The question I’m asked most frequently, once people realize that I am a Palestinian, Muslim immigrant is
“Have you faced discrimination living here?”
Such a heavy question with many more questions enveloped within! And it is not an infrequent question that I’m just choosing to shine a light on, it is literally the question I am asked most once someone realizes I am an immigrant.
And the answer is not a simple yes or no as neither will do it justice.
So how can I answer it while making sure that my own personal experiences do not eclipse the experience of others?
And why do we ask it in the first place?Better yet, what question should we be asking? And if we insist on asking the first question then what are we willing to do when we don’t like the answer?
Allow me to elaborate
First, what a sad reflection of our current reality is that question! What kind of a statement about our society does it make?! I know that it comes from concern about my well being but why have we gotten to a point where fascination with someone’s immigration story or tales about their homeland is replaced with fear and worry about their safety? What does this say about our society? Don’t be quick to dismiss this as oversensitivity on my part or this is a question that only I get asked or was asked once. This is a consistent question asked by many and of many. Take a second to think about why it is at the fore of our minds.
Second, I, the one being asked the question must be cognizant of what my experience represents and what it doesn’t. Especially when I am asked the question as a panelist on immigrant experiences or when I am speaking as a member of the immigrant community.
So here is my story
For me personally, my blueish-greenish eyes and white skin don’t signal “foreigner” and for the untrained ear that doesn’t pick up on my slight accent I “fly under the radar”. I hate myself for thinking that way! No, not that I think “phew, I can just get by and no one will notice and I will escape whatever misinformed hatred some may have towards my faith, my home land or my status as an immigrant” but the fact that overt discrimination is a reality for my brown-black skinned and/or religiously garbed friends and I happen to scoot by because of how I look. So really, aside from a couple of instances like someone telling me to my face, and in public, that there is no such a thing as Palestinian, in my 24 years of living here I have not faced discrimination directly. And so if I say no, without paying heed to the superficial privilege bestowed upon me by virtue of my look then I am discounting the daily experiences of thousands of others.
Another privilege is my echo chamber. I have two college degrees and have always worked in a professional setting with others who, for the most part, have engaged and experienced other cultures. As you read that sentence you’re probably thinking to yourself “what an elitist, pompous ass” but I hope you continue reading to understand my point. Education does not automatically make a person more open minded or less likely to discriminate. Unfortunately there are many examples out there of systematic discrimination and racism in and by institutions of higher education. Similarly, lack of higher education does not mean one is less likely to appreciate or value someone from a different culture or that they will automatically be racist. But I must acknowledge that my education is a huge privilege that has allowed me to be in work environments where I am granted time and opportunity to engage in discussions and conversations about my experiences. The audience that chooses to engage me comes from a point of seeking understanding and is usually privileged in similar ways. If I am to say no to the original question of whether I have faced discrimination or not, I am representing the experiences and views of many others who continue to face discrimination whether they are white or blue collar.
Finally, I have personally jumped head first in many difficult conversations and thereby developed a tolerance level and a high threshold for what I’d pick up on as discrimination.
So what should we ask? I believe our questions should be about what we can do to ensure successful transition and integration into our society so that we can benefit most from diversity of thought, experience, culture and talent. This is not to skirt the issue of discrimination as discrimination will never go away. However, discrimination is a manifestation of hate that is a product of ignorance. Ignorance about each other, ignorance about shared values, dreams and concerns. We can reduce ignorance and its repercussions by coming into interactions without preconceived notions about the other, by looking at ways in which we can grow and develop and by addressing the deeper issues of disinformation and misattributed fear
Palestinian, Muslim, American, Husband, Father, Academic, Pharmacist, Coffee Addict, Nutella phene, Pseudo writer, Soccer player, former Canadian, Community servant, Pinch hitter imam, interfaith ninja, Intellectual vigilante, and the undisputed KING of snark