Today’s the first September 11th since I’ve lived in New York City where, if I chose to, I could stay in my apartment all day because I’m currently unemployed, and I’m not in college anymore. I don’t think many people in general realize this, but I (and many other Muslims/Arabs/Middle Easterners/North Africans/South Asians that I know) have to spend the week before September 11th mentally preparing myself for a flood of dirty looks, racist comments and threats, and physical violence in the worst-case scenario. Every year before this year, I’ve gone out of my way to trim up my beard as short as I possibly could, and have made sure not to speak any Arabic in public, but I won’t be doing any of that this year.
I am a light-skinned Arab and a practicing Muslim. Despite the fact that my full legal name is 25 letters long and VERY Greek, Islamophobia and racism make it a normal occurrence for me to be pulled aside without fail for a “random search” when I have to fly because I fit the profile of what a “suspicious person” looks like.
Because of Islamophobia and racism, I was too afraid to walk home from my high school in suburban Florida, even though I lived five minutes away. I knew if I did I would hear people driving or walking past me shout things like terrorist, sand n****r, or towelhead, among others. I feared for my physical safety every time I had to do so.
Islamophobia and racism made a train car full of people stay silent while my mother and I were verbally harassed by someone for speaking in Arabic to each other coming home at 2 AM on a Friday night on the D line. We were told that we should “go back to fucking Palestine” so that “our people” would “stop taking over Brooklyn.” We were going over the Manhattan Bridge when this happened, so we had to just look away and silently take it in order to avoid a physical altercation. We switched train cars at the next stop, but we STILL got off two stops after ours and had to wait 20 minutes for the next train going in the opposite direction because we were afraid that the guy was going to follow us home.
Islamophobia and racism make many Lebanese and Syrian people, in addition to most of the non-Arabs and non-Muslims, in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn openly complain about the Yemenis living in the neighborhood for wearing niqabs, or having long beards and wearing gallabiyas (basically looking “too Muslim”), for “ruining the neighborhood” and making it “filthy.”
Here are some great things you should remember especially for today, but really for any day of the year:
- Do NOT ask or expect a Muslim/Arab/Middle Easterner/North African/South Asian to apologize for something they had absolutely NOTHING to do with.
- Do NOT ask a Muslim/Arab/Middle Easterner/North African/South Asian how they feel about September 11th.
- ERASE any version of the following phrase from your vocabulary: “You should go back to where you came from.” If I had a dollar for the amount of times someone has said this to me, I’d be a millionaire. I was born in this country, I have as much right as everyone else to be here, and I am NOT planning on leaving anytime soon.
- If you see a Muslim/Arab/Middle Easterner/North African/South Asian being harassed by somebody, HELP THEM. I’m only speaking for myself here, but many times I’m too afraid to say or do anything about it for FEAR OF MY PHYSICAL SAFETY.