a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

Are We Racist?

Posted on: December 12, 2011


I decided to skip class and sleep in.  The sun came through the cheap Target blinds that hung on my windows.  I think it was a sunny day, I pulled the covers over my head to try to ignore the light.  I heard the door open downstairs and knew it was Barry, my fiance.  He bounded up the stairs and burst through the closed door of our bedroom disturbing my sleep.  “We’re at war!”  he shrieked.  They’re attacking us!” 

In that between space of waking and sleeping I barely heard his words.  Rather, I couldn’t comprehend them.

“Who’s attacking us?” I asked sitting up in bed.


I could tell by the look on his face that he wasn’t joking.  Since we’d decided to cancel our cable when our roommate moved out on us, I put on my clothes to drive to my parent’s house.  In the fifteen minute drive to their house in the “country” I listened to the radio.  It was a warm day.  Warm enough to have the windows all the way down.  It was quiet.  I remember looking over at other drivers and passengers in their cars.  They all leaned forward, straining to hear the news coverage coming over the airwaves.  I remember it felt old-fashioned: People listening in their cars to breaking news on the radio.  When I got to my parent’s house the news was on CNN.  I watched in horror and disbelief as the towers crashed down in the city I’d live in a few years later. 

Fuck those sand niggers.

Fuck those towel heads.

Now someone else knows what it feels like.

Now someone else knows what it feels like.  I thought that. 

I didn’t meet a Muslim person until a girl named Nisrin joined our class in 7th grade.  I feel horrible that I don’t know where she immigrated from.  She was a new girl, she was from the Middle East.  She had body odor.  I was really horrid to her.  In fact, I remember after the school health teacher gave us a lesson on personal hygiene we got these really cute kits from Secret.  Instead of keeping my free stick of deodorant I put mine in Nisrin’s locker with a note.  “Take a shower.”

In retrospect, I should have reached out to Nisrin.  In my class there was one other black girl and two Indian girls.  The rest of my classmates were white.  And while I was friends with the two Indian girls, Purvi and Anita, I didn’t befriend the black girl…whose name I can’t remember.  I started at this school in 6th grade.  I listened as my curious classmates asked me questions about where I’d attended school previously, I watched their excited eyes tell me that they’d had another black classmate the year before.  She was from Jamaica.  Was I Jamaican, too?

It wasn’t until high school that I met other Muslim girls.  I made friends with people whose families were from Lebanon and Pakistan.  I even learned how to write my name in Arabic.  I remember when a pair of sisters decided to start to wear head coverings to school.  I remember that girls were given permission to leave class to pray.  In World Religion I learned about Islam and Judaism.  I was surprised at how similar the three religions were.

Still, on September 11th as I listened to racist remarks being thrown around me in my community, in my home, at my workplace I tried to think rationally.  I remember an altercation with a co-worker.  I shouted something to the effect of, “We deserve this-we’ve been blowing up innocent people in the Middle East for decades.  I don’t know why you think we’re so invincible.”  In his good ole boy, Republican fervor he shouted something back and I realized that he probably calls black folks the N-word when he’s drunk and with friends.

Now they know what it feels like.

Now someone else knows what it feels like to walk around in “this” skin.  I thought that was for about six months.  I looked at women in head scarves or dark-skinned men on the plane.  Would they blow it up?  Are they terrorists? 

Now they know what it feels like.

Then I thought, what the fuck is the point in thinking like that?  Why do we do this?  Shouldn’t minorities “stick together?”  A black person who walks into your store is not going to steal from you.  A woman in a head covering isn’t a terrorist.  A Mexican isn’t going to cut you with a knife.  White people are not the devil. 

Okay, white people actually may be the devil.

The idea of who is and who is not white, the notion of whiteness and a white race is a relatively new, quite American phenomenon.  An Irishman coming off the boat at Ellis Island wasn’t white, an Italian wasn’t white, a Jew wasn’t white.  A Catholic wasn’t white. 

Two things are bothering me tonight.  Lowes pulling their advertising from All American Muslim and Israel trying to ban  the Adhan, call to prayer.



  الله أكبر Allahu Akbar God is Greatest
  أشهد أن لا اله إلا الله Ash-hadu al-la ilaha illa llah I bear witness that there is no God except God3.
  أشهد أن محمدا رسول الله Ash-hadu anna Muħammadan rasulullah I bear witness that Muhammad is God’s Messenger
  حي على الصلاة Hayya ‘ala s-salah Come to salat (prayer, worship)
  حي على الفلاح Hayya ‘ala ‘l-falah Come to salvation
  الله أكبر Allāhu akbar God is greatest
  لا إله إلا الله La ilaha illallah There is no god except God.

From Wikipedia.

Sh’ma Yisra’eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad.
Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.
In an undertone:
Barukh sheim k’vod malkhuto l’olam va’ed.
Blessed be the Name of His glorious kingdom for ever and ever.
V’ahav’ta eit Adonai Elohekha b’khol l’vav’kha uv’khol naf’sh’kha uv’khol m’odekha.
And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
V’hayu had’varim ha’eileh asher anokhi m’tzav’kha hayom al l’vavekha.
And these words that I command you today shall be in your heart.

From Judaism 101.


In grade school I should’ve befriended Nisrin.  I should’ve seen her for the person she was.  She wasn’t all that different from me.  Someone new, someone “exotic” who didn’t fit the Catholic, white normative culture that was my middle school existence.  As an adult, I want to run around and shake people.  I want to remind Asshats like Rick Perry that when he makes stupid statements like about “defending the religious heritage of the United States” that he’s discounting the Jews, Muslims, atheists and others who helped “make America Strong”. 

We’re EXACTLY the same.  We’re all human beings and we deserve the right to be and live as human beings whether that means we believe in Allah, Hashem, God, Buddha, Jesus, or every single spirit thing that dwells in the realm of human existence or in nothing at all.  We’re way more alike than we are different. 

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.


4 Responses to "Are We Racist?"


Your comparison of the Shema and the Adhan made me cry a little, even though I’m a Religious Studies major and I see comparisons like that all the time. I can’t help remembering the girls I was mean to in grade school and the ones who were mean to me, and wondering if those interactions affected our perception of race in later life.

This is a really moving post, so… Thanks for posting it.

This afternoon I listened to Dawkins rant about how raising a child in religion is worse than sexually abusing a child. Then I listed to a few minutes of a radio program where a Christian Evangelical went on a tirade on Muslims being terrible. He wants a Muslim to come on his show but says he’ll need security because none of them can be trusted. These are the kinds of comments that drive me nuts!!!!!

@Nomi-I have a new phone and lost your number, send me an e-mail
@KungFu Convert-It’s so strange how when you’re the “odd person out” in middle school/high school situations you go into the defensive mechanism of finding someone else to pick on. I wish I could take back all of the mean things I did and said to people. I’m glad you liked this post.
@Dena-I’m with you. The world is really messed up! I the worse is when people of “faith” are bigoted. I am always shocked by how people say and do horrid things in the name of God.

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