My Increasing Intolerance of Intolerance and What I’m Doing about It

February 19, 2010 — Marin, California Yesterday afternoon, I was shopping in Whole Foods and a fellow shopper, a young woman, was wearing a head scarf.  A third shopper came up to her while she was standing in front of the poultry case and asked her how she liked this country, meaning the U.S.   The young Muslim woman answered that she likes it very well, she’s been here 20 years and this is her country.

She repeated that statement, “I’ve been here 20 years and this is my country,” several times, each time successively louder.  She was pretty put out – and rightly so. The poor girl couldn’t even buy exorbitantly high priced chicken breasts without having to justify her existence in this (supposedly) liberal Northern Cal suburb.

We both looked at each other and rolled our eyes in collective dismay. The thing is I’m sure out third shopper thought she was asking a nice, welcoming question, not understanding that her statement belied her assumption that women with head scarves aren’t American.

As I pulled out of the parking lot, I wondered how many times the young Muslim woman had to answer these types of questions during the course of one week? Too many, I bet.  I was feeling particularly perturbed since I just came off my recent travels overseas and where I heard more bigotry than I care to admit. And it wasn’t emanating from the people I was visiting in Egypt, Jordan and Morocco.

(OK, there was one uncomfortable incident that involved Jordanian immigration officers pantomiming George Bush’s beheading. Trust me, I’m no fan of ex-President, but that blatant display of hatred sent chills down my spine.) The day-in day-out bigotry that I was experiencing was coming from my fellow travelers: Canadians, Australians, Europeans, and other Americans. Unfortunately, no one was spared.

Jokes were made about blacks, Jews, gays, Italians. And there was a lot of anti-Americanism. At one point when someone was complaining about Americans, I felt the need to point out that I was, indeed, an American. It was shocking.  At no time in my travels have I experienced this much deep discrimination. (OK, there was one other time while traveling in East Africa, when I heard a couple of South African ladies telling some pretty loaded “jokes” about blacks.  So not funny.)

After 7 weeks on the road, I was truly inspired to learn more about the Arab people and cultures I was visiting. That’s the core reason why I travel: to expose myself to the unknown and to gain a new perspective. To my dismay, the perspective I came away with was one of blatant intolerance.

That was one of the reasons why I was looking forward to coming home to crunchy Northern California. And then I dared go shopping for organic produce….only to find intolerance alive and kicking right here in my own home-grown backyard. 

So, in defiance of the intolerance I’m witnessing, is giving a $100 donation to the Northern California ACLU (‘cause that girl should be able to go to the god damn grocery store without hassles!). 

Why don’t you join me and together we’ll kick bigotry in the butt!  Here’re a couple of choices for you:

  • • Donate to the ACLU – I did!
  • • Join the Facebook group: End Intolerance – I did! 
  • • Respond positively to this post if you’ve had enough of intolerance!

The pictures in this post were part of an art exhibit called “Open Cities” held at the arrival hall of the Madrid Airport. The exhibit focused on immigrant cultural experiences in their adopted homes.  The first picture is a photograph from artist Gareth Phillips. The second picture is a photograph from artist Victoria Knysh. The picture of the little girl is from a kiosk for the King Hussein Foundation.

This entry was posted on Saturday, February 20th, 2010 and is filed under Erin Now.

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