It’s All in My Head

I went to breakfast at a conference and was saying hello to fellow attendees. One woman said what I experienced as a curt ‘hi’ and I immediately made up a whole story in my head about being blown off by a beautiful woman. I had been triggered by a deep sense of fear of being rejected and spent the rest of the conference trying to both impress and yet avoid her. Once I finally stopped judging, I learned that we have a lot in common and are now great friends.

-Dick

Abdulsalam

Before the horrors in Syria began, at a photo exhibition in which I shared images of travels there, some close friends chastised me for ‘spending time with terrorists’ when they saw this image. Abdulsalam, who welcomed my family and me into his home, is a creative, successful Bedouin entrepreneur. His name actually means ‘servant of peace’, yet was deemed immediately by some to be an instant criminal, THEM, for the simple crime of wearing an Arab headdress, or kufiya.

-Dick

1960s Roosevelt

Growing up in the 1960s in Roosevelt, Long Island, my town went from almost all-white to almost all-black in a three year period.My family was very active in civil rights, fighting illegal blockbusting which was accelerating white flight, and leading the Roosevelt Community Relations Council. At the same time, I was experiencing the very injustices and discrimination we were standing against and learned what it feels like to be excluded, the outsider, and persecuted as I was beat up every day in the boys’ room at school for my lunch money. I was the THEM based not only on race, but also for being small, a good student and lack of athletic ability.

-Anonymous

XC

At my first XC meet as a freshman in high school I finished in the top five of our team. I couldn’t have been happier. I had trained hard and felt that I truly earned my place on the team. The next day at practice our coach gave a powerful speech shaming the rest of the team because I, a freshman girl, had done better than almost all of them. He yelled and said how embarrassed they should all be to have been beaten by a little girl. From that day on I ran only for myself.

-Martha

Language Learning

On a study abroad with my university I was once asked by a male professor facilitating our program how I felt knowing that I would never be able to learn the language as well as my male classmates because I was a woman. Not only was this particular professor one of two males in charge of our group, but he held tremendous influence in our major’s department back in the States.

-Catie

Defending others

I belong to and identify with several different groups of people that are often ridiculed and slandered. Whenever I hear disparaging remarks about any of these groups, I immediately jump in to ‘clear their name’ and set the story straight. Most often people are receptive of the other side of the story I present, until they realize I belong to these groups. For some reason I am only seen as credible when it appears that I’m simply a third-party.

-Marie

Lai, Rajastan, India

She is participating in the Free the Children Alternative Income Program, raising chickens. We meet with her to learn about her project and she invites us into her home to learn how to cook chapatis. When we tell her that we wish we could repay her hospitality and have her come to our home, she looks soulful and responds, “Do you only like me because I’m poor? Because we really are all the same.”

JP – Kibuye, Rwanda

My father was a doctor before the genocide. They tricked him to drive on the road to the hospital to help people. They hacked him to death with machetes and then went after my seven brothers and sisters and mother and killed all of them. I am alive because I hid out for three months in a septic tank where my friend every few days would lower some food to me.

You can never forgive. It is absurd and anyone who says they can forgive is not being truthful to himself! Only the next generation will be able to forgive, but you can get past it. I must carry the loss and sorrow always with me. If I see my father’s murderer in the street and he greets me, I simply tell him to ‘go away. I am not your friend or forgiver. Stay away from me as I might hurt you. I do not want to be a killer like you. I have my future and my wife and children.’

Sam – Yangon, Burma/Myanmar

True Buddhism, the true way, the right way to practice is mutual benefit. Not just thinking of the benefit for your own. Also thinking about the benefit of the community… Keep it at the minimum level as much as possible, not to have more than what is necessary. And when it comes to family the most important thing is that you feed the family, not to be living in a very big house or not going for materials.

Before I became a monk, I was a businessman and ran a cheroot [cigar] factory with fifty people working for me. I made a lot of money and had parties, but I was empty then.

Nechemya – Tel Aviv, Israel

I’m a retired general in the Israeli Defense Force. In 1963 I’m a helicopter pilot, we didn’t have any schools for helicopters in Israel and we were sent all over the world to study. Six of us went into an Air Force plane and arrived 9pm to North Europe, Germany. 1963, eighteen years after the Holocaust and I am there with my friends, Jewish friends. We walked to the terminal and a German officer came to escort us. Blonde, blue-eyes, the typical Nazi as was described in the literature of the Nazi Regime. The same uniform of 1940-1945 because they didn’t change the uniform. It was a chilly moment and I’m not a Holocaust survivor, but as a Jew the Holocaust is something in our history, and it was only eighteen years before. The day after they introduced me to my flight instructor, an ex-Nazi pilot. We take off and our flight area is over Bergen-Belsen [the concentration camp]. I am flying over the Bergen-Belsen, look down to the beautiful park with graves and just small signs for hundreds of thousands of people buried there. I’m flying over this big cemetery and asking myself if the Jews that died there only eighteen years before could dream in their wildest dreams that eighteen years after a Jewish pilot would fly over Bergen-Belsen and a Nazi pilot would salute him and call him ‘Sir’. Because he was a Sergeant and I was a Lieutenant.

Over Bergen-Belsen I say to myself, ‘If this kind of dramatic change can happen, anything can happen.’ This is why I think we should talk to our enemies, we should talk to anyone, anytime.

Gwen – March on Washington: 50th Anniversary, DC

I’m working on a project based on the premise that the worst four-letter word in the English language is THEM.

Yeah, I hate that word. Who is THEM, really?

Now it becomes complicated because sometimes people on the other side of what you believe become THEMs, too.

Yeah, they’re passionate about their cause also. But I don’t like to label THEM because it’s very easy to become THEM. All it is is the way you think, [so if there is] a situation that touches you personally then you flip the script. So you have to be very very cautious about [seeing people as THEM].

Do you ever feel like a THEM or think when people are looking at you or talking to you that they’re casting you as a THEM, whatever that might be?

I try not to let myself feel that way. I have too much—— I don’t care. I never do, because when you come at me, when you talk to me you can’t, let’s say come with foolishness. You understand, I don’t entertain foolishness. If that’s where you’re coming from then, ‘Oh, got to go.’

Mark – Union Square, NYC

I actually don’t have many problems about being stereotyped now.

I used to be homeless for 4 or 5 months from drugs and alcohol. People are funny, when you’re homeless you are invisible, they don’t want to go near you.  Most people who are homeless are telling lies anyway.  Sometimes they don’t even know it’s a lie, about needing money to buy a ticket or something, because they say it so much they start to believe it.

When I was a server in a restaurant I was also invisible.

Now I am the sommelier at one of the top restaurants in the city, and people are always asking my advice, either telling me that they don’t know anything about wine and don’t want to make a mistake, or they are very knowledgeable and appreciate a lot of specific information about the vineyards.

Union Square, NYC

People say ‘Are you Goths?’ They always ask if we’re Wiccan or worship Satan or anything. And we’re like, no. We’re just normal people. We just dress differently. They also ask if we do a lot of drugs and stuff. But we don’t. I mean you can look like this and dress like this for fun. They think we’re always depressed, but we’re not.

So if there was one thing you could say to all those people who were like stereotyping you, what would that be?

Fuck off.

Is there anything else you could tell them about yourself?

Don’t look on the outside, don’t judge a book by its cover.

OneVoice – Hebron, Palestine

We came to Hebron today to observe the Jewish settler family removed from a house they had illegal occupied in the city. There were major demonstrations from the settler community, cursing at the Israeli soldiers and calling them ‘Nazis’ for enforcing the Israeli Supreme Court decision.

Palmyra, Syria

Early one morning I took a walk through the Bedouin community outside Palmyra. On seeing a lone, Westerner, they invited me into their tent for morning coffee and breakfast and to visit with their ten-day old baby. Other than ‘assalam alaikum’ (hello) and ‘shukran’ (thank you), no words were shared. However there was a deep human connection. 

Akh Abdulsalam, Palmyra, Syria

My father doesn’t understand English so I can ask your help.  I want to have a love marriage with my girlfriend but my father wants me to have an arranged marriage with someone I don’t even like.  You come from America; what should I do?

Chocolate Celebration – Aleppo, Syria

Despite continued diligence to conscious of prejudices and judgments, it is easy to slip back into preconceived notions and misconceptions, as I learned firsthand. Three years ago, before all of the horror and killing began, I was in Aleppo, Syria with my family. As we walked around the Citadel there, we heard loud chanting. Instantly I went from a mode of conscious understanding to a state of panic. My immediate reaction was to grab my family and run for our hotel because there were ‘loud noises’ and we were ‘in the Middle East.’ Quickly I told them not to go near the crowd, but of course I broke that rule and went a little closer. What I found was that it was a promotion for chocolate. The next day was Mother’s Day and they were trying to encourage people to buy Elegance brand chocolate. Because I had investigated, I didn’t return with a story of escaping ‘something horrible in dreaded Syria,’ but instead ended up hoisted on people’s shoulders and joining the festivities. 

Hebron, Palestine

I was just released from Israeli detention.

Detention? What happened? 

I was fighting with a group of Jewish kids and the Israeli soldiers threw me in jail for three months. I got out yesterday.

What happened to the Jewish kids? 

Nothing of course.

Shahram Sharbaf – Tehran, Iran

Please don’t clap or cheer, I want them to let us have more concerts.

After being banned for seven years, Iranian musician Shahram Sharbaf, gave his first legal concert to an audience limited to 200, in order to ensure that the crowd would be kept under control. His lyrics are based on the revered Persian poets Hafez and Rumi, but rock or any rhythmic music is controversial in Iran. 

Sheikh Zuhare – Rasoun, Jordan

I lead my village. When the Abraham Path opened, I built a campground here with nice tents and beds on the mountain top for people walking the Path to stay and eat at. I’ve met a lot of really interesting people from all over the world and it is a good business for us.

Dominican Day Parade, NYC

I think at one point everybody feels different, racially, culturally.

So how do you feel like you are stereotyped?

You know, it depends on what situation you find yourself in also. Like education-wise, work-wise, sometimes depending on the situation. I don’t really know how to explain it.

When somebody sees you, what do you feel like they see?

Well, a Spanish person. That would be the first thing.

When somebody is stereotyping you, just seeing you as a Spanish person, if you could tell them one thing, what would that be?

Ignorance is no excuse, that’s what I would tell them. But you know, you have to educate yourself and always try to get to know the person before you fit them into that stereotype.

Sam – Union Square, NYC

I’ve got a lot of friends that are gay. I’m not, but I’ve got a lot of friends that are. And without knowing that, some people just see me as an anti-gay person.

Why anti-gay?

I don’t know. I have no idea. But the first time I got a comment like that I felt it was one of the most offensive things I ever heard. They were like, ‘Oh you must be a gay basher.’ And I was like ‘What the fuck are you talking about?’ I said, ‘How about asking me a question first?’ You have no idea. You know what I’m saying?

What brought you to work here? Or are you just hanging out? It looked like maybe you were out—

No, I get that a lot, every time I go to places.

Just because you’re standing like right here, it looks like you’re on break.

No, everywhere I’m at people think I work there. I was at a friend’s bar having a cigarette and people were coming up to me with their IDs and I was like, ‘I don’t work here.’ And they were like, ‘Oh, you look like a bouncer here.’ No, I’m a tattoo artist. I’m just hanging out.

Latisha – Union Square, NYC

…it’s more like a culture thing.

Like how do you mean, culture thing?

You know like where you’re from. That’s always—I think that’s stereotyping because we don’t look white American so we’re not Americans. So it’s ‘Where are you from?’ And I’m like, ‘I’m from New York.’ Oh, but where were you born? ‘Out West, South West.’

Where out West?

San Carlos. In Arizona. It’s Apache country. So they’re always saying ‘Where are you from? Where are you really from?’ And I’m like, whoa wait a minute. What do you mean? I mean, they’re always like, ‘Well, you look Mexican.’ Well, does the Mexican look Native American? I sometimes get Asian, too. Even Japanese, right?

So do you know your ethnic heritage?

Apache.

100%?

No, I’m a quarter, my mother’s half. And my grandfather is full blood.

And then what is the other part?

Asian. South East. Like Pago Pago. It’s always like we don’t look American enough so it matters where you come from.

Niccolo Diety – Union Square, NYC

It’s known as the Star of David, but long before it was the Star of David, this was an ancient Hindu symbol. I have a doctor who is Jewish. He teases me when I wear it. He says, ‘What are you doing with this devil worship symbol?’ This is a devil worship symbol, too.

My mother’s white, Jewish. The other day my sister, she said, ‘You think you’re white.’ And she’s whiter than me. She’s much more fairer than me. ‘You think you’re white. Jew boy, Jew boy, Jew boy.’ That’s what she said to me.

Your genes are very funny you know. You’ve got your genes and your environment. I was not raised around white people; I was raised around people of my kind. But I got my mother’s genes.

I came to America when I was three years old from Jamaica. I was raised in North Carolina, very isolated. Most of the people down there, my race they mixed with Native Americans.

I don’t feel like I get stereotyped. Maybe some people do, but I don’t have that feeling. I really don’t feel like it. But I suppose many people are.

Lakey – Union Square, NYC

I’m from Austin, Texas, doing this project. Before I put on a suit and tie, people were treating me like I’m homeless. They would walk further away on the sidewalk, so I’d be like ‘Hello, good afternoon’. Never begging, just like saying something nice. But they’d just walk by without even looking in this direction. The craziest one was in Nashua, I was sitting there drawing and I saw some girl. She obviously liked what I was drawing and so she tried to come over and her friend grabbed her arm and was like ‘Dude, he’s homeless.’ I was like, if I was homeless that would be a really messed up thing to say. Just because someone’s homeless they’re not going to check out what they have?

And the tie and jacket undoes that?

Pretty much. I mean, I still get asked if I’m homeless.