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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Being Arab Part I

In the 9 year I've lived in the States, I've faced very little discrimination for being Arab or simply being foreign in general. In fact, I've only ever experienced two things that unsettled me. The first time happened in the very small Catholic college I went to for my undergrad course in teaching.

Our RA had us do a cheesy getting to know you activity in which you had to pair up with someone you didn't know and get to know them enough to then introduce him/her to the rest of the floor. My partner was struck by my British sounding accent (it's a bit muddled, actually, but sounds pretty close to some sort of English accent) and so when she introduced me she made reference to how sexy she thought my accent was. This peaked the interest of many of the boys on the floor and I immediately saw some of the girls, including the bitchy RA, flinch in an adolescent soap opera way. From then on, I was treated very coldly by the girls on the floor, especially the slutty RA. The very next day, she passed my door and shouted "She thinks she's so fucking special because she talks like that". I had to pause and remind myself I wasn't in some pathetic teen movie with the archetypal cheerleader blond bitches, but then again... Maybe I WAS. Another night, she leaned up against my door and bounced her whole body against it over and over, making it bang. It was 2am and I had an 7:30am class. I opened the door and asked if she wouldn't mind not leaning on my door. She laughed and apologized, then went right back to doing it when I shut my door. What the fuck? Was I to expect pig's blood next? Jesus Christ.

One night, the boys decided to come to our wing and steal all the markers from the whiteboards on people's doors, and as I came out of my room, I saw our delightful whore of an RA kicking the door of the one black girl in our wing and saying "Goddamn blacks keep stealing our pens."

Funnily enough, she wasn't the editor of the college's newspaper which had a great little editorial on how "everyone hates it" when the foreign students speak their own language around "you" because you know they're talking about you. Wow. I didn't know I was that close to the center of the frigging universe.

I must admit... I had never seen so many of just one race in one place ever before. (ie. white people). There was one table of black kids there and a table or two of foreign students like me. I felt awkward around the foreign students because a few of them were boys from my country and they were very quick to talk about me behind my back and tell the people back home what their wayward little girl was getting up to. (ie. not drinking, not doing drugs, or staying out all night, but having ONE boyfriend, who's *gasp* white and whom she would eventually marry. What a harlot!) Anyway, I felt awkward in a new country surrounded by people who all basically went to the same high school together and seemed very disinterested in being my friend. I finally found some misfits who were just as weird as I am and we got along fairly well.

My second experience was quite unsettling. One night years later, we were at a cast party for a show my husband was in. The husband of one of the actresses was introduced to me and it was somehow brought up that I was Arab. I knew the couple was Jewish and the wife didn’t seem to have an issue with my race during all the rehearsals I had attended to be near my darling spouse, but the look of sheer horror that spread across her husband’s face was almost cartoony. His animated conversation with me was reduced to one word sentences and I swear his eyes were darting around for an escape route. I felt so awful. He stopped smiling altogether and shifted uneasily in his seat. I tried to make conversation that revealed how non-threatening I was, but it only seemed to ease him by a few degrees. If you'd seen his reaction, you'd have thought I started making Holocaust jokes, goose-stepped around the room and yelled "Allah Akbar". I didn't. Really.

People really do get their knickers in a twist over the silliest things. I had no designs on those morons in college, so the RA could happily get back to screwing every single one of them, and that poor Jewish guy needn't have judged me on anything other than my friendliness, warmth, and sparkling wit I so expertly plied him with prior to his discovery of my race.

Ah well. Anyone who cares to know me soon realizes I'm pretty harmless really. Except if you piss me off, in which case I'll talk about you to my friends and assign an insulting nickname to you and talk about you on my blog.


Chris said...

Thanks for this post Teacher Lady. I'm very curious about hearing of your experiences being Arab in the US after 9/11.

Anonymous said...

Love that wit...and blogging IS the best revenge!!!

You handled jerks with grace. :)

TeacherLady said...

Chris, had I been a guy I probably would have had more horror stories to tell, but Arab chicks have it a little easier.
Kinzi, thank you... Sadly, it's the British culture in me that makes me take a lot of crap and apologize regardless of who's at fault.