,000 people visited our website.

In these complex and uncertain times hearing from and supporting young people who are advocating for social change and contributing fresh perspectives has never been so important. 

Through supporting Rife you can ensure that this important work continues and that more young people have their voices heard.