Home > Family, Love, Parenting > Not terrorists: the joy and love actually present

Not terrorists: the joy and love actually present

Flying to Oregon recently, I saw a young mother wearing a hijab a few rows ahead of me and my children.

I felt wordless apprehension when my eyes landed on her husband: What if he’s one of them?! are the words I’d assign to such apprehension. What if he’s a terrorist?

I was horrified with myself the moment I realized what had happened. There was nothing in my environment that would reasonably lead me to conclude either the husband or wife were anything other than another family in transit, which meant I was judging them based on factors outside our immediate environment. I was judging them based not on their own acts or demeanor but an aspect of their appearance, evidencing implicit bias.

When we all prepared to deboard soon after, the family made its way toward the rear exit. I’d walked myself away from my unfounded suspicion, so that I was no longer paying attention to them. I was thinking of the trip and my boys and a million other joyful things.

I propped my toddler on my hip as I waited for my opening to enter the exit aisle. I vaguely noted Littler J was grinning, and so followed his eyes to the target of his grin: the Muslim family’s toddler, propped on Mom’s hip and grinning back at Littler J.

My focus quickly rolled away from toddler to mom. My eyes met hers and we burst into mirror smiles.

“Fearmongering works!” I reported when later recounting my initial apprehension to my husband. (“Yep.”)

I find hope in Littler J’s smile. I will do what I can to sustain that, so that as he grows

he sees not fearful, bias-inspired could-bes and acts instead on

what he does see: the joy and love actually present.

This post inspired in part by my just-younger sister’s MLK, Jr. Day post.

For more on my journey of facing my own implicit biases, this post is a good jump-off point.

  1. Deb
    January 19, 2016 at 4:54 am

    I cannot imagine, if we are all honest with ourselves, that we haven’t been in the same position at some point Deb. It’s the knowing and growing and acknowledging that matters most I think.

    • January 19, 2016 at 5:07 am

      I suspect I had a lot of them before I read up on implicit bias, but I didn’t know how to describe what I was experiencing … and probably didn’t know how/want to acknowledge them. Now I’m learning the language, which is fortunate, though I’d like to be such an ideal human such biases didn’t apply to me to begin with!

  2. January 19, 2016 at 5:42 am

    I firmly believe that our e-info world delivers not only instant news but also instant fear. We, the whole earth public, witness on an hourly basis, horror after horror the world over. So, here I sit thousands of miles away and yet there is the “enemy” the “bad guy” the “terrorist” the “shooter” the “rebels” right there on my screen…my 60 inch screen just a few feet away. We are inundated with images of destruction and turmoil. These images are reinforced with new images with each succeeding broadcast. At some point the image becomes iconic…the hijab becomes something to fear not simply what it is…a protective covering.

    It seems to me that our “instant” news indeed brings us closer to events “as they are happening NOW” but it also very rudely shoves us away from each other blinding us to the very reality it proposes to expose–the reality of humanity.

    • January 19, 2016 at 7:49 am

      I wholeheartedly agree. I opt out of most news because I find it more ratings-grab than information oriented, and that it leaves me with a heightened sense of unease disporportionate to the actual threat faced in my day to day life.

  3. January 19, 2016 at 5:45 am

    There’s so much honesty in this post Deborah. Glad to have people like you in the world who aren’t afraid to own up even to their (fleeting) thoughts 🙂

    • January 19, 2016 at 7:52 am

      Thank you, Wajiha! As I settled into my seat then, I briefly struggled with questions how I could read such illuminating, love-filled blogs by Muslim bloggers and then be filled with such panic. The whole experience of walking myself down from that peak probably took 90-120 seconds, but feels like an eternity in retrospect. I hope the understanding gained from it makes any successive walking-down much, much faster, until maybe someday I don’t have to walk mysef down at all. The possibility heartens me. 🙂

      • January 19, 2016 at 9:25 am

        And the fact that you entertain the thought of that possibility, is all that matters actually. 🙂

  4. January 19, 2016 at 5:58 am

    Not to sound trite, but I can’t help but think of the lyrics: “I believe the children are our future…” Your story embodies that idea perfectly. Thanks for sharing it.

    • January 19, 2016 at 7:53 am

      I love it. Actually, I got something in my eye, remembering singing that very song with Rache when we were much littler. Such hope in it!

  5. January 19, 2016 at 6:27 am

    Thank you for sharing your honesty!

  6. January 19, 2016 at 9:57 am

    Wonderful post. Nothing quite shines like the purity of children. If only our hearts stayed that way.

    • January 20, 2016 at 4:07 am

      Thank you! I feel like our hearts often do, with our heads misleading us to alarm where alarm is not due. Like you, regardless of the source, I wish we could grow and retain that same ability to look into someone’s eyes and see the person, instead of looking beyond at things that don’t tell much about any individual person at all.

  7. January 19, 2016 at 3:45 pm

    You know, Deb, it is the acknowledgment and subsequent putting it in its place that is most important. With what we know and what we are shown it is unfortunate that we, without request, become programmed to stereotype. I’m proud of you for saying out loud, giving our undesired thoughts a voice, sending them out and away. Our children in their innocence are the example. XOXO-Kasey

    • January 20, 2016 at 4:13 am

      Thank you for your kinds words! It feels very empowering to recognize these biases swimming beneath the surface, and address them to ensure that they don’t inspire untoward actions. The problem I perceive is when people say “not me! I don’t have any!” when research strongly indicates otherwise. Someone can’t work to correct a problem they don’t acknowledge, you know?

      And that’s where ongoing perpetuation of injustice lies: feeling like someone must be bad if they think or acknowledge certain things, like we have to be perfect and have perfect thoughts to be good. That kind of thinking leads people to working really, really hard to ignore any thoughts, impulses, or feelings that run counter to their genuine intellectual beliefs.

      The good’s not in being perfect from the get-go. It’s in the work, in my eyes; in seeing, and then doing. But, man! Me of a couple of years ago would not have gotten this, despite some of the discussions held the preceding few years!

    • January 20, 2016 at 4:16 am

      p.s. Whenever I encounter the word “empower,” I can’t help recalling a S4 Buffy line about “empowering lemon bun[s].” *giggle* Ahem.

  8. January 19, 2016 at 5:52 pm

    Your post reminds me of the first time I got on a plane after September 11. We lived in southern New Jersey and many of our friends were first responders … spent the day, not working, glued to the Internet and phone (when they worked) to keep up, spent the evening watching CNN and crying. Anyway, you know the drill: once on the plane and ready for taxi, the pilot or co-pilot comes over the sound system to chat about anticipated weather, time of arrival, etc. etc. This particular co-pilot had a distinct Middle Eastern accent. Everyone grew silent as he chatted amiably about our impending flight. Once he finished, the cabin remained silent (I fly cheap seats, so there were lots of folks onboard) until one man spoke up and said, ‘He’s French. I’m sure of it.” There was a ton of nervous laughter as he had voiced what all of us were thinking/afraid about. It broke the ice and we were on our way. Sad, but true.

    • January 20, 2016 at 4:22 am

      Even several years after, I had to fly on September 11th. There was some kind of alert at the airport and I recall how panic immediately burbled up to that surface. It only lasted 20-30 seconds, but they seemed eternal. It’s that same dread that, I think, inspires us to latch onto convenient “bad guys,” whether or not accurate.

      I wrote a post about that, and about how the “bad guys” aren’t who we expect. It began with an exercise we did in my Evidence class in law school, where we looked at a grid of about 16 pictures and were asked how many people were pictured. I guessed something like four or five. Some guessed in the teens. In reality, it was one single, inconspicuous serial killer. He was successful precisely because he was innocuous. That was a powerful lesson to me in what we do and don’t notice, and where we do and don’t expect to find terrible acts of inhumanity. Of course, it becomes more powerful the more I learn and understand, which I acknowledge is fractional!

      (Unfortunately, that post was one of the ones I accidentally deleted, and the Internet Archives is giving me grief lately. Arrrgh.)

      • January 20, 2016 at 8:02 am

        Oh that sounds like a great exercise! We did one in my diversity workshop where participants had to identify by face who was doing something negative. It was an eye-opener for sure.

  9. January 20, 2016 at 7:25 am

    A child’s purity of heart is such a great teacher for all of us.

  10. January 20, 2016 at 3:52 pm

    I’ve found myself doing the same thing. 😦

    • January 20, 2016 at 4:07 pm

      I actually see this as a good thing: the finding yourself doing it, that is, and not the doing it. It’s only by acknowledging it that you can truly begin to eradicate it! 🙂

      • January 20, 2016 at 4:07 pm

        Yes that’s true. Good point. 🙂

  11. January 20, 2016 at 5:23 pm

    I like this story so much because it really shows what people have said all along – hate is taught. Imagine what Littler J would have learned had you continued being fearful? Such a great post.

    • January 30, 2016 at 12:01 am

      I hadn’t thought of it like that! I’m even gladder now for the understanding that flowed after my misunderstanding was cleared up.

  12. January 21, 2016 at 11:34 am

    I love this post, your honesty, and the reminder of how innocent children are.

    • January 30, 2016 at 12:03 am

      Thank you! More and more, I want what I write here to be more reflective of what I really experience … and that includes the things of which I’m less than proud, especially when they’re part of what grows into a larger understanding.

  13. January 30, 2016 at 5:55 pm

    Children are so very fantastically free with their affections and curiosity, and we encourage it with our loving protections. They remind us though, I think, that we worry too much. 🙂

  1. February 7, 2016 at 11:21 am
  2. February 3, 2017 at 1:12 pm

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