My Toddler’s First Encounter with Prejudice

It seems as if these days, Muslims are being brought up more and more in the news, not for only what is happening over seas but for the underlying racism that has been brought up in recent events. Since the tragic 9-11 attacks on US soil, there has been a fire burning deep within many American hearts. A fire, a hatred, for Muslims has been burning. This is not arguable. It’s a fact. Something I grew up learning first-hand, and now, unfortunately, so will my children.

Unless you are not keeping up with current events, last week there was a young, very intelligent boy, arrested for being mistaken to bring a bomb to school. It was not a bomb, it was a clock. But because the boy was a Muslim, it was assumed that it was by his English teacher which resolved in the young boy in handcuffs, fingerprinted as a criminal.

A few days ago, Republican Presidential Candidate, Donald Trump, did not correct a man who has expressed his concern that Muslims are the problem [in America] and asked Mr. Trump, “When could we get rid of ’em?” Judging  by Trump’s reaction and devilish grin, he acknowledged the ignorance.

Why am I bringing this up?

Today, I experienced hatred and I have to believe it is because I’m a Muslim. Actually, it wasn’t me who experienced it, but my two year old who has. Of course, she didn’t even realize it but as an observer, and more importantly, her mother, it hurt me to see the truth. To see first-hand that my daughter may never be accepted as a Muslim in America; an American Muslim born and raised in America.

So, what happened?

It was beautiful 70-something degree weather where we met with friends at a park, in which I will leave un-identified. It’s a beautiful park, right behind a church, hidden in a valley. We’ve come before, but it so happened the day we came, was also “A Family Fun Day” as the sign at the entrance called it. Great! We’re a family and we like fun.

Mariyah was excited. What two-year-old wouldn’t be. There were bouncy houses, bubbles, hula hoops, etc. She pointed and asked if we could “go over there”. I put it off, giving excuses, re-directing her to the playground. As I was pleading with her that we should just stick to the slides, her big eyes looked at me, confused and with a look of “but why not”.

I knew why not. There was a feeling that intimidated me. It was a sixth sense every Muslim possesses.

I gave in. I ignored my gut feeling and agreed. I walked as she skipped, towards the bubbles. I noticed I was being stared at, as we walked towards the “fun”, I smiled and asked, “is this a private or a public event?” The woman stared at me. “Maybe she didn’t hear me”, I thought. I asked her again, “Is this event private or public? My daughter wants to play with the bubbles.”

She looked annoyed. “I really don’t know how to answer that”, as she looked away. I was speechless and I now, didn’t know how to respond to that. She looked away instantly and my ears caught the sound of a man asking, “is this a birthday party?” I’m not sure what the woman answered him, but he smiled and pushed his stroller towards the bounce house.

I looked down at my innocent daughter who was patiently waiting to play with bubbles. I had made the motherly decision to walk over to the bubbles and let her be a two-year-old, innocently unaware that we may not have been wanted there.

We resumed our business to the playground, where I would try to accept that maybe she meant it in a different way.

My daughter is a stubborn one. Smart and stubborn, the recipe for disaster when she is ignored. She’s been asking to play in the bounce house and I’ve been telling her no, not now, maybe later, until she took matters into her own small but mighty hands. She walked away, after being annoyed by my firm “no you cannot go over there”. She walked to an elderly man sitting near by, pointing to the bouncy house.

I know this story may have taken a turn,however, he looked like my father and I think she found some kind of comfort in that. I ran over to see exactly what was happening when he said “oh come on mom, let her go to the bounce house.”

She’s a smart little thing, that girl. She knows how to get what she wants.

We walk over to the bounce house, I take off her shoes, and a teenage kid halts us. He doesn’t directly look me in the eye, but it seemed as if he was glaring right at me. “No little kids allowed!”

Mariyah pushes herself in. She’s been waiting all this time and now, this teenager is telling her she cannot go in?  “yeah, yeah. Whatever kids”, is what she was probably thinking. But he gently puts her back out and repeats, “no kids allowed!”

I look into the window of the bounce house where I clearly observed many little kids.

I grabbed her, and her shoes, and walked away as she kicked and screamed.

The old man, who looked like my dad, asked, “What? Why are you back so soon?”

I told him what had happened. A minute later, he said, “hey come on! We’re getting in that bounce house.” You didn’t have to tell Mariyah twice, she was already halfway there. He stood next to us until it was her turn. Parents around us had this weird look, as if they were avoiding eye contact but I still can feel their eyes on us. After she had gotten in, he nodded and walked away pleased. A kid yells from inside the bounce house, “can somebody tell the old man to stop sending kids in!” The “old man” wasn’t sending kids in, he sent MY kid in. My Muslim, Arab, nappy haired, beautiful kid in.

As if we didn’t feel unwelcomed already, I grabbed Mariyah, kicking and screaming, and convinced her that our place was on the playground.

As she played, thoughts rushed through my head and pain in my heart. As she skipped around the playground, I thought how innocent. But she won’t always be this unaware, one day she will understand, she will feel the stares, the glares, the annoyance. She’ll most likely hear one or ten times that she needs to just go back to her own country already. And when she wears the scarf, someone may or may not call her a rag head, threaten to rip it off. She will have to defend her religion and assure people, she is not a terrorist.

But she will also come across people like the friendly old man, whom looks like my father. God bless that man, and people like him. She will understand and learn from me, that there will be people who don’t like her religion or race, but there are ten people who don’t look at you in any way different, but only as a human being.

She had her first encounter of unacceptance, and she doesn’t even know it yet. But I do, and I have come to realize that it’s my duty to raise her to be a strong, confident woman; proud to be a Palestinian- Arab. Proud to be a Muslim. And proud to be an American.



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