Uswah Ahsan, Advocate for Racialized Communities

Ottawa, Canada

“My name, Uswah Ahsan, means 'the example of the best’ in Urdu. It was given to me by my grandmother, who was the matriarch of my family and the woman I looked up to while growing up in Pakistan.

My grandmother died when I was a preteen, shortly after my family and I moved to Canada. In this vastly different country, I wanted to live up to my name. My life has been divided into two parts: Pakistan and Canada. In Pakistan, I was surrounded by family and culture. Who I was as a young girl came into being through the cultural stimuli constantly disseminated around me. In Canada, I was told I could be anyone. I could live out the Canadian dream of multiculturalism, freedom and equality. Here, everyone treated each other with respect and kindness. Canada was my new home.

Despite how much we boast about diversity, our country can be full of microaggressions that indicate a greater problem of systematic discrimination. After a decade of being told that my name is too hard to learn, too ethnic, too incompatible with the English language, I felt that I wasn't important.

Because, after all, if my name is too incompatible, is my religion? My skin colour? My culture? Do they think I belong? This microaggression I faced throughout my life led me to question whether I should apply for opportunities, speak up in crowds and be a leader. I deterred myself from participating in certain areas of public life. I didn't let myself be the example of the best.

A lot of racialized people feel the same way and exclude themselves too. Our faces are missing from politics, from leadership, and from media because of single microaggressions that cause us to question who we are in relation to society. This is how the small leads to the systematic.

The stories of marginalized and intersectional identities are untold because society subtly tells us that they don't want to listen. To create a counter narrative, we must forge our own pathways to recognition. Last year, I started a non-profit called Ally Squared with a group of young people who, like me, recognized the need for effective allyship for, within and amongst marginalized groups. We've been forging our own pathway since. I may not be the example of the best, but I sure am the best example of me.” Uswah Ahsan, Advocate for Racialized Communities


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