What’s Your Middle Name?
Written by Ramsey Khasho, PsyD
My name is Ramsey Habib Khasho. I still wince when I say my middle name. (Sorry, Dad). The name harbors years of discrimination against me and my family, and the ensuing internalized shame. And then there’s the shame of feeling the shame, even after all this time.
I am a first-generation Arab American born to immigrant parents from Jerusalem who came to the States, like most immigrants, in search of a better and more peaceful life. Also like most immigrants, my parents brought with them the trauma of having lived in a country pervaded by conflict and fear. And so I would be raised in a small and sheltered Arab subculture, with constant tension between my life as an Arab and as an American.
I have great joy when I think of my Arab upbringing. Like many, I was raised through a collective effort, mainly by my nurturing maternal grandmother, Teta Emily. I had great fun with dozens of cousins who, as is common in the Arab culture, are more like siblings. Attending Arabic weddings and events was the highlight of our year—being surrounded by our people and proudly celebrating our culture through Arabic food, music and dancing. Our family gatherings were always high-energy, fun, loud and filled with laughter—with a guarantee of no less than 20 people, even just for an impromptu Sunday meal. Our collectivist culture always made me feel comforted and supported; knowing I had so many adults to lean on during tough times was a gift.
Arabic was my native tongue and I started school too young and with little facilitation of the English language. I grew up straddling two worlds––a strong, colorful Arab culture and the American identity I was forming through my school and community. Like many first-gen kids, I never knew my place in the world. To my extended Arab family I was “too Americanized” and to my American peers I was “too foreign.” I occupied this third space––a seeming netherworld in my child mind.
This feeling of otherness, of not belonging or even being allowed to belong, is probably one of my most painful memories. I didn’t have a place to latch my identity and say, “this is who I am” or “this is where I belong,” with strength and conviction. To this day, I don’t fit into the ethnicity boxes on standard registration forms. (Arab, Arab-American or Middle Eastern are rarely options). To many it’s just a check box. To us, it’s a lack of recognition, a symbol of otherness. Not having a place or space to publicly declare our identities.
This sense of otherness has been perpetuated by countless experiences of discrimination. Having to listen, translate and manage angry people berating my parents because of their heavy accents; aggressions and microaggressions from peers; the barrage of racist “jokes” and degrading nicknames; taunting me for the ethnic foods I would bring to the school cafeteria; the “random” searches that occurred every-single-time at airport security post-9/11.
It wasn’t until graduate school, studying the models of racial and ethnic identity pioneered by renowned research psychologist, Dr. Janet Helms, that I began the journey of not only understanding but accepting my ethnic identity struggles. Since then, I’ve done––and continue to do––a lot of work understanding myself, acknowledging internal biases, forgiving the majority, healing, and clearing a way forward for myself and others. It’s ongoing work. Work that I share with many immigrant groups. I am proud to say that I’ve reached a place of full value and blend of the best aspects of my Arab and American culture into a positive, fully-integrated identity.
But I am also acutely aware of my privilege. Because I pass as white, I have never and will never endure or understand the experience of being discriminated against because of the color of my skin. Because I am male, I have never experienced or endured the sexism experienced by women. The list goes on.
With privilege comes responsibility. For combating racism and all other -isms, to do the hard work of self-exploration including identifying and excavating internal biases, being open to feedback from groups within to which we don’t belong, seeking to understand the hurt and pain of marginalized groups, and actively choosing to be part of the solution to dismantle systemic racism.
April is Arab-American Heritage Month. Today, I stand with great pride in my Arab-American heritage and gratitude for the recognition of Arab-Americans and their contributions to our country. I celebrate inspiring examples like actor and founder of St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, Danny Thomas; Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib; first female Arab-American NASCAR driver, Toni Breidinger; Emmy and Oscar-winning actor, Rami Malek; and propulsion engineer, Diana Alsindy, to name a few.
Because of my soul-searching work I also stand in heartfelt solidarity with the many minority groups in this country who have struggled at the hands of the majority, bearing violence and racism and discrimination for centuries––African-Americans, Asian American/Pacific Islanders (AAPI), Latinx Americans––so many groups that make our country culturally rich and diverse and represent the best in who we are as a people. Let us also join hands and forces with those experiencing other forms of oppression, such as gender, sexual orientation, ableism, and socio-economic status. Let us stand up today together, against prejudice and for inclusion so that every child, every person, can experience that beautiful sense of belongingness.
CHC was built on the premise of celebrating differences. But we also recognize that our journey towards a more diverse, equitable and inclusive community is ongoing. This year, we as an organization have embraced and are activating the Beloved Community as messaged by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:
“Love is creative and redemptive. Love builds up and unites; hate tears down and destroys. The aftermath of the ‘fight with fire’ method which you suggest is bitterness and chaos, the aftermath of the love method is reconciliation and creation of the beloved community. Physical force can repress, restrain, coerce, destroy, but it cannot create and organize anything permanent; only love can do that. Yes, love—which means understanding, creative, redemptive goodwill, even for one’s enemies—is the solution to the race problem.”
—Martin Luther King, Jr., 1957
I, Ramsey Habib Khasho, proudly promise to uphold and represent and defend these blessed words that ring as true today as they did when Dr. King first composed them over 60 years ago. Please join me—join us—in being part of the beloved community. Always.
Ramsey Khasho, PsyD
Chief Clinical Officer
Special Note: At CHC, we are just like you. We feel, we worry and we care about our kids, just like you. We understand, we care and we are right alongside you. Just as we believe in the promise and potential of every child, we believe in the capacity and the innate strength of every parent.
With nearly 70 years of experience helping local kids, teens, young adults and families navigate some of life’s most difficult challenges, CHC stands ready to lead the emotional recovery ahead, with courage, connection and compassion. We are open and available for therapeutic services via telehealth. If you have concerns, just call: our expert clinical team is standing by to help you with the same level of care that you know and trust. We’re in this together.