Sunday, June 2, 2013

"Ma'am (insert insult here)"

It has been a while since someone said anything to me regarding my faith or ethnicity in a manner that was insulting. I mean, maybe even years. Despite the media attention on people of my faith tradition, individuals, neighbors, co-workers, and so forth have been more than silent. I mean, yes, occasionally people ask me honest questions, including my students. They ask me questions about stereotypes. They even perpetuate stereotypes in my presence, but they are being honest, sincere, and curious.

It has been a while that a random stranger has just approached me with a verbal insult.

The odd thing is, today I was talking to my friends about how this used to happen to me all the time, but at the back of my mind I was thinking, I am so happy it hasn't happened recently....

But, anyhow...

I was on my walk around the neighborhood. Usually, I pass at least 10 people while walking the 3 mile jaunt, but this time I only passed two "groups". One a group of teenage boys and the next a couple of teenage girls. I am used to saying hello, nodding my head, smiling at people as I pass by and today was no different. But I have learned that over time, teenagers are unlikely to respond to even a head nod, so I just smiled in their direction and that was it.

I didn't even realize that this teenage boy was speaking to me, I wasn't even thinking about them... but after half a second passed I processed "Ma'am... do you...." and the rest was overshadowed by some laughter from the other boys. So, apparently he insulted me in some way. I wouldn't have even noticed if one of the boys hadn't turned to me with a mixture of pity and sympathy in his eyes and said "I'm sorry about my friends."

This all happened in a matter of seconds, no one paused their step, no one stopped talking in the group, all of it happened as though it was an everyday occurrence.

So, why am I blogging about this?

I realized two things today:

1) I have officially gotten over it. 

I don't know if I have become desensitized or I just don't care what people think... but today was the first time I just moved on without commenting nor the urge to comment. I just continued smiling, nodded my head, and said "take care". For about 12 years of my life, I would get so frustrated and angry that I was mocked, belittled, or mistreated... I would write poetry, paint, or completely dismantle the person intellectually through use of a more than verbose statement with my grad school talk... But today, it was different. All I wanted to do was pat these boys on the head and be like, good luck in life.

2) I don't need to defend anything about myself. 

I always had this feeling that I needed to defend myself or my religion against these statements. But honestly, there is no point. I used to say things like "If you're so American, name the first 10 presidents of the U.S. consecutively..." or "name at least 20 states in the United States...." or "you better not register for my American government class, because I may teach you a thing or two about what it means to be American..." and so on....

But now, I no longer feel like I need to justify my Americanness. I don't need to prove it any more or any less than anyone else. I don't need to down play my "Arabness" despite the fact that most people (who have sincerely met me) don't think "ARAB" when they meet me...

I don't feel like I need to defend my identity to anyone.... not to those who attempt to discredit me nor to those who try to force me into an identity label. I just am...

The title of my blog has been "Just Be..." for a really long time. But today, I felt like it was me "just being" and, for lack of a better word, screw anyone who tried to tell me any differently.

So, a message to any people who may be reading this....

Get over it... whether it is because you are the one insulting or the one receiving the insult... just get over it... people will say things or do things... and by dwelling on it, you hinder yourself from any potential movement... just smile, nod, move on and live life to the best of your ability. Because in the end, we're all just trying to live life.... right?