by Fatima Eman
There have been times that I have been verbally attacked, had doors slammed in my face, and heard rude and hurtful comments as I walked by. My children and I have even been silently teased with a loaded gun by a man and his son while we were parked at a home improvement store. Through it all I was somehow able to shield my young kids from fully understanding the hate, from realizing the hate was directed at me, because of my hijab. Well, at least until today. Today was different. Today my children were afraid and crying and scared for me and for themselves, and then for all people who look differently from the man who didn’t like us.
I teach my children that it isn’t ok, under any circumstance, to judge another human being. We cannot judge a person by the shape of their eyes, the color of their skin, or the texture of their hair. We cannot judge a person because they speak differently, eat differently, live differently. We just cannot judge. We are all human. We are all created differently. No one person is perfect. We all have the right to make our own decisions. We do not have to agree with each other or even believe in each others path, but we cannot, under any circumstance, discriminate against a person because they are different than us. We must respect one another.
Today the kids and I dropped my husband off at a Walmart store entrance and left the parking lot for a quick errand. When we drove back into the parking lot I decided to park in the fire lane/merchandise loading area, but a distance away from the store entrance. I knew my husband would be back out of the store any moment, so I figured I could wait there where I could see him.
An older man came out of the store and as he approached my van he began making aggressive gestures with his arms. He came up to my driver’s side window and began yelling at me. “Move your #$@&%*! Japanese car! You must not know how to read! You illiterate #$@&%*! ! I’m a police officer! I’ll call cops on you for parking here! They’re all my buddies! You #$@&%*! idiot! Go back to your own country!”
“I refuse to let him intimidate me in front of my children!”
And on and on. The whole time he’s yelling at me I’m keeping my eyes on him, making sure I can see and anticipate his movements. But from my peripheral vision I could also see one of my kiddos, who had just hopped into the front seat to “surprise” her dad, was scrambling to get back to the rear of the van. I can hear my oldest child start to cry … a terrified cry. And I thought to myself, “I refuse to let him intimidate me in front of my children!” So I begin answering him. When he told me I’m stupid, I said thank you. When he said he’s calling his officer buddies, I asked him to please hurry. When he told me I’m illiterate, I told him I appreciate his observation. When he told me to go back to my own country, I told him I was born and raised a southern girl.
Suddenly, I saw the anger in his eyes flare more and I knew that he realized I wasn’t afraid of him. He began backing away, still yelling, but moving to the front of the van and then towards his vehicle. He never stopped yelling at me, but I smiled the biggest smile I had within me and waved to him. And kept waving and smiling until he was in his SUV and driving away. Then I turned to my three scared children and tried to explain that the man was just feeling grumpy and didn’t like where I parked and they didn’t need to be afraid.
However, this time they knew better. And I could feel their hearts breaking as they realized, for certain, that because Mama looks different, because of my hijab, people have picked on me before. And will again.
Fatima Eman is a southern-born, American-raised mother and Muslimah in the Midwest.