I saw something bad today, and I should have said something. And I didn’t.
I was on public transpo. I’m always on public transpo, parking in any major city is too expensive, I should have my mail sent to the train. I was busy with Sudoku because I’m a nerd, and sitting across the aisle from two ladies with frosted hair and Talbots outfits. Basically, what I’ll end up looking like in 5 years no matter how many times I try to avoid it by painting my nails black or wearing obnoxious leopard print clothing . In front of me was a lady in a business suit and a hijab. And one frosted lady looked at the other frosted lady and said, audibly, “The head thing – that’s so sad. Those people. So oppressive.”
I’ve been hearing this more and more lately. A whisper on the train, people giggling and averting their eyes at the supermarket. Is it just me?
Maybe I was sheltered because I grew up in a town where the African-American girl or the Indian kid had parents that were your parents’ coworkers, or maybe their bosses. Everybody was at your pre-dance nonsense, taking photos; your parents picked your friends of different races up from soccer practice; and your dad talked to their dads about whatever boringass township issue was going on…about the sprinklers… or who wasn’t allowed to build a fence because of regulations. Nobody was any different than you because there was no class difference – everybody had at least two bathrooms and went on vacation in June. My prom photo looked like a United Colors of Benetton ad – four kids of four different races, all wearing clothes from the same store, all pretending we hadn’t been drinking beer while my dad took a photo in my front yard.
I think we were lucky. I don’t honestly think I ever encountered actual, tangible, audible racism until I went to college. I can’t speak for everyone, but that was my experience. My father told me once, when I was in high school, “I don’t care if the guy you marry is Japanese or black or purple. Or I guess a woman. Or I don’t know. If they’re good people with a job. Ok, I’m going upstairs.”
He was German. He short-circuited. But the sentiment was there.
Even after college, I don’t remember ever hearing talk like this, openly, until recently. It used to be something assholes said at Christmas in front of their family that you ended up hearing by accident and then left, twitching. It wasn’t something you heard on the train. I’ve been hearing it on the train.
Anyway, I heard this and I think I should have said something, but I didn’t, I just sat there, for some reason feeling embarrassed. I think people underestimate American Muslim women. I’ve only met two who wore a hijab after they were adults, but they’re both RNs and RNs make a pretty decent living. They’re not dumb bunnies, not dependent and helpless, suffering under anyone’s thumb. They’re college graduates, successful ladies with careers, who choose to cover because they friggin want to. No one is forcing them to do it, neither have family here and one actually has a Catholic Irish husband from Boston who certainly isn’t making her wear a headscarf. His name is Sean and he has freckles like me and can drink like me so I assume he’s also Catholic like me. Well, that, and the giant Blessed Virgin tattooed on his arm. I’m fairly certain he isn’t making his wife wear anything she doesn’t want to.
Amish girls and nuns cover their heads. This is America, you can put whatever you damn well please on your head. Bunny ears, a hijab, tin foil.
I should have said something. I think if I flashed my tattoos and made a scary face, I’d look unhinged. Unhinged enough that they wouldn’t have said anything back.
I should have said something. Next time I will.