When was the last time you weren’t so racist?
Yeah, no use denying it, your pupil dilation gave it off when the man with the long beard walked inside the plane cabin. His eyes were lowered, he had a genuine warm smile but you discarded that because your heart has been soiled with media vitriol and your mind has joined in to redirect any inkling of denying.
No, you reason, that smile is fake, he’s not genuinely soft spoken you convince yourself as you hear him politely ask for help from the flight attendant. He probably beats his wife, no, he has four of them and oppresses them all. His daughters are probably already married off at fourteen, his son probably ready to plan a future attack on innocents. He probably hates me, liberated western woman so I will hate him first.
Oh no, he’s coming this way. Damn, he’s sitting right next to you. There’s that fake smile of his, “Good morning”, he says. You tried so hard to ignore him but you can’t let him sound better than you. “Err, good morning”, you say under your breath, matching his fake smile with one of your own.
“May I squeeze past please?”
“Sure”, you reply.
What’s that smell? Gee, he smells like curry…… oh, it was the food trolley going past, still, he probably does.
No, he wafts past you and that fragrance is familiar. He’s wearing something woody, something cedar and patchouli like. You’re mesmerised, very masculine you think to yourself, but what on earth is it, you know fragrances like the back of your hand.
“I’m Muhammad”, he puts out his hand and you notice the Patek Phillipe around his wrist.
“Louise,” you reply again noticing the label on his shirt collar as your eyes quickly brush up no further than his chin out of politeness you’re conditioned to reciprocate.
Hmm, his beard isn’t really that long, no longer than what hipsters are sporting today. Again, you can’t help but notice his fragrance. You steal another look, he’s dressed immaculately, something you’d wish your boyfriend would turn up in to your parents house.
“Nice to meet you Louise. Muhammad and Louise, maybe we can steal this plane and runaway together?”
Your heart skips a beat, it’s fear, you’re terrified, you’re about to call the flight attendant and he adds “It’s a joke…. it’s a joke, Thelma and Louise…. you know it right?”
You look over his way with anger and for the first time, you want to look him directly in the eye as you try and express your sternness to him and tell him it’s not funny, but you’re mesmerised. His eyes, hazel green with tinges of almond and his smile, white teeth like they were carved by God himself, you stumble and catch your heart on the way and burst out laughing instead, “Yes, I know it, it’s one of my favourite movies”.
“Phew, I thought you thought I was a terrorist or something. If you’d like the window seat, I’m happy to change with you”, he adds politely.
Kind, polite, smells nice, has impeccable taste, appears to be wealthy with beautiful masculine features, you know the ones so clichéd in your mind, tall dark and handsome, successful, funny ……but….. and it’s a big but, his name is Muhammad. You don’t want to know any more you decide, it’s only going to be down hill from here.
“So where are you going?” You blurt out uncontrollably.
His surprised expression brings awareness to your cheeks as you feel them warming up. You hope your blush doesn’t start to bubble up and blister. You’re fiddling with your ear lobe with one hand and your hair with the other. Control yourself woman, you think to yourself as you collect your hands and lay them in your lap.
“Are you nervous? Does my beard send off the wrong signal?”
Wow, he’s perceptive, self aware maybe. You feel rotten, your stomach twists in a knot for the preconceived ideas you had and allowing them to manifest as they all simmer in front of you clearly now. You think to yourself, ‘Damn Louise, you’re a fucking racist.’ Your throat feels like there’s a ball in it as you struggle to swallow your saliva. You feel like a school girl infatuated with a boy. Now you notice, his beard is actually no longer than half a centimetre. How on earth did you see it longer before? You also notice he has no wedding ring on. Shut up Louise you tell your mind as it takes a leave of absence from your usual common sense state.
“No, of course not”, half lie half truth now that you noticed his beard properly.
“Oh ok, I understand if it does, I’m used to it, I’m heading to a conference and you?” Again, his voice is so reassuring when you think about it.
You feel worse, you suddenly realise you’re an integral part of the reason why he feels bad. You held all these preconceptions from the minute he walked into the cabin, you’re one of many who buys the hype, you’re a piece and there is nothing you can do to remove yourself from that horrendous puzzle except to apologise.
“I’m sorry, I’m truly sorry. I’m a horrible person….”
He cuts you short, “Heeeyyy…. relax, it’s cool, don’t be upset, as I told you, I’m used to it.”
“No, it’s not ok, I’m sorry, please forgive me,” you say with hope of him reciprocating acknowledged forgiveness. “What conference if you don’t mind me asking?”
He smiles again and sends butterflies down to cure that knot you had in your stomach.
“I’m going to speak at the Australian women’s association conference against domestic violence.”
As if your heart couldn’t sink any further, it now falls to the floor.
“Wow, this is such a coincidence, that’s where I’m going”.
If only a change in perception were that quick!
Obviously a fictional story but with elements of truth.
I come from what is considered a minority in this country (Australia)
Being a minority I thought would mean I am quite free from being the oppressor and ever being racist towards other people.
Whilst superficially, I haven’t ever expressed racist sentiments, taunts or vitriol at people through word or action, I caught my mind instead participating in what has become socially ingrained in us all whether we like it or not.
Muslims just happen to be the best targets today because they serve an agenda of capitalist greed, of geo-political colonial pursuit and of economic fear-mongering to maintain a profitable wheel.
The stereotypes of the Arab or Muslim serve to program your mind to operate a certain way.
Other types of stereotypes are trivialised into humour and done so often that even the persecuted become desensitised to their blatancy.
As I mentioned, I caught myself out with this desensitisation.
I began treating customers differently at work, I even justified my treatment with excuses like ‘you can never be too safe’ or ‘hey, it’s just business.’
What I am about to say may be trivial to some, but as Louise caught herself out and became self aware of her own prejudices above, so too did I become aware of small things which I thought were not small at all, but the seed of ignorance and perhaps a start to something even more detrimental if I didn’t keep them in check.
I noticed that I treated the average Anglo looking customer differently to darker skinned, or non Anglo looking customers when I took their money. It was a small thing but for me significant, and I blew it up bigger than the elephant in the room.
I managed one of the countries busiest outlets and when it came time to taking eftpos payments, I’d wait for approval on the terminal before I’d finalise the transaction on the screen for some people and not for others. I would just hurry through the whole process assuming they’re trustworthy or that they had plenty of money in their account and that they wouldn’t default on the transaction.
This subtlety was made manifest when a wealthy looking person actually defaulted and then ended up wasting a lot of time before they finally had money to complete the transaction. Nearly all of my other customers never ever defaulted.
This was enough to cause me quite a bit of anguish as I punished myself for weeks for thinking so badly. I boiled it down to my inner prejudices, preconceived, perhaps infused with so much media stereotype.
Granted, this was my small inkling which drove me mad because I do not watch TV, listen to the radio and my online activity is limited to work, my blog and very rarely social media only to engage in a hobby I enjoy. I still found myself taunted by these preconceptions.
This shit, and it definitely is nothing more than shit takes a long time to remove from your mind, so this tiny inkling I saw, will serve to be a lifelong practise to stop myself in my own tracks, be self aware, be perceptive of my own mind and heart and stop it ever creeping up in me again.
Now it’s your turn. Take a long hard look at yourself. Think of all the races, all the gender preferences, all the religions, all the beliefs of people, everything, and see how far you can work yourself back to removing tiny prejudices from your soul.