Yesterday, a friend of my neighbor was shopping in a local Kroger, shopping for food to feed her family, when she accidentally bumped her cart into that of another shopper. She apologized, the other shopper said “no problem”, and the matter should have ended there. However, as she moved on, she heard the other shopper say to her friend “ISIS”. The friend of my neighbor, you see, was wearing her traditional hijab.
The picture below was taken in Florence, Kentucky on 09 July 2016.
A Hispanic friend walked into a fast food restaurant and waited to be served, but the employee continued doing busy-work around the store, cleaning up and pretending not to even see my friend. Then a white woman entered the store and the employee served that woman first, while my friend continued to wait.
When we think or speak of racism, we think of the big, glaring examples, like KKK rallies, Trump speeches, police shootings of unarmed blacks, anti-anything-but-Caucasian rallies and protests, but racism exists in everyday life. You can find it, obviously, in the supermarket, on street corners, in schools and in nearly every church across the nation. U.S. WASPs have darned near perfected the practice of everyday racism.
We, those of us who are socially and morally conscious of such things, try to combat racism in the U.S. through legal channels and by attacking the institutions that promote or tolerate such behaviour. That, too, is necessary, but I wonder if perhaps we would be more effective by using what little voice we have to combat the smaller events like those listed above. For example, had I been shopping and seen the incident between my neighbor’s friend and the other woman, I might have stepped in and explained to the woman that: a) the proper term is Daesh, not ISIS; b) the vast majority of Muslims are not affiliated with terrorist organizations like Daesh; and c) Islam is a religion of peace and love, not hate. Frankly, by the time I finished with that lady, she probably would have parked her cart and went running out of the store, as you all know how I am once I step up onto my soapbox! Or, had I been the woman who walked into the fast food place and was immediately waited on, I might have said, “No, she (the Hispanic woman) was here first … please take her order first.” And I will not even speculate on what I might have done had I come upon the man holding the sign, other than to say I would be calling upon my friends to take up a collection for bail money instead of writing this blog post.
It is called ‘everyday racism’, and it is relatively small things like this that grow into full-blown racism of the type we see propagated by various organizations, particularly this year in the culture of fear, bigotry and multiple phobias that have been pushed forth by politicians, religious leaders and the media. People are now afraid to use public restrooms, they are afraid of women wearing a hijab, they are afraid of people who look, speak and act differently than themselves. We must bring common sense back to the streets. We must be willing to stand up for our beliefs, the belief upon which this nation is based, that “All Men (and women) Are Created Equal”. We must be willing to stand up to the bigot and the xenophobe.
For the most part, none of us will ever have the opportunity to destroy the KKK, to be instrumental in passing laws that provide safe haven for Muslims, or to bring dirty cops to justice. But that does not mean we are powerless. We have the power to apply our values, our convictions, if only we dig down within ourselves to find the courage to do so. Certainly it is far easier to walk away, to turn our heads and pretend that we just do not see. But I can tell you that when you put your head on your pillow tonight, whether you wish it or not, your conscience will either reward you for standing up for your beliefs, for your fellow human being, or will cause you to question why you did not. Think about it.