Press "Enter" to skip to content

Own Your Own Story, and Tell It Often | Khalid El Khatib | TEDxCUNY

where are you from there’s no question
that’s more loaded I’m from Iowa
I say no where are you really from I
know what that means I grew up in Iowa
the son of a Palestinian immigrant who
was one of the most popular physicians
in town
Dubuque was the type of place where your
neighbor was your doctor and he knew
everyone by their first name but my dad
specialized in geriatric medicine a lot
of his elderly patients had trouble
saying his first name they called him
Sam now when I was young I thought this
was strange my dad’s name isn’t so hard
to say once you’ve said it a couple of
times and my dad short dark with black
gray hair streaked gray and a mustache
to match didn’t really look like a Sam
but I got used to it and despite my
dad’s appearance his reputation as a
great doctor made him worthy of a
Rockwell painting he became Dubuque Iowa
Sam and then the world changed in
September 2001 all of my dad’s patients
learned how to pronounce Osama how the
world came to perceive my own name is a
bit more meandering in elementary school
during roll call when a teacher would
struggle with my name Khalid I would
shrink down to my seat I got a little
bit older a little more confident and I
started to say Khalid like salad with
the K teachers would laugh too and they
would be in surprise it’s not so hard
after all as if the letters in my name K
H a li D were variables in some sort of
algebraic equation and then the world
started getting smaller in 1999
Khalid al-amin helped you Khan when the
n-c-double-a championship and suddenly
all that hard work that I had done
making my name rhyme with salad faced a
at their most harmless people would joke
why don’t you play basketball and at
their most ignorant they would ask so it
was Khaleda black name in 2002 my name
was once again in the news this time
because Khalid Sheikh Mohammed the
al-qaeda terrorist to help mastermind
9/11 was placed on the FBI’s most-wanted
list at their most ignorant people would
joke but sure no fun to travel with and
had their most hurtful
they’d say there was no chance I’m
getting in a tall building with you they
were right about the travel part
traveling with me in a post-911 America
was a nightmare in 2006 on my way back
from London I was separated from my
friends and interrogated in 2007 I was
on spring break with 20 and my friends
on a cruise I was separated from them
detained for hours there are no red
flags on my passport I don’t have a
criminal record in 2012 on my way to
Edinboro for a conference my passport
was flagged by a ticketing agent in
Newark he looked me up and down he
started my skinny jeans my button-up
shirt and then he asked me why did your
parents give you such a sinister name
Khalid Mohamed El Khatib my name had
become a curse and then in 2013 a
different kind of Khalid entered the
and as DJ Khaled popularity swelled so
did the population of people able to
accurately pronounce my name my name
Khaled has played an outsized role in my
story now maybe it’s because my blue
eyes and my brown hair don’t look as
unique as my name sounds because people
don’t know what to make of me they’ve
painted on to me whichever Khaled they
know or they’ve heard of and the truth
is I’ve let them for years I’ve held
myself back when given the chance to
honestly articulate the Khaled that I am
and I did so out of my own discomfort I
live here in New York like many other
New Yorkers a few years ago I started
incorporating ride-sharing apps into my
commute and the thing about uber that
everyone knows but very few people
notice is just like you know your
drivers name he knows yours now about
half of my drivers are Middle Eastern
and they all want to know why I’m named
Khaled at first prying questions about
that early in the morning or late at
night felt like an invasion of privacy
my mom is American my dad’s from Jordan
I’d say I’d put my headphones in it’s
my mom is American but my dad was born
in the West Bank he grew up in Syria he
spent just a few years in Jordan it’s
just that the West Bank in Syria are as
politically important as they are
polarizing Jordan is the safest place
you can name when it comes to the Middle
East my answer to where my dad is from
may have been lazy but me evading
questions barely searching scratching
the surface of my story that was a
deliberate manipulation you see when I
do engage in the conversation with my
driver their questions are always
exactly the same so are you Muslim your
mom is Catholic how does that work why
don’t you speak Arabic
are you married no are you gonna marry a
Muslim I’ve answered those questions
before I’ve answered those questions to
colleagues on dates even in essays read
by thousands of people but to have that
conversation one-on-one with the
practicing Muslim made me uncomfortable
because the answers to those questions
bumped right up against the fact that
this particular Khalid is gay now I came
out when I was 20 years old
countless positive reactions made what
was once exceedingly difficult pretty
easy now telling someone I’m gay as an
afterthought in assumption sometimes but
to tell a practicing Muslim that I’m gay
that still scared me it reminded me too
much of waiting seven years after I came
out to tell my dad and even with that
extra practice that maturity and all of
those years it was hard Islam is a
religion of Tolerance but acceptance is
a different word I might have been
content to guard myself against
questions like that forever had it not
been for one very violent at the pulse
nightclub shooting I was lying in bed
when I first heard the news I had been
out late the night before I was tired I
was hungover and as details started to
trickle in I found myself paralyzed with
fear and with dread those emotions
spiraled every time I checked my Twitter
timeline a place filled with rat holes
and traps filled by self-proclaimed
pundits and that was a place where I saw
words I hadn’t seen or heard in years
words like Fayed Intel had suddenly
living together in the same sentence
that was when I realized that my
hesitation and telling my whole story
wasn’t just cowardly it was
the discrimination that I might have
experienced growing up gay and Iowa may
have taken different forms than what my
dad experienced coming to America in the
70s or in September 2001 but I know how
well he knows the pit in the stomach the
anger you can barely choke down and how
badly your heart breaks when a complete
lack of empathy manifest itself as
hatred just as marginalized populations
must stick together and fight for
progress and for empathy people like me
people who were born in exceptional
circumstances and have a unique and
uniquely American story have a
responsibility to tell that story with
the richness that makes them memorable
it took me a long time to get
comfortable with who I am I can’t take
so long getting comfortable with who I
am to other people there’s real urgency
here after pulse I made a commitment to
tell my story with repetition and with
volume in the past year I’ve written
almost 10 essays that take a current
event be it the election the travel
banner even the debate on gun control
and tell it what the uniquely gay
Palestinian and Iowan lands now through
that writing and my Robles tweeting my
friends have asked with well-intended
snarkiness how I can so incessantly talk
about being the gay son of a Muslim
immigrant and I tell them because it
matters about a year ago when
Islamophobia peaked around the 2016
election I wrote an op-ed in my hometown
paper in less than 300 words I reminded
readers that their hometown doctor who
served them for 30 years who saved many
of their parents lives was a Syrian
refugee that paper that small-town paper
kept the outdated practice of publishing
the mailing addresses with every op-ed
contributor so I braced myself for the
whatever sieved instead were 50 positive
and encouraging cards including one from
a content of nuns on the other end of
the spectrum I must keep telling my
story until a Pakistani immigrant driver
can believe without shock or without
judgment that you can be gay an Iowan
and Middle Eastern and still be
empathetic to what it means to be a
but where I really have to remind my
friends my friends who have known me and
my story for years is that to someone
reading my story for the first time the
fact that I can make mock Luba as well
as I can make a martini is remarkable
and just as remarkable is something I
have to remind myself that I am uniquely
qualified to say that being gay does not
preclude your Muslim family from loving
it’s something that fourteen-year-old
named even eighteen-year-old me would
not have believed and today there are a
lot of young people looking to their
social media feeds for hope instead they
are finding baseless claims and opinions
that are ranking higher than real human
stories so be honest with yourself about
who you are then be honest with others and never shut up about it thank you
Please follow and like us: