ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Our series This I Believe is a revival of Edward R. Murrow's Project of the same name from the 1950's. Today's essay concerns a belief that wasn't broadly expressed until a decade later, in the 1960's. It was sent to us by a teacher in Hyattsville, Maryland. And here's our series curator, independent producer Jay Allison.
JAY ALLISON: In today's America, when the term post-racial is in use, Sufiya Abdur-Rahman's belief could be considered a throwback. But to her, it's central to her identity, pride and heritage, all of which are embedded in very name. Here's Sufiya Abdur-Rahman with her essay for This I Believe.
Ms. SUFIYA ABDUR-RAHMAN (Writer): I'd been searching for a job for months with no success. I was just about ready to settle into permanent unemployment and a deep depression when my siblings suggested I try something I'd never before considered. Why don't you put a different name on your resume, they proposed. Something less ethnic-sounding and easier to pronounce, something that doesn't set off alarm bells like my name apparently does. Out of the question, I said. If they don't want Sufiya Abdur-Rahman, then they don't want me.
I'm the daughter of two 1970s African-American converts to Islam. I am black, I am proud, and I don't shy from showing it. I wasn't going to downplay my cultural identity to accommodate someone else's intolerance, because I believe that black is beautiful. I believe in living that old 1960s credo, as out of style as it may be. Growing up black, and to some extent Muslim, colors almost all that I believe and just about everything I do - how I talk, what I eat, the clothes I wear, what I fear and love.
In fifth grade, while my friends disguised themselves as witches and zombies for Halloween, I became Queen Nefertiti, celebrated Egyptian wife of the pharaoh Akhnaten. I thought I really looked like her with my tunic belted above the waist, feet exposed in my mother's sandals and heavy eyeliner, just like I saw in pictures. My neighbor thought I looked more like an ancient Roman or Greek. Back then, I didn't know how to articulate to her the dignity I had for my heritage, so I said nothing. I just cut my trick-or-treating short that night. I learned, along with every other American school kid, that at one point in this country, being black meant being less than human. But that never made me wish I wasn't black. I love that my African people were among the most innovative in the world, and I'm constantly amazed that my ancestors survived a period of unimaginable hardship. I'm forever grateful to my grandparents' fight for equal rights and equally admire my brothers for creating a music and culture with impact worldwide.
So I could never mask who I really am, not even to get a job. People like me may have gone out of style, with leather Africa medallions and embroidered FUBU T-shirts, but I still believe in celebrating my blackness. It starts with my name and remains at the forefront of my identity because for me, there is no shame in being black. And I don't mean just having brown skin. There's no shame in having thick nappy hair, big full lips, a colorful melodic vernacular or even an inherent sense of rhythm, stereotype or not.
So I refuse to be anyone but myself, hip-hop listening, nappy hair-having, "Girlfriends"-watching, James Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurston, Malcolm X-reading me. I've internalized that black is beautiful, not a condition to rise above. For as long as it takes, I'll keep being Sufiya Abdur-Rahman on my resume and everywhere else I go.
ALLISON: Sufiya Abdur-Rahman with her essay for This I Believe. She said she thinks she may offend some people with her views, but she hopes she doesn't offend her brother, who did legally change his name when he was looking for work a couple of years ago. Our series invites listeners everywhere to participate. Find out more at npr.org, along with a link to our podcast. For This I Believe, I'm Jay Allison.