Monday, July 27, 2009
Racism - Part Two
Sweet is the taste of power against ignorance.
I guess I couldn’t get over that experience with the cab driver’s racism the other day. I teach on Monday at the University. I had prepared a class lesson plan, but didn't follow it.
I walked in. I looked at my students, the kids (I mean it positively in a warm way). These are the future, I said to myself. The Lebanon of tomorrow.
And I’m standing here as their teacher. I don’t know if I’ll ever get another chance to be here, I could die the instance I walk out of the classroom. So. I. Picked up the chalk. Went to the board and wrote these questions:
“Have you ever felt discriminated against in Lebanon? Did you ever feel hurt by someone else when you’ve done nothing wrong to them to deserve such treatment in the first place?”
Almost immediately, one student said: “Yes miss, I’m half French and many Lebanese here treat me as a fake Arab when I love the Lebanese side of me. I think I’m more Arab than I am French”.
Another student: “miss, we usually don’t feel it here”.
Me: “Have you seen it around?”
The class is quiet….
Have you ever wondered why you see it, but you don’t receive it? You’re Lebanese. Did you ever think of your “privileged” position in society here? You’re all well-to-do people, middle to high class citizens, otherwise you wouldn’t be enrolled in this prestigious university that costs an arm and leg for tuition each term. If you haven’t experienced discrimination in one form or another, did you ever ask yourself why? Because you know it’s around…
Then, I talk about the maid system in Lebanon.
One kid, I see him in the back of the class, he starts touching the sleeve of his T-shirt and then talks to his friend.
Me: “What’s up Ahmad?” (not his real name, I’ll keep him anonymous).
Him: “miss see my T-shirt, she did such a bad job, my maid, it’s not ironed well”.
The class giggles and laughs ……
Me: “oh dear lord Ahmad, I suggest capital punishment by hanging, or perhaps public whipping on the back, 80 times? How dare she not iron your T-shirt properly!”
Him: “nah miss come on I didn’t mean it this way, I love her. She raised me since I was a child and I spend more time with her than I do with my parents. Sometimes I feel she’s my mother. I’d never hurt her”.
Me: “Then watch your language Ahmad. Respect this woman you love like a mother by talking about her in a respectable way”.
Another kid jumps in: “we should always be tolerant of others”.
Me: “Yeah, sounds deep kid. Did you get that from an Aldo commercial sweety? ( they laugh out loud :-)) ….Sounds like a logo or motto I’ve seen on some ad. What is tolerance, this word we hear everywhere, this word politicians dish out to us all the time, this word that sounds so right, so honorable. What on earth is tolerance?”
Student: “miss, it’s to treat everyone equally”.
Me: “when was the last time you saw this happen? Reality is not equal (I play the devil’s advocate here). There are laborers, and middle class citizens, and then bosses and presidents of companies and of countries. The world is not all equal. So what kind of crap is it to say everyone is equal? Sounds like the wrong tool for the job.”
Students jump in: “no miss it’s not like that, yes it’s true that we’re not all the same but it’s not right to hurt others based on our status in life”. And other similar comments are made.
On and on and on. This is how the class went on for an hour. They say something, I question. They say another, I question. The idea was to break down aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaallllll these abstract mottos they’ve been fed all these years, about equality, tolerance and liberty, these hallmark ideas that mean nothing if we don’t think harder about what they mean.
These kids need to stop. And think. We all need to stop. And think. Me first. We need to think of the difference between talking and acting.
My hope is that I have gotten these kids to ask a set of questions to themselves about such things as equality, racism and being in a ‘privileged’ position in life where you don’t receive racism, but you see it around you a lot, and never question it.
My hope is that these kids remember this discussion the next time they see racism happen.
Maybe Allah swt wanted to silence a confrontation between me and the racist cab driver the other day, so it eats me up inside enough for this class to happen.
So they can say no to any form of injustice and discrimination. So they can say to the cab driver what I wasn't able to say. Allahu a’lam….