Today, I want to talk about something I have thought about a lot in the last 16 years. A condition of my existence. As you know, Islamophobia became a prevalent part of our nation shortly after the 9/11 attacks. I've discussed the subject many times over the years as someone who was raised Muslim so, this isn't another one of those posts where I tell you how incredibly horrific it is to experience Islamophobia firsthand and what we can do to better address it. I'm going to talk about something a bit more personal, about how the consistent and blatant prejudice and hatred toward Muslims has shaped my life since I was 10.
Earlier in the week I called my mom like I usually do. She owns a small business on the northwest side of the city where she spends most of her days. Until last summer and a two and half year gap when I was a kid, I had lived with my mom. I waited for her at neighbors' homes until she came home from work when I was in elementary school. When I was in middle school, I tried to be there for her when her mom, my grandmother, had a heart attack and died in our car one snowy evening in Skokie. In high school, I sat by the window at 7 pm waiting for her to get home from the store. In college, I prepared dinner for us and met her at the door to take her heavy work bag and place it in her room. My mom has always been my everything.
Owning a business comes with risks. Running a store leaves you open to threats on the daily. A small Muslim woman running a store leaves ones' mind occupied with too many thoughts to fight off.
I talk to my mom most mornings and on the days I don't, there are emoji filled text exchanges somewhere in the day. I know her schedule and she knows mine. I called her earlier in the week like I normally do. Sometimes she doesn't pick up because she's busy and will call me back. Except this time she didn't. The call went directly to her voicemail. That was unusual, so I called her store line. It kept hanging up after one ring. Immediately, I thought something was wrong. That some pissed off nutjob with a gun decided to take out his frustration. The night prior I had read this story on Harper's about a Palestinian American family that had come to the states looking for a better life. The father, who worked in a fast-food restaurant, was murdered for $48.50. There is no mention of it being a hate crime but that's exactly where my mind went when my mom didn't pick up the phone earlier.
That's where my mind always goes.
After calling the store, I got the worst feeling in the deepest part of my stomach. I tried to stay calm as I got in my car and headed to her store. Those 15 minutes seemed to stretch into an hour in which I thought about everything from how I would react and what I would do if I found my mother's body or how I would do something stupid if there was a robber in an attempt to shield her or how I would go about arranging an Indian funeral that I did not know nearly enough about or or or...
I parked across the street from her store and headed for the door. For a moment, I thought about the possibilities that lay behind that door and whether it would change my life forever. Thankfully, it didn't. There was my mom, in her office pacing and reading. She had turned off her cell phone because it wasn't holding a charge and had not yet plugged her landline in, something I did not know she disconnected sometimes because of telemarketers and unknown callers. It was simple. Turning ones' phone off or the battery dying is probable. When people don't return calls, not everyone assumes the worst.
But as a Muslim Indian, I can't help it.
She was happy and surprised to see me. All I could babble was, "I was worried, you didn't pick up your phone" before I started silently bawling. I hadn't cried like that in so long. Hot tears. Hot face. The entirety of me was burning. My mom hugged me and apologized and did that mom thing moms do of crying because you're crying.
I want to talk about this because people don't always understand truly how racism, prejudice and hate affects others. Words are incredibly powerful, even if they are ignorant ones and people know better. Blacks are conditioned to think that their lives are not equal to the lives of whites, Hispanics are conditioned to think they don't belong here, and Muslims are conditioned to think they are loathed beyond comprehension and they are just as terrible as extremists. No one should have to worry that someone they know may not be coming home or be heard from again because of hate, but the reality is that an unfathomable amount of people live like this.
They function like this.
This is their normal.
And that is unacceptable.
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