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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.