Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Maybe She's Just Like Me

I was at Target today and, as I was putting Baby Sally into her carseat, I saw a woman over my shoulder. She was wearing a jilbab and khimar. I never knew these words until 15 seconds ago, as I'm typing this post, and wanted to know what the words were for the long coat/dress type of garment (jilbab) and head scarf (khimar) worn by Muslim women. (BTW, I just googled it! That's the answer to everything... GOOGLE IT!) As I saw her walking toward me, my first reaction was a bit of surprise... simply seeing someone who looked unfamiliar to me. Then, I decided to smile, and she smiled back. I have the strangest feeling about seeing Muslim people in public, and for that matter I feel the same way about people with disabilities. I want to smile, because they are human beings and every person deserves warmth and love. But, I wonder if they feel like I'm staring at them. I wonder if their emotions have been tainted by the inescapable remarks of ignorant, insensitive people. I wonder if they just want to be left alone.

Then I just thought to myself, I don't know any of that. Maybe, she's just like me. Maybe she just wants to be treated like a regular person. Not judged by her skin color, or her clothes, but just by her smile.

When we first moved to Texas, my neighbor down the street was helping me figure out where all the stores were in our neighborhood. A new Wal-Mart had recently opened just up the highway from us. She told me to go to that one, not the other Walmart about 3 miles away. She said, "Don't go there. Ya know, a lot of blacks and hispanics go there. It's just not a good store to go to." Her comments made my skin crawl a little bit. If she'd said That store isn't safe or That store isn't clean or even That store isn't as close as the new one, I can see her making the comment. But, why should I avoid a store just because black or hispanic people shop there? Maybe she considers black and hispanic people unsafe?

I guess most people would call me privileged. I am white, I have blond hair, I grew up in an upper-middle class family. I have traveled to Europe and my parents paid for me to go to college. I don't stand out in a crowd and I don't think anyone would single me out for any reason. Except maybe that I'm a woman, but even that glass ceiling has been shattered many years ago. Possibly I can not imagine what it's like to be different. Maybe I would have to walk a mile in the shoes of someone of a different race, or physical ability, or nationality, or sexual orientation, or even religion, to really get a grasp of how it feels to have judgment passed on me without my knowledge or consent.

I think, judging a person because of their outward appearance is wrong. It should not be acceptable in our society, no matter what the situation is. In the same way that I wouldn't want to be unjustly singled out because of a physical quality I cannot control, I also don't think it would be fair to celebrate that difference either. I wouldn't want someone to give an advantage to me just because I'm white. For example, when I pick a doctor for my children, I just want the person who will do the best job, whether he or she is black or white. Sometimes age will affect experience, so I admit I do consider that. But, my kids need the best care I can find for them, no matter if the doctor's name is Davis or Sun or Rivera (actual names of our doctors in the past).

Which kinda leads me to thinking about the inauguration and Barack Obama. I know that everyone is very very excited for this historic day: the first African-American President will be sworn into office. But, I wonder how President-Elect Obama feels about being celebrated for his skin color. I just feel that calling so much attention to his skin color, which he had no control over, really minimizes all his accomplishments as a politician. While I am not in agreement with his political beliefs, I do recognize that he's worked very hard in his short political career. And, I start to wonder, is he like me? Does he wish, just for one minute, that people would stop paying so much attention to his physical qualities and instead start recognizing the results of what he's worked so hard for?

I think it's not that hard to see people as people. But, I also think we're kidding ourselves when we say that we are free of prejudice. We can WANT to be without prejudice, but it still exists in us. Maybe our prejudice is about drivers over the age of 75. Or about garbage collectors. Or about people who are overweight. I don't think the solution is to try to completely get rid of our prejudices. Maybe we can simply admit that we have them, and admit that they aren't right, and just keep working to get past them.


Misadventurous Mommy said...

Amen! It's about time someone said this...all of this! I feel EXACTLY the same way you do...I hate that there are people in this world and even in our lives who feel that it's necessary to hate someone based solely on their appearance or religion on any of's hate plain and simple and that is never right! Great post!

Chris said...

Amen is right!!! I remember being at a friends house one time and her mother was badmouthing black people. "Blah Blah Blah... and so lazy! The women were working their butts off and he just stood there watching." I couldn't help but correct her thinking. "That had nothing to do with his skin color! He was lazy cuz... he's a man" =P

jori-o said...

Haha! When I opened your page, there weren't any comments, so I was all ready to shout AMEN! but someone beat me to it. But I'll say it anyway, AMEN, sister!

Every Day Goddess said...

I love this! So true. I love seeing people through childrens eyes because they never notice those things about anyone, at least mine don't. They may comment on the clothes or shoes, but never do they pay attention to the persons skin. My brother in law is Chinese and just now my daughter realized that his skin was "Tanner" than ours! If only we could all view each other through the eyes of children!

andrea said...

I totally agree with your statement that people should not be lauded OR discriminated on regarding physical attributes. And you are also right when you say EVERYBODY has some kind of prejudice, foisted upon them by experience or influential people in their is an unfair system of labeling and judgment. And judgment of self and others is THE single most poison we can spread or hold onto. You sure got my "thoughtful juices" flowing!
P.S.that comment guy with the middle finger scared me a little.

Jennifer said...

Agree 100%. Racism makes me want to hurl. Hey, maybe that's the answer. The next time I witness it I can just puke on the offender. I mean, who wants to be puked on?

Jana, Mom to Mr. Q and Miss E + 7 said...

I loved this blog.... I had to forward it to my ex dh. Our daughter is due to have a mixed race baby any day. He has a real problem with it. I learned this morning our son is also dating outside of his race. This is just something I hope will touch my ex, and help open his eyes.

Beautiful, thanks.

Texan Mama @ Who Put Me In Charge said...

Wow, everybody, thanks for all the accolades! And, @Jennifer, YES I think puking on a racist is completely acceptable. Especially since they can't PROVE you did it on purpose! And @Andrea, if the middle finger scared ya a little bit, then he's doin his job. Sorry for the fright, but I gotta get those snarky snarkers off my page!

Thanks for coming by everybody!

The Nice One said...

You know, I have to tell you that something that soured me about the celebration of Barak was how uppity Oprah and the like got about his skin color. I mean...really. Shouldn't we celebrate him for being an accomplished man. Not an accomplished man whose skin color is slightly different than the other presidents we've had?
It really really bugs me.

But what do I know?!

Jen said...

Have I ever told you that I so love how your mind works? It is just such a beautiful thing that comes up with such awesome posts.

Bridgett said...

My daughter's school has a Muslim family--dad is from Bosnia, mom is an American born convert who wears floor length black complete with headscarf all the time. She is as American as I am, I mean, seriously--we sat on the garden committee and joked about our respective relatives who have been caught doing meth (Missouri, ya know) and how much we hate cutting the grass (her husband is in a wheelchair; my husband doesn't "do" lawns). It's experiences like these that break down those barriers that make you (anyone) feel awkward. Now, she's a far cry from a recent immigrant who doesn't speak my language, much less get my jokes, but she's been kind of my gateway into not seeing it as such a strong difference--it's slowly becoming more like running into people of different races at the store (which I'm not awkward about) than running into someone with serious handicaps (I understood immediately what you meant).

It takes some generations, I would think. My German ancestors who refused to learn English probably struck the WASP population in other parts of St. Louis as bumpkins or a menace or worse....

Christine said...

Speaking as the mom of a disabled child...we love the looks smiles, comments, questions. In fact I know Regan would be anxious to nswer anything you wanted to know...because as she puts it..."once you get past that part, the rest is all good". Thanks for another great post!

Carrie Thompson said...

I agree it is hard to not be prejudiced in some way or another. You are right we all are--- maybe the difference is whether we act on it??? If we dont go to the Walmart because there are blacks and hispanics that would be wrong...if we dont go to that walmart because unfortunately it is unsafe that that is just smart.

About Barack... it is no secret that I absolutely did not vote for the man! Nor is it a secret that I didnt vote for him because of skin color--- it was his politics---- but if he fails I would like to know who all the people are gonna blame?

his politics
his skin color
no one gave him a fair chance
the prior admin messed it to bad????

Is anyone else curious about this?

Anna See said...

I loved your post today! You put it so well!

Mrs. S said...

This is so true. Racism of any kind really upsets me. I try really hard to see people for who they are, not race, religion, handicaps, any of those. My husband is from Brazil and looks "black" though i'd say more mulatto, but Dad had a problem with it...and I think still does to some extent. He is worried that our children will have a hard i told him the only reason they will have a problem is because of people like him.

I really like Obama actually. Like you said he is very accomplished. I do not expect him to change the nation in his term, but I do hope he makes steps towards the right direction. I recognize that as an the First African American President, that is a huge accomplishment. But I agree, the fact that it is such a huge focus, I believe is a problem. I hope that people who do focus on that can learn to see him for what he, yes. But a man in politics nonetheless.

stephanie (bad mom) said...

Quite well said, all around. Good to have people like you raising children these days :D

Anonymous said...

Whoa. Heavy stuff man. But very well said.

anymommy said...

Well said and thanks for making me think. I think about this subject a lot, because my daughter is black and lives in our white family and in our world. I get irritated with people who fuss over her, clearly just because of her skin color. But then, I do want to be friendly and open to new people, not cynical about their motives. But, for our small part, we always love a smile!

tz said...

oh my gosh, fantastic post, I'm so glad I'm procastinating and surfing blogs...(found you off of anymommy's blog)
anyhow, when you wrote about growing up privledged. I felt the same way but in a hispanic household (well half hispanic) we grew up in a good neighborhood, good schools, got to go to europe didn't occur to me that I was any different until my dad came to me w/ the paperwork for a summer program for minority students and I looked at him and said, "dad, I'm not a minority, people don't like them and people like me" Out of the mouths of babes (well ok jr high, but now that I'm the age I am, that's a baby)

so I totally wrote way too much, but loved your blog and thanks for a great post

oh, and I do the same thing when I see people in traditional muslim dress...I smile, I want them to know just by that little smile that I don't hate them that I think they are people too

Emily Retherford said...

Great post, I think a lot of us tend to forget that people are just simply that.... people.

Btw I love your blog and I left you an award here Stop by and pick it up!

Mama and Hustler???
My Mommy Chronicles

Dorsey said...

Well said gal, well said!