An Unpleasant Vulnerability

“I feel like the word shatter.” -Margaret Atwood

 

This will not be a pleasant read. It will be honest, revealing, and plainspoken, but it will not be a pleasant read. I’m going to do something I never do; I’m going to be vulnerable.

 

I feel I owe this to everyone else negatively affected by the results of the election. I can’t help but wonder, maybe if I hadn’t done such a thorough job of suppressing any external indicators of how negatively I’ve been impacted by racism, classism, and sexism throughout my life, maybe you would have realized that these concerns are real. I guess just thought you would have the compassion and understanding to fight for my humanity and needs without me exposing the most painful parts of myself.

 

I should have told you.

 

“Emilio was certainly within his rights not to reveal the sordid details of his childhood even to his friends. Or perhaps especially to his friends, whose good opinion of him, he might feel, would not survive the revelations.” -Mary Doria Russell

 

If I had told you about being called “nothing special” because my skin was too dark and my hair too curly, if I had told you about getting purposefully snubbed at dinner parties because I wasn’t white, if I had told you about being lured out of my house as a child to become an unwitting victim in escalating racial tensions, if I had told you about being gleefully called a “sand nigger” as if it were clever, if I had told you about the self-loathing acidity eating away at me every time I smiled or laughed at a racist joke to pass as white, if I had told you about getting berated and verbally harassed repeatedly for not donating money to charities like the rest of my high school classmates, if I had told you about being bullied by men in positions of power because they knew I didn’t have the resources to fight back, if I had told you about the remarks and judgment from my peers over my clothes and appearance, if I had told you about being forced to choose between eating or buying textbooks, if I had told you about what it’s like to literally be homeless, if I had told you about being raped by a boyfriend but being so emotionally battered and in denial that I wouldn’t tell anyone for almost a decade, if I had told you about the man following me in the bright afternoon sunlight just months ago, sexually harassing me like it was his right and expecting me to be thankful, then maybe, maybe you would have realized that these things do happen. They happen to people you know, people like me, people who appear successful and well-adjusted, people who say nothing even to their spouses, people who look and act like everything is completely fine regardless of the indelible wounds.

 

“He has never told anyone this story. He doesn’t mind talking about his past–within reason–but he doesn’t mean to give away pieces of himself.” -Hilary Mantel

 

I should have told you, but how could I have?

 

And now we are here. Where it is a very scary time to be an Arab American woman born of a Muslim immigrant father, newly discovered by and united with my Muslim, immigrant family. A time where I am literally wondering if it’s safer for my family to go back to Saudi Arabia where social media and communication services are so restricted that virtually every social media, texting, or video chatting service is blocked, where they are a religious minority in an already internationally reviled religious group, and where my female relatives can’t even drive to go somewhere else.

 

Every time I see you post a flippant remark about how “I voted third party!” or “maybe it won’t be so bad” or “you’re being dramatic” or “life will go on” you are saying to me, “The wrong, terrible, godforsaken things that have happened to you in your life have not happened. And even if they had, they don’t matter. You don’t matter.” Would you have said this if you knew? I don’t know. Only you know. All I am sure of is that a small, delicate tendril of me dies every time you say these things, whether out of privilege, ignorance, maliciousness, or apathy.

 

“It’s something everybody wants–for someone to see the hurt done to them and set it down like it matters.” -Sue Monk Kidd

 

I am worried that if something happens to me or my family, you will say nothing. You will do nothing. Maybe you will wring your hands and ask, “how could this happen?!” in a Facebook post soon buried by reshared recipes and pictures of cats. And if you say nothing, if you do nothing, you are complicit.

 

I need you to stop with the posts and comments. I need you to care about me and others like me. I need you to actually do something for us. I need you to volunteer at your local Islamic center, refugee center, and women’s shelter. I need you to call people out when they exhibit racist, misogynistic behavior or say things that could hurt us. I need you to give your time, prayers, money, voice, hands. I need you not to become complacent after the initial shock is over. I need you to tell me the things that have happened to me matter, and you will do what you can to ensure they don’t keep happening. I need you to be human. Please.

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