Bigotry in Virginia, alive and well
So, I had a run-in with a bigot yesterday. Its one of those scenarios that is almost so generic you might think it destined for made-for-TV films (and its also very likely that's where the bigot in question got his lines from).
I was visiting my older brother and his family this weekend in northern Virginia- Fairfax to be exact. Incidentally, he's a cardiologist. We were toting our small army of children and babes to a local state park, and made a pit-stop at a Walmart for some trout worms and juice (an odd grocery list, I confess).
I'll also confess my brother's driving can be a bit frantic at times. I was trying to keep up as he sped into the parking lot, and next thing I know I'm at the receiving end of a voracious honk from a car to my right in a 4-way intersection. The car was a good distance away, and hadn't moved, but I suppose he wanted to make a point.
That was that, and we parked, waiting for my brother to retrieve the necessary items and come back. Just then, a stout white man of, oh, 45 years, walked by my car, giving me a very prominent middle finger and a very articulate "F*&* You" (and I thought the joke was you wouldn't make it far in Boston without a middle finger!).
Ok- fine, he's clearly upset, not yet making any connection, and I'm fasting, so I need to control my temper I thought, and I let it go.
I stood outside the car with an ancy Noor, while Yousuf took a nap in his car seat. Soon, my brother emerged from the Walmart, and lo and behold, behind him was the same man. He came up to me.
"Is there something bothering you with me, sir?" I beckoned.
"Yes, your driving-you nearly ran into my vehicle!! You..you..."
"I'm sorry-I was actually quite far away from your vehicle and it was my right of way"
"Free Palestine? Palestine's already free!!" he raged, gesturing to a bumper sticker on the back of my windshield as he began to walk away.
Clearly, my driving wasn't the only thing bothering him.
He then turned around and bellowed out "Why don't you go back to your country! "
"We live here, and I"ll have you know our values are probably more American than your's will ever be."
"Yeah right-" he muttered, continuing on his way.
At this point my brother, an American citizen, went up to confront him. The man came up within an inch of his face pointing and yelling something about his tax dollars, and how there was no occupation, and how we should all go back home. His blood began to boil and he looked about ready to swat my brother, who was explaining to him where his tax dollars were really going.
"I dare you to lay one finger on him" I said. "Go ahead. We'll press charges. Its called a hate crime, and you'll end up where you belong. You, sir, are a bigot. Go ahead and say what you just said on a loudspeaker to everyone in this parking lot if you weren't such a coward."
Mind you, we are in northern Virginia. During the ten minutes I stood in the parking lot alone, we were passed by Indians, Mexicans, Chinese, Arabs, and African-Americans. I wonder what he would have had to say about all of them.
A few people took a moment to glance at what was happening. But for the most part, they kept on their way. And that was what was really frightening- bringing to mind a social experiment was conducted and filmed for ABC news' "What Would You Do?" series about a racist cafe owner refusing to serve a Muslim woman (the incident was staged and repeat dozens of times on tape) on their February 26,2008 show.
Several people vocally supported the man in denying her service and telling her the things he did ("go back to where you came from"..."if you were really American, you wouldn't where a towel on your head"..."take your jihad out to the parking lot" etc. etc.), even giving him a thumbs up and saying they would do the same. Many opposed him, saying they were deeply offended and that he was disgusting. But the overwhelming majority stood by and did nothing.
And that is the scary part- you realize that maybe for every person angry and stupid enough to actually verbalize his racist thoughts, there must be 5 others who are thinking them.
Back to my story. Several other Muslims going shopping with their families emerged from their cars, asking if we needed help, calling him a racist and telling him to leave us alone. He soon backed off and was on his own cowardly way.
As I said, its sort of one of those incidents you anticipate (at least as a veiled Muslim woman; or even as a person of color and minority) your entire life. Shortly after September 11, I was was once called a terrorist by an elderly man in CVS in Cape Cod, who's daughter whisked him way, insisting he suffered from dementia. But for the most part, I usually excpect (and receive) the good in people-people accusing airport personnel of profiling me, for example, or asking if i need help, or just saying hello.
But when something like this does happen, I suppose the shock value is still so high that you never quite know how to respond. And you sit there stewing for a while, wondering how human beings can be so unabashedly vile-especially in this day and age, to one another.
Someone suggested I should have told him to crawl back to the rate hole he emerged from, in respose to his asking me to go back home (I also imagined that if everyone in this country was asked to go back "to where they came from" there wouldn't be anyone left, except maybe the native americans).
That might have been satisfying. Another part of me wished I had just told him that it was Ramadan and that I would pray extra hard for God to bless him with a kinder spirit and a more tolerant soul, so his next victim would be spared a similar, if not worse, fate. Ameen to that.