The Courtesy of Indifferent Glances
I'm reading this book by a Persian writer, set in the aftermath of 9/11. It is about a teenage Muslim girl in yet another high school trying to find her way, to be invisible in the midst of the vitriol of this country against anyone with any visible sign of Middle Eastern heritage - even if they weren't Afghani.
In the book, written in her voice, she replays this scene in her Global Studies class. The teacher forces her and a white boy to stand in front of the room and as part of that teacher's methods, wanted them to tell each other what they see when they look at them. He has the blond haired, blue eyed white boy go first. Cliche the American idealistic phenotype. The boy gets all flustered and red because the one thing about them, back before Facebook and Instagram made them Internet Warriors, they hid their coded language in innuendos to each other or the random reporter who asked them. This was set in California, far far away from Ground Zero that is about an hour south of where I live now. No, they did not have smart phones or unlimited minutes, so they had what was always a part of high school, stares, whispers behind hands, boys jumping up and down as they passed in the hallway, laughing at some inside joke, girls who were either envious or jealous, universal high school 101. But this encounter was different. The teacher kept pushing the boy to say it and the girl, clad in her loosely worn hijab, had to just stand there. Finally, after multiple probes from the teacher, the boy's response was essentially, "nothing, I see nothing when I look at her because I don't see her." That was much worse than him saying some ignorant thing about her wearing a scarf like the group of teen boys who jumped her at the town they lived in before this one. Or the many comments about what she was hiding under there, and the incessant curiosity of what her parents may be forcing her to do since she did not have friends, did not date, had an older brother always around, and just did not speak in class. In reality, like many on the other side of ignorant discrimination, she kept to herself, found her place of solace during lunch, and had at the brand new iPod on under her hijab, the gadget that came around during the turn of this century, it gave her a bit of cover. But this time, she heard loud and clear what he said and what he meant, and it cut deeply, so much so that she ran out instead of letting her hurt and anger show.
Over and over in society, so many have been rendered invisible to society. We are here, we Women of the Global Majority. Our presence can't be missed. Our hair texture and color, hues of different shades of peaches and cream to a stirred affagado and espresso, our color certainly made it so that we did not just assimilate into the American fabric. For some of us, our dress and our language made us stand out. We could not just disappear, even as we tried to escape into spaces of care and comfort just for us.
Except even those spaces can be considered suspect. What are they plotting? That has been the uttered fear of white Americans every since the first Africans were on this Turtle Island. So much so that they split families and made sure there was some poor white overseas to keep no more than two together and even then, someone was listening. They created a system of fear and traitors. There was one or two who would willingly betray their own for an extra morsel of approval from the dominant class as they quickly tried to learn the new language and system of approval. Some were able to assimilate, those with hues closer to white and without the tell-tale curl or fuller lip or curve of the hip that gave them away of having African heritage blood. Some just gave in, but others, so many others, used that visible invisibility to become and forge a space for themselves in this place not their own.
I was thinking about the many times I was rendered invisible, treated with indifference, silenced, and ultimately, called a courtesy by someone who said they valued my input. It stings, it hurts, and it also angers, yet keeping it from destroying the inner woman or man is the triumphant work of People of the Global Majority who find themselves on the other side of this curious dismissing.
Like many, I know about the two trials going on in this country. Both of them of white male individuals who knowingly took the life or lives of others for the sake of their irrational fear. They each had a created fantasy of themselves as vigilantes on the Wild Wild West saving the land from the likes of "those" people who would harm "their" way of life. One could win an academy award for his performance on the stand of crocodile tears and huffing and puffing while he looked up at the judge for reassurance that he was doing it right. He is eighteen now, when he committed his heinous crimes with an assault weapon, he had the child-like appearance of a barely-past-puberty seventeen year old. The films of him stalking the streets at night during protests was not innocent, though. He had driven across state lines armed with military assault weapons with an intent to kill. The psychosis of this depraved indifference of human lives that are twice-kissed-by-God's Sun is deep in the soil of this country and continues to be taught by mothers across this land. The hand that rocks the cradle truly rules the world when they are in technicolor protesting at school board meetings against everything that does not measure of to their image of a puritan view of who belongs.
The other trial of a father, his son, and a neighbor, are the fullest reminder that we are not post anything in this country but still living in the patrols of those who considered anyone of the Global Majority to be suspect, even a stellar young man just out for a run. He did not "belong" their according to them and instead of just minding their business, just like the hispanic white man who gunned down an innocent teenager that sparked outrage in the created fear, these men thought they would just be applauded for saving the streets of pure white life. They chased this man down and murdered him in broad daylight.
These white men all murdered innocent people, one walked free, the other two are currently on trial. None of us are sure if justice will prevail because the very same thing that caused them to take unarmed innocent lives is the very same thing that happens across this country every day - indifference, considering our humanity a courtesy, not seeing us. Maybe, just maybe, 2021 won't be like 2013 and 2014, but we never know. Of the current trials, one has a nearly all white jury and a judge whose phone rings the marching song of the whitesupremacistorangemenancewhooncesatintheovaloffice. We already know what the media wanted to portray of that blubbering crying man when he sat in the witness box explaining that he drove across state lines to protect himself, defend himself from the "looters." Yeah, make it make sense.
That is the problem, it doesn't make sense. None of it does or every had.
According to science, we all, human beings, share 99.9% of the same DNA.
The only difference in the .1% is what has destroyed communities, neighborhoods, and nations. The "they" and the "us" and if it was just a matter of the scattered nations after the Tower of Babel scene in the scriptures, that could be ok. We are not all alike. I'm an INFJ, only 3% of the world has my rarest personality type and I am in the same company as President Jimmy Carter, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Mother Theresa, and some even suggest, the man, Jesus was also INFJ. So I understand that a minuscule thing is what makes us a little bit different from each other so that we are not walking around like a clone. The slight change in hair color or voice is really meant to pique our curiosity and not rile up our fear. We are human beings.
Human beings who see, feel, hear, smell, and taste the wonders of the world like everyone else. Who share similar hopes and dreams for our families and futures, who want to use their talents to do something wonderful like hand roast coffee, write a beautiful sonnet, paint murals, or even lead nations toward greater human interaction. We are a wonderful creation. We are more alike than different.
Yet, to some, to so many, we are just a courtesy to keep around until they have used up from us all they can get and then toss us aside like we never existed. Or they are simply indifferent to the pain they cause with their invisible gaze and blank stares at us. Or they are depraved with both and are hellbent on removing from the earth anyone who is not like them.
It is enough to make you want to run to your safe space, to find your shaded tree and just sit down to breathe.
Like the protagonist in A Very Large Expanse of Sea, it is not like anyone is going to come after her to express care. Well, maybe, like one character who saw how wrong the scene was and knew that she was mortified, so he ran after her to see if she was ok. To see that she was hurt. To say that he was sorry even though he was not the blond haired blue eyed kid who said she was nothing. He gave her recognition.
In the waning days of this year, now that almost a million little kids, Generation Alpha, have taken their first shot, now that more and more know that life on the other side of Covid is possible if we consider each other was worthy enough of care- maybe just maybe there will be hope. Without it, we are just like squids walking around trying to eliminate each other for the delight of some sick machine. We must be more than that.
It is that hope that I see in some of the future generations. They see each other's differences not as something to eliminate, but something to celebrate. Maybe they will keep that innocent curiosity and not be tainted by the hysteria of school board protesting moms who use the "unmask our kids" as the real coded language around the fact they don't want their little blubbering brainwashed kids to know the actual truth of this country. Maybe just maybe GenZ and Generational Alpha will get it right. I hope to live to see it.