We are parked right next to each other. Finishing our shopping at the same time. Loading our groceries side by side. We both have places to go, people to feed. In so many ways, our lives might be parallel. I smile when I catch her eyes. She hesitates and then smiles back.
Why the hesitation, if even for a split second? Because people that look like me have given people that look like her every reason to hesitate. She dons material over her head that gives some a head start on judgment, suspicion and fear.
We officially live in a “I’d rather be safe than sorry” society. Or more bluntly a “I’d rather assume the worst of you than run the minuscule chance that you have the means, motivation and intention to blow/shoot something up” society.
We’ve seen enough 24 and Homeland to know the difference between a Joe-schmo and a terrorist. We got our anti-terrorist degrees from Hollywood U., after all. We’ve seen the statistics on slantedwebsitepostedasnews.com telling us that just as the digits climb in “#s served” on the golden arch’s marquis, jihadists are arriving in our country by the millions.
Fearists justify sounding the alarm at the drop of a hijab, sight of a beard, or whisper of a Middle Eastern tongue. These fearists spam everyone from their mom to their 2nd grade janitor with memes, quips, tales about how our country has been taken over and straying far from our roots. Reality is, they are pudding proof that our country hasn’t changed much at all – it is just as racist and phobic as it was when it was founded.
I’ve heard them mutter that if “those people” want to live in America, they should speak our language and dress our style. If they don’t, then we have every right to report them to the authorities… for questionable activity…things like speaking in words we don’t understand or glancing suspiciously around them. Wasn’t there something in our American roots about a land of the free and home of the brave.
What is free about forced culture, language, religion? What is brave about racism, uneducated profiling, judgment and fear?
The latest publicized incident – a person boarded a plane, speaking Arabic on a phone. The reaction? Feared. Reported. Dragged off the plane. That person has been humiliated and delayed. Something most fearists themselves wouldn’t stand for.
To that fearist, I would say – I get it. I sit in that seat and my heart starts to race. I’m putting myself in a 100-ton rocket full of strangers. I don’t want to risk the unthinkable. I find myself profiling the outliers, suspicious of all around me. I’m uncomfortable. I’m afraid.
But to that fearist, I would also say – you live in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Be brave. Instead of ruining someone’s day, and possibly their life, with your uncertainty and fear, try plopping down next to them and saying “excuse me, I noticed you speak in a language I’m not familiar with. (I therefore can’t complete my judgments about you. Instead of me making up my own conspiracies and ruining your day,) how about you tell me a bit of your story?” For best results, I recommend leaving out the parenthetical remarks.
The chances of educating yourself, making a friend and making their day are much much higher than the chances that you have been unknowingly sitting in the presence of a terrorist.