Friday, December 17, 2010

Yes, Or No?

My mother in law, and sister in law were in town, we decided to go to a Japanese restaurant,
it was the first time we try the restaurant, it looked good and clean, made us all look forward to the experience.
we were 8,4 adults, and 4 kids, my two kids (1 year old and a 20 days old) and my sister in law also has two (2 year old and a 10 month old.
Each table must have 10 people to start taking orders, which is something i realized all Japanese grill restaurant in the US practice

The table is ready for us, and the receptionist escorted us to the table, we reached there, there were two people already, they were early 30s aged caucasian couple, we greeted,however, before we all sat down, the couple stood up, and left the table after some ear to ear whispers and exchanging looks.

The message was clear, we don't want to sit next to those people, i wondered, is it because we look indian asians, or is it because of the Hijab my wife and her family were wearing? i tried to fool my self and think she moved because we had the kids and its normal for kids to be noisy and loud.

15 minutes passed, the same couple were escorted again to the the SAME table, however, to the other end of it, and ironically guess who is sitting their? two families,one Caucasian Mother with her little daughter,and another Family of four,an indian couple with two also little daughters.

So after a little match a scratch,it only became clear that they did it because of Hijab.

We all were pissed to say the least,while they sat literally an arm fold away from us,and they still face us,and incase we wanted to harm someone,they are still within reach, and pretending like nothing happened while they dine and wine.
my night was ruined,i didn't enjoy one bite from my meal,and i just wanted to leave the place,before i make a mess,which i usually do if i tried to speak about the situation.

Dinner is over, paid the bill and carried my daughter to the car and sat her in the car seat, my sister in law came and said she confronted the couple and told them that their behavior ruined the night on all of us,and all the lady had to say was "am so sorry i work with kids all the time and the last thing i wanted was another kid next to me" as if the current table didnt have any, she got embarrassed because everyones face changed when they heard the little conversation between her and my sister in law.

A couple of days ago,i was watching TV and a Question was asked "Do u think there is still discrimination in the US?"

ill let you decide.

P.S. i do not to judge an entire nation upon one persons act,but some times an act can speak a thousand words,and leave deep percussions.


diana said...

I can imagine why this ruined everything. Discrimination always leaves a foul taste in the mouth. You can be treated well by a lot of people, and one act of discrimination can ruin everything. I've been told many times not to take it personally, and I have gone so far as to try and see things their way, to imagine myself ignorant, what I would have done in their position, but it's so much easier said than done. It's hard not to take something like this personally, and it's twice as hard to put myself in their shoes. I sometimes wonder if, unknowingly, I discriminate against people, too. And that's how I cope with this whole issue of discrimination.

There's nothing I can do about it, except to make sure that I don't do the same.

I honestly don't know what to say to you about this, I have no advice to give, I don't know exactly what it is like to experience discrimination in the US (I've only ever experienced it here in Jeddah), but I do pray that you and your family have more strength to deal with this kind of BS that you don't deserve.

Chiara said...

Yes there is discrimination in the US, and yes it is the hijab--in part.

Thanks for sharing this unpleasant episode (to say the least).

What stands out for me most in what you wrote is that, as you alluded to in your reference to them still being within an arm's reach, they potentially felt that you were the bigger threat than the hijab, or you felt more targetted.

Many people believe that no woman wears the hijab freely and out of her own preference. She must be coerced by an evil male relative, oppressed by society, brainwashed by religion, or failing those, and especially if she insists she wants to wear the hijab and it is her choice to do so--insane.

In that sense any Muslim man in the company of women in hijab is the suspected brute of the family, oppressor, brainwasher, or keeper of the insane. Along with being a terrorist of course. Quite dreadful for the men and the women.

As I have tried to explain to my cousin-in-law who tends to confront people angrily about such situations, or worse come back with Arab friends and confront the person(s), he is reinforcing the prejudice about the angry Arab by doing so--ie a double bind. Ironically, in the same situations his brother just turns the other cheek, eg walks away, says nothing. I'm sure both responses and the double bind take a toll.

I had to learn not to react to racist innuendo and implications when to do so would simply make it worse and the person would have plausible deniability. I do take action, however, when there is something within my domain, like a student being poorly treated by another professor, or not getting opportunities they should. I try to be pre-emptive regarding potential problems, then coach them through when something does happen. The same with patients in psychotherapy.

I admire your sister-in-law for making it clear how your group felt and in such a way that didn't require an excuse and the one given backfired badly.

I think Diana raises a valid point about potentially discriminating too, unconsciously, as a way of coping. I had an incident happen at one of those coffee/tea/ milk/cream/sugar stations. I was in one of my usual "writing a paper in my head" fogs, while waiting my turn, but I didn't notice I could have taken my turn, until a guy said to me "It's ok, we can both get coffee at the same time".

That got me out of my fog enough to realize that he thought I was hanging back because he was a young black guy. So I right away said,"Oh of course, I was totally thinking of some research I am doing, and in a brain fog... blah blah". So we stood chatting and getting coffee/tea, and it turns out he is African American from NYC, but then he studied in the South (Emory? Duke?) and for the first time in his life experienced racism--a lot of it.

After some time, we were the best of coffee stand friends, but I also realized he had assumed I was being racist because I am white, and that gender probably played a role too. White woman/ black man, assumptions about the safety of sharing a coffee station. Sad.

Thanks again for sharing this. I did a post on an incident I witnessed/was a part of, and I am planning another.

The first one is:

What is worse: A Saudi woman in a hijab or one with the adhan on her iPhone, or both?

Somewhat related is my experience of the rage the niqab debate invokes, including against myself--because I disagree with blanket legislation against wearing the niqab.

Quebec's Proposed Law to Ban the Niqab: You are as stupid as the ones who wear that rag on their face"


Thanks again for sharing your experience; it was enlightening if enraging.

Om Lujain© said...

I am sorry you had to go through that, and that such an event ruined your fun night out with the family. But to answer your question, it is unquestionably YES. YES, there is discrimination, I have witnessed it first hand in Both Canada, and the US. I do not wear the hijab, but my sisters, and mothers do. I have been in situations where the people would talk to me, but absolutely IGNORE my sister or mother. I would usually just stop talking to the person, and walk away with whomever was with me. If they have nothing to say to my family, they sure as hell have nothing to say to me. Once I actually asked the person, and they actually told me that they thought that women wearing hijab did not like to be talked to?! I guess there is a LOT of misinformation going around about Islam, women, and the hijab. Sadly enough a LOT of the negative propaganda is being instigated by Muslim women themselves trying to reach an unknown agenda.

Chiara said...

Om Lujain--I have seen that idea about women in hijab not wanting to be talked to, or being intimidating to talk to a lot in comments in the blogosphere, including from commentators who are sincere about not wanting to discriminate. Misinformation, and maybe a few awkward attempts made with someone not wanting to talk generally, eg in a hurry, preoccupied, etc.

Susanne said...

I'm sorry this couple acted in this manner. If I had seen you at the restaurant,I would have been the opposite. I love trying to interact with people especially of other cultures, but usually I have to settle for a smile. :)

Dentographer said...

Om Lujain,Chiara, i honestly say i kinda understand,as i recall many cases where women in niqab get offended from men who do not look at them while talking to them,even though the men who does that are actually practicing the "lower your gaze" practice...ofcourse even conservative men who do that with women who dont wear hijab or niqab also get so pissed when a conservative man dont look at the while he speak,and they think he is being arrogant.

Susanne,YES! i do love to do that too,but being a foreigner all my life in all countries ive been to,even my home countries of birth and citizenship..approaching strangers is always tricky to me, and for a person who travelled whole lots of times on airplanes,i always wish i sit next to someone intresting,but i never initiate a talk.
though,the moment someone starts a conversation,i make sure to carry on and speak for the longest possible time before it start feeling awkward.

Chiara said...


I remember thinking one of my MENA students was rude, bored, or angry at me all the time, till I remembered how conservative his country is, now little exposure he had had to Westerners, and realized he was politely compromising between lowering his gaze which would be rude in Western terms, and making eye contact which would be rude in Eastern terms, by sort of staring past me into a middle distance with a concentrated, serious, almost frowning countenance. I remember thinking "Oh yeah, he's from farther East than I'm used to, and I'm rusty on conservative Arab ways".

Re: starting conversations, I think there are places I frequent where Saudis are starting to warn each other not to sit near me unless they want a long, indepth conversation, mixed with humour and blither.

I occasionally spare them, but most often not.:D They are almost always happy to chat--or at least polite about it.

Being female helps, we are less threatening as conversation starters.

So consider yourself forewarned if you come to Canada! :D

Dentographer said...

am more than ready :)

Susanne said...

I wish you had been able to meet someone like this guy. This post made me teary.

Dentographer said...

as much as i loved how friendly and welcoming he was in that post,his quotable quotes told me other wise.

Athoug said...

Although my family can recall similar situations like you've been in, I've personally never experienced racism towards me alhamdulillah, but I still believe it exists.
Have you seen this video? It pretty much answers the question.

Susanne said...

Sorry...I forgot about the quotes on the side and had to go back and see what you were talking about. Well, he's not mean to Muslims. Just doesn't like Islam. No crime in that. Lots of people don't like religion, but they are decent enough human beings,thankfully. :)

Dentographer said...

Athoug, DC is quite diffrent with lots of diplomats and multinational aggregations,so such incidents are very rare,beside it usually happens with women in hijab,i am not sure if you practice wearing the hijab or not,its less likely that u encounter such events if u dont.

Susanne,of course! he is entitled to what he believes,i just noted it since it talks directly about something that i am part of.

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