I am both disturbed and disappointed with myself for such a title. It is quite racist really. Unfortunately, a title like “empathy” may sound boring to some. Or if I titled this blog “My neighbor.” Would you really be interested in that blog post? No. “The Arab” sounds intriguing, scary perhaps? I’ve created a mystery blog. Not really but it could be? Furthermore, I’ve mentioned “my street.” Now I’m hitting home. It’s sad I have to give such titles for readership (still quite slim) but c’est la vie. On with the post. This was a blog I was thinking about a month ago when I was driving home.
A month ago, I noticed the Arab in passing. And I’ll be honest. I noticed him there because he was in traditional Arab wear and quite frankly looked a bit out of place in a suburban, mid western, American neighborhood. I chided myself for thinking that he stood out, but he did. If he wore American sports gear or shorts or I don’t know, maybe I would not have even payed attention.
I guess it’s the same story of seeing a dot Indian at your local WalMart or Costco, wearing a sari and talking in a different language, but an Arab raises flags (or so I think).
Well, I should have written this blog then, but I forgot. Age does that to you. And as luck would have it, last week, when I was driving home, I saw the same Arab. This time, I slowed down to try to “see” him. Why? I had a blog at stake, of course! But in all seriousness, I was able to capture his face in my mind. A face that spoke of nothing more than friendliness and peace, I almost felt like stopping my car and inviting him to my home for dinner someday. See, the thing is that, when you connect to your own humanity, you can see past stereotypes. Also, I was schooled in Dubai and I spent 6 years in an Arab country. They are some of the most friendly and hospitable folks I have come across. For real! An Arab should not make my head turn.
And yet, when the Arab wearing a long white cotton gown and a red hounds tooth patterned head covering walked the side walk here in one of the suburban neighborhoods, he caught my eye. I’m just as human as you and I’m just as brainwashed by the media as you. And I’m Muslim! I had to work actively against a media-induced judgmental mind that will convince you to not only be scared but to act. Why? Based on a man’s clothes? I’ve come to realize that media doesn’t just give you permission, but teaches you to judge.
Back to my friend. I choose to call him my friend. I was very impressed that he established his identity with his clothes. I’ll be honest, I was secretly nervous for him (not of him). I felt that people will judge him as a terrorist based on his clothes. I felt that perhaps people may yell obscenities at him. I wasn’t sure. Wasn’t there some homeland security act where people can be arrested for no cause if there’s suspected terrorism, without proof? What stops some idiot, and I mean idiot, to call the police and complain that a man was walking the sidewalk in Arab clothes? That automatically makes him bad? But then my mind wandered. I thought about someone approaching my friend and I smiled.
I could see it. I could see him smile big and wish his approaching man peace and extend his hands out in a hug. I could see them say hello to each other and smile and talk about how wonderful the day was for a walk. I could see them talk about their kids and schools. I could see my friend invite our caucasian American friend over for dinner. Wait, my mind urged. Invite me too, but alas, most importantly, I could see that world. The world of love and hope. The world of neighborhoods and friends. It’s possible? Right?
“Everyone makes judgement based on race.” Avenue Q said it best. It is true. But isn’t it our human responsibility to treat every human with empathy and respect? Or am I just dreaming?
Today, as I drive into work, I see him again. Walking. My thought, “hmm, he walks both mornings and evenings. Good for him.”
That’s it for now, Best always,