How to tell an Afghan (the person, not the blanket)

There are some ethnicities where you can usually tell where that person is from based off their facial features, however, when identifying an Afghan, you might as well list all the countries you can think of. If I had to choose an Afghan to represent the Afghan people, I think I might go crazy. There is no particular common trait a typical Afghan possesses; there’s a wide variety. There are blondes with blue eyes and porcelain skin, redheads with freckles, individuals with glowing olive skin, Japanese and Korean look-a-likes, you name it. Surprised? Honestly, I don’t blame you. On T.V. you see the women’s faces being covered and the men angrily shouting (most likely the taliban). You don’t see their everyday lives, or their children. So wait, why am I going on about the appearance of Afghans? Because the great Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Be the change you want to see in the world”. Well, I like to live in a peaceful and educated world. A world where a person wouldn’t be shocked to know my ethnicity is Afghan because I am light-skinned and “don’t look Afghan”.

In high school, if my friends didn’t understand my culture or ethnicity then I guess that would be alright since we’re all just teenagers, we’re young, carefree and probably won’t research something unless we need to–that’s fine and understandable. However, post-secondary education is not mandatory and those who pursue a higher education means that they possess at least some intelligence, and always try to keep their mind intellectually stimulated, right? Well, one day as we were waiting for the professor to begin the lecture, the girl next to me glanced at my paper, read my name, then asked…

“hey, where are you from?” “Oh, I’m an Afghan-American” Pause; look of utter disbelief and confusion filled her face. “But, like, wait, you don’t look Indian.” Okay, um, what?! “Did she seriously just say that or did she not hear me correctly?”, I thought to myself.

“No, no, um,” feeling awkward at this point, “I said I was an Afghan-American, not Indian…poor thing’s really confused now…they’re two different culture’s uhh…” Oh my goodness, I was having trouble explaining this to her because I think I was more shocked than she was. “See, they’re two different countries” luckily my agenda had a map:) “The only thing Afghanistan and India share is a continent; we’re different, our cultures are totally different, it’s like day and night, do you get it?” I’m pretty sure she had a solid understanding now; she had a “lightbulb” moment, especially when she realized that they are two separate countries.

A few months later, I had another similar encounter with a different classmate. When he asked me where I was from and I told him, he said, “Oh I thought you were Polish or somethin’. ” And guess what? He, too, said “So, um, but you don’t look Indian.” At this point I knew. I guess most people think Afghans look darker skinned because of what’s portrayed in the media, when in reality, our skin tone ranges from really light porcelain skin to an olive/tan skin shade.

You know how most things happen in three’s? Like three strikes and you’re out? Or, third time’s the charm? Well, I had a third encounter. This time, it was my professor.

He taught political science and had his PhD. One day, he was lecturing about current events and mentioned that “democracy can’t be planted; it has to evolve. For instance, we can’t place democracy in a place like Afghanistan and expect it to prosper over night–no. It’s difficult to do, especially when our soldiers don’t speak Afghani”.

Afghani is the currency used in Afghanistan; Farsi/Dari is the language.

If this professor, who teaches political science and has a doctorate, does not have his facts about Afghanistan straight, then how can I expect my fellow college classmate to?

In my “About Me” page I said I wanted to share with you guys my culture and background. Well ladies and gentlemen, here we are. I want to share with the world the Afghan culture, how we look like, how we speak, dress, dance, etc.

An Indian can proudly say where they’re from, but as an Afghan I found myself hating being asked this question in the past. It’s not that I am embarrassed from my, I was just afraid. I was afraid how the person might react. Will they be mad at me? Will they think I’m violent? And I don’t even know why they will be mad at me..society has made me think like this. Why would people be mad at me? I didn’t do anything. So just like Ghandi says to be the change, I want to be the change because honestly, I don’t want to be afraid anymore. I don’t want to hide under my American skin, I want to be proud of my other half, it’s a piece of my identity.

The values and principles I was raised by included “respecting and listening to your elders, no talking back, be obedient, when a guest comes to your house treat them well–hospitality, when someone gives you a gift say thank you don’t refuse it and get mad because they got you clothes instead of toys, etc. Be a modest afghan girl, don’t be a whore, don’t be a slut, respect yourself, get an education.” As far as I’m concerned these aren’t values a violent person would be taught.

Oh! Also I thought I’d share pictures of some Afghan people; some are celebrities, others? Your typical Afghan.


Farhad Darya

Mozhdah Jamalzadah

Azita Ghanizada

Aryana Saed

Shafiq Mureed


5 thoughts on “How to tell an Afghan (the person, not the blanket)

  1. Very interesting and well said, though I would like to add that the individuals with light traits, like yourself, actually retain the ancient “Afghani” look if you will. Afghans are a branch of a larger family of Eiranian (Iranian) peoples. This is not the same Eiranians as that of the modern country of Eiran (Iran), but a larger family for which many modern cultures and groups were once a part but have now separated. The Eiranian peoples were a branch of the larger Indo-European peoples who not only shared a related language and culture but also related genes and phenotype. Their phenotype was pretty much what you described yourself as. However when the IE reached the near east, and were known as Eiranians (Airyans) they integrated and mixed with the local Near-eastern peoples there who’s phenotype were rather darker; this mix would create many individuals with darker traits, if not more individuals are darker not only because of the fact that darker traits are dominant over lighter ones, but also because of the fact that the climate of the near-east is quite hot. As a result we have many individuals of Eiranic origin who tend to be dark though also many who tend to be very light and Europid looking. As for the Afghans with Asiatic look or Mongoloid type, that’s a similar case. However the only difference is that this phenotype and genes came at a far later time. The Afghans (Eiranians) invaded the land about 3000 years ago, while the Mongoloid peoples came around a 1000 years ago, max. These Mongoloid individuals are specifically called the Hazara people. Based from their name you can tell where they came from. They are almost all descendants of the Mongols who invaded Afghanistan around a thousand years ago.
    Though it’s quite obvious Afghanistan is a multiethnic country, there are really no more than three main ethnicities and races in it – native Near-eastern peoples (Elamites), Europid Indo-European peoples (original Afghans), and Mongoloid East Asian peoples (Turko-Mongols).

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