My brother and I were raised by incredible and tolerant parents. Actions, not skin color, sex or creed determined an individual's worth. My father was always very fond of reciting the verse in the Quran that he believed preached tolerance:
O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).We grew up in diverse neighborhoods, went to Catholic school, celebrated Christmas with our Christian friends, Diwali with our Hindu friends. I had white friends, black friends, pink friends, green friends. I didn't differentiate between people because I never saw differences. (I did LOVE "The Beatles" and thought anyone who didn't was an unworthy human being, but was often able to put that aside).
My brother and I learned about bigotry not from our parents or even the community we lived in, but from my extended family. The racist gene that skipped BOTH my parents apparently developed fully in our aunts and uncles.
I have one aunt that's pretty much an equal opportunist. She thinks everyone, save her immediate family, is disgusting. Egyptian men are barbarians, Hispanic women are whores, Pakistanis are dirty, Indians smelly, Africans...well, Africans she avoids. Really avoids. If she's on the subway, she will move as far away as she from anything black. It's embarrassing. You know how in cartoons and sitcoms there's an extremely well-behaved dog that only barks at black people? That's my aunt.
And if you're not Muslim? Forget it, she won't have anything to do with you. And so because God don't like stupid, here's what she's ended up with: Her youngest son is dating a half-Barbadian, half-Hispanic Christian girl who he's gotten pregnant three times. Guess which pious Muslim paid for the abortions.
I have an uncle who is pretty tame, but every once in a while spouts out racist shit. When I moved out last summer he came and visited me. He loved my apartment, thought I was paying too much for it (I had to remind him that it's 2007, not 1977 when he told me rent should never exceed $600) and then asked me if it's a nice neighborhood. It's a great neighborhood, I replied. It really is. I LOVE LOVE LOVE living here. While I'm looking forward to marrying R,
the one think I'm dreading is leaving this neighborhood.
Anyway, I tell him it's a great place and then he looks at me seriously and asks, "ya3ni, mafeesh barabra?" (So there are no niggers?) Now, there's been much debate over whether "barbari" translates into "nigger". In my dictionary it does. It's not a nice term to use when referring to "darkies" and I recoil in horror when someone uses it. My uncle saw my face and told me I was being sensitive. "Barbari" simply means black, he said, and I need to stop being so politically correct. He then proceeded to sing a ditty he claims all the Sudanese sing in the streets of Cairo, "ana barbari, ana barbari". I couldn't get him out of my place quick enough.
His punishment? His 11 year old daughter has a mad crush on the only black student in the WHOLE school.
One aunt who still lives in Egypt made my brother and I get out of a pool once when an African man jumped in. I must have blocked that incident out of my mind because I had completely forgotten about it. In the past six months I've spoken to my brother a great deal about my struggle with R and the racist comments I'd been hearing from my family. He was surprised that I was surprised by these comments and reminded me of that incident.
The funny thing is that my whole family prides itself on being such good Muslims. Islam, they say, is the only religion that is all about tolerance and acceptance because we acknowledge all religions and races. When I told my father about R, he told me that I'd never be accepted by his family because their religion does not even recognize ours.
My Dominican Catholic fiance and his family are a million times more tolerant than any member of my family. They make sure that if I'm invited to dinner there's food for me to eat, going so far as to making a chicken dish available JUST for me even if they spent the whole day roasting their pig. When it's Ramadan, they'll all wait for the sun to set to eat with me. They don't allow anyone push liquor on me and will always have a great non-alcoholic drink for me, not merely give me water or soda.
What does my family think about all that love and acceptance? They're not following their religion properly. If they were I'd be persecuted by them.
You can't win with Egyptians.