Yesterday, at our Cape Cop Community College exhibit, one of the volunteers was a young woman from Pakistan. Have you ever met someone and instantly knew they were a genuine, kindhearted person? She had the warmest look in her eyes and a smile on her face as she introduced herself. We got to know each other a bit as the morning went on. One of my favorite aspects of being on the road is meeting people from all different walks of life, religions and cultures.
As we became more comfortable with each other, I asked how long she has been here and what drove her family to move to the United States. She stated her father was looking to relocate for work, and her parents simply wanted the family to be safe. I then asked if she has experienced any discrimination, racism or hate. Without any hesitation she smiled and said, “of course I have. Even as a teenage girl when I first came here.” We then spoke on and off for the next hour or so and her stories had my heart aching.
I will not reveal her name as to respect her privacy. When she first moved here, she worked with her Uncle at a local 711. One instance that stuck with her in particular was a customer coming in one day as she was working the cash register. When the customer reached the front of the line, he started yelling at her that he refused to buy from a Muslim and would like to speak with the owner. She said to me, “see Courtney, I didn’t understand because I was only a teenager. My family has always been kind and accepting with all.” The man proceeded to yell at her and hit the counter. She stated to him, “the owner here is also Muslim.” I listened with tears in my eyes as I tried to comprehend this situation. She then told me she has been taught to remain silent in these situations as she believes they are looking for a rise out of her. I apologized to her, I stated I am sorry that I never have and never will have to fear my own existence as I am simply trying to get through a work day. White privilege is real and if you can’t acknowledge this, you are part of the problem.
She then told me she rarely wears her scarf out in public due to being shouted at on the streets of Massachusetts over and over again. This young woman has even had objects thrown at her. Can you imagine this? Can you imagine not being able to wear that sacred cross of yours around your neck in fear of being verbally and physically harassed? Once again, I apologized for the way people from my race treat her. I apologized that she has to remove herself from her very own culture because of racism, ignorance and hate. Not once in any Muslim texts does it say all Americans and Christians should be killed. Nope, that is Al Qaeda and ISIS misinterpreting the religious texts. You know, sort of like the KKK and Catholicism. And you know what else? Her family fears the Muslim extremists as much as Americans do.
She then brought to my attention an atrocity that occurred in the United Kingdom this spring called, “Punish a Muslim Day.” This consisted of a point system for white people in which they would gain a certain amount of points for things such as verbally abusing a Muslim or pulling a head scarf off a Muslim woman. (For the record, her father and the non-extremist Muslim men do not force women to wear these scarves. It is more of a sacred object, an item of prayer).
Lastly, I spoke with her on a book I recently read- “I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban.” Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani activist for female education and human rights. Once thing that stuck with me was when she United States military “accidentally” bombed her home town. Soon after, the US apologized and made an agreement to not go near her hometown again. Two weeks later, bombs were again dropped on her hometown. I remember reading that Malala said, “From that point forward, it was clear the United States would do whatever they wanted with no regard for the innocent.” Malala began fighting for female education and opening up secret schools at such a young age. She did not care that this could result in her death. I remember thinking to myself, “Oh my goodness, Court. All the times you complained about waking up for school, or said this material was pointless” .. as I then read that Malala was shot in the HEAD for the very thing us entitled white people take forgranted.
The young Pakistani woman I met yesterday smiled with me as she said there are extremists on all sides and she does not resent white people. She left for a few hours and then came back with a dozen donuts for everyone- just so, so kind. I urge all of you who fear Muslims to actually sit down and talk with one.
Lastly, white privilege has absolutely nothing to do with who you are as a person. It has everything to do with the systematic reality of the country we live in, in which white people are indeed given a head start. Minority communities are stuck in some of the most corrupt, poorest school districts in which children are being set up for failure. Suicide rates are highest among marginalized groups. Acknowledging white privilege promotes a shift in our culture, ignoring it keeps minorities in this never ending cycle of despair.
When you look in the eyes of someone whose ancestors have been oppressed, you see the pain, you feel their pain. And pain patterns are passed down in their DNA. We must dismantle this corrupt system- because it was built this way from day one.
In solidarity with all those who experience hate and racism on the regular- I am behind you.