"I hope they're paying you a little more than minimum wage to watch that baby!" She exclaimed in a thick Irish accent as I was getting ready to load my son and myself
into a cab. I turned around to see who she was speaking to. To my utter
surprise it was me. "You poor thing" she continued to mumble, in
reference to my broken toe I assumed? I politely smiled and responded
with a simple "he is MY son." She quickly apologized and added a "God
bless you dear." Then went on to run America's name in the mud with a
"in Europe they always offer to help." In which I politely responded
once again, "my cab driver is being very helpful." I looked over at my
cab driver who was Afghanistani and smiled.
As I sat quietly in the cab my mind was slowly beginning to fill up with random thoughts: "in Europe they do not offer to help any more or any less
than they do here" "I have met as many helpful New Yorkers as unhelpful
New Yorkers in my past 4 years in America." But more than anything I
was scratching my head trying to understand "why did this woman think I
had to be a nanny?" But then there is the answer so evident in the very
question I pondered: the color of my skin causes me to be associated
with a "less fortunate individual only capable of a handful of jobs."
It is quite interesting and scary all in one to think that she was actually trying to be supportive of me not realizing how insulting she
actually was on many levels:
Then slowly it all started to make sense to me. The stares and glares at first myself and then my son as we walked down certain streets and
avenues in New York. I now realized that all this time those awkward
looks were actually inquisitive eyes and minds. Curiousness of "whose
baby is she caring for?"
I am forever flabbergasted at the senseless hierarchy of racial distinction (association) that seems to hover over our heads like a peaceful cloud before a deadly storm. I
am also slowly starting to understand the social dysfunctions that
contribute to such occurrences. I am reading a book called Whistling Vivaldi by Claude M. Steele.
This book is an excellent resource into gaining a deep understanding of
social identity here in America. No one race should read this book; it
speaks of the importance of understanding identity threat to our own
personal progress. This book dissects factors related to (indirectly
and directly) societal progress, bettering group relations, equal
opportunity and achieving an identity-integrated civil life.
Identity and stereotype threats are very dangerous. Many people often remark, "just get over the stereotype and move on." It is not that simple. Many
Whites worldwide have a preconceived notion about the progress and
social existence of people of color. I have personally experienced this
in Europe, America and even in the Middle East among Caucasians. The
only way we can begin to eliminate such notions is to reduce the
distance between us socially. This needs to start at home. There needs
to be a focus on reducing these "threats" in schools, workplaces, gyms,
neighborhoods and so on. We have to focus on making the identity less
"inconvenient" as we come together, equally across identity lines. We
cannot allow for our children to grow up in such a segregated world.
For those who are not aware, I am a Saudi Arabian/Indian/Iranian female married to an African American living in New York. I bring this to light only because I have NEVER experienced such ignorance back home in Saudi Arabia and also so you may be aware of my ethnicity while analyzing such a ridiculous experience.