Acknowledging the Bigotry Within

A couple of nights ago, I took my daughter to Chuck-E-Cheese, a tradition of ours when her other mother is out of town. We play skee-ball to win long rows of tickets that we later exchange for plastic toys and stickers. We play — it’s our way of lessening how much we miss the Mom who’s not with us.

This particular evening something besides the blinking lights of games caught my eye, though.

A group of women in hijabs had gathered to celebrate the birthday of one of their children. They chatted and smiled and boxed away the balloons that kept floating into their faces. Laughter came from their table quite frequently.

This isn’t an unusual sight in our area of Denver, Colo. We interact with women in hijabs and men in galabiyyas in restaurants, at museums, in the park, at the grocery story and in my daughter’s school. We are neighbors; we share community.

On that night, though, these women stood out for a single reason: Najibullah Zazi had just been arrested here on federal terrorism charges.

My mind raced: Did those women know him, that man accused of conspiring to set off bombs in New York on the anniversary of 9/11? Could one of those women be his wife? Could one of those children be his child? “Fear! Disgust!” That’s what my brain said to me.

I’m not proud of these thoughts, these automatic connections I made between a group of Muslim women happily celebrating a child’s birthday and an accused terrorist. And yet, my mind made them. It was an implicit response. And it was bigoted.

Judging by the behavior of other Chuck-E-Cheese patrons that night, I wasn’t the only one passing judgment. The place was packed — yet every table around these women remained vacant, two rows deep. No one — not a single soul — sat next to them.

Neither did we. I’m not proud of that, either.

In all honesty, my child didn’t notice any of this. She was fixated on skee-ball — getting that little wooden ball up into the hole worth 100,000 points — and feisty with her mother for serving her a heaping salad alongside a single slice of pizza.

But I noticed it all, my own reactions and the reactions of others. And I know that’s why my daughter and I read My Name Is Bilal as our bedtime story that night. Certainly, it was an effort to soothe my conscience, but it also was a small step toward creating the possibility that my daughter, faced with a similar situation at my age, might have a different response.

Perhaps she, when grown, might ask for a seat, share in their laughter, honor their resilience — and celebrate a child’s birthday.


I applaud your honesty, about

Submitted by S dunlap on 24 March 2010 - 12:52pm.

I applaud your honesty, about your private feelings thanks. I would like to add that I myself feel a ting of bigotry or uneasiness toward different people based on my associating them with a particular criminal event. I know that we should not judge people by what someone from their group has done but whether or not we admit it, we do.

As an elementary school

Submitted by Dr. Dawn DuPree Kelley on 27 November 2009 - 9:06pm.

As an elementary school principal, I see parents, media, culture "educating" our children to "stand up for themselves." While this is a critical lesson, I also see the unfortunate misdirection that occurs when the lesson neglects to teach all to stand up for one another, to defend yourself as you also defend others, speak up for yourself but speak for others who cannot find a voice; consequently, I see generations being "taught" that it really is sadly all about them or, as I hear frequently, it's "all about me."

I applaud your candor and

Submitted by Anonymous on 16 October 2009 - 8:37am.

I applaud your candor and honesty regarding your thoughts and feelings that night at Chuck E. Cheese. I totally get the whole "politically correct" and "Diversity" thing. As a teacher, I try hard to incorporate diversity in my classroom. However, we are only human. I get tired of being expected to accept everyone and not feeling like I can have my own opinion or draw my own conclusions about others. Fear is a primal human emotion. I would venture to say it is even a healthy emotion at times. Consider this, if you were mountain biking and you were attacked by a mountain lion, would you not be fearful of all mountain lions in the future? Of course you would. Similarly, we, as humans and as Americans were attacked by radical members of the Muslim faith. So, it is only natural and normal for us to experience feelings of fear and anger when in the presence of those in hijabs & galabiyyas. Perhaps if it had been a radical group of blue eyed, blond hair Swedes that attacked our country and killed so many people, then we'd be weary around anyone with a European accent. My point is that in an era when political correctness and acceptance is being forced upon us, I think it's important to acknowledge our own feelings and emotions and to not have to feel guilty, embarrassed, or apologetic for them. In the long run, I believe that the public pressure to be something or someone we are not will result in greater animosity and hatred.

You have chosen your words

Submitted by Anonymous on 16 October 2009 - 11:23am.

You have chosen your words well. You are to be applauded for that. That is a lesson on diversity itslef. While I do not agree with everyting you have written, I respect your point of view. I do believe though that, when we as a nation stop supporting long held stereotypes and step outside of our comfort zone, that then only can true change take place. The scared can not win.

Bravery is confronting

Submitted by Carol S on 24 October 2009 - 7:44pm.

Bravery is confronting something we don't want to do, know we should do, and then doing it. Your piece on bigotry is brave as it meant facing your own feelings - very tough stuff. I dare say there isn't a single person who has walked, is walking, or will walk this earth that is without some personal prejudice. Our biggest hope to erase it is to first, face it, and second, take steps to understand it and overcome it; Herculean tasks. Meantime, kudos for sharing and raising our awareness.

Thanks for sharing this.

Submitted by Karen on 7 October 2009 - 11:30am.

Thanks for sharing this. Americans really need to walk in Muslim shoes for a mile or two.